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“Commemorations Of The Lost Cause”: A More Perfect Union Comes From Accounting For The Past

The Confederate markers continue to tumble — flags, statues, monuments. After Dylann Roof associated his alleged atrocity with the Confederacy, politicians fell over themselves getting away from its symbols.

While a few supporters of the Old Dixie are resolute, most leading public figures want nothing to do with commemorations of the Lost Cause. Indeed, once NASCAR declared that the St. Andrew’s cross and stars was not a fit emblem for its franchise — where that flag has been always been revered — the earth shook.

So after decades of protests over the Rebel flag and other Confederate insignia, which enjoyed prominent display in public spaces for much too long, that battle appears over. Progressives won in a rout.

But the war has only just begun. America has yet to come to terms with its original sin: slavery. Until we do, the removal of flags and statues remains a small gesture, a harbinger of a reckoning not yet come. Some 239 years after that awe-inspiring Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” — we are still in denial about the foundations upon which this republic was built.

Most high-school graduates can probably recite the bare outlines of the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise that allowed the delegates to the Constitutional Convention to adopt a founding document. That agreement counted each enslaved human being as three-fifths of a person.

(It remains a testament to the complex nature of the human enterprise that one of the greatest thinkers on liberty, Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves. When we speak of Jeffersonian democracy, what, exactly, do we mean?)

Some high-school grads may also be aware of the Dred Scott decision, rendered by the Supreme Court in 1857. It stated that even free black men had no rights that white men were bound to respect.

But here’s a fact you probably didn’t learn in your high-school history classes: Much of the wealth that the United States acquired early on was built on slavery, that ignominious institution in which one human being may own — own — another. As historian Eric Foner has put it: “The growth and prosperity of the emerging society of free colonial British America … were achieved as a result of slave labor.”

That wealth was not confined to the slave-owning South, either. Although the planters certainly owed most of their money to their unpaid laborers, Northern institutions also profited. Northern banks, insurance companies, and manufacturers all benefited — some more directly than others — from slave labor.

This is a great country, but it has a complicated history. The building of America was a violent, oppressive, and racist undertaking, not simply a virtuous tale of brave men breaking away from the overweening British Empire. The story of Colonists who were tired of paying high taxes on their imported tea is a well-told anecdote, but it neither begins nor ends a rather more painful narrative.

And enslaved Africans were not the only ones who suffered. Following the practices established by the European conquerors, the new government stole the best land from the Native Americans, consigning them to isolated corners of the country when it did not kill them outright.

Yet, our mythology and folklore acknowledge very little of that. That’s not in the stories we tell, the songs we sing, the poems we recite. It’s not only that history classes are haphazard and superficial, but also that our common tales are woven from misrepresentations, if not outright lies. Land of the free? Not at first.

Truth be told, history is a hard sell in these United States, no matter how it’s presented. We’re a moving-on people, hustling forward, closing the books, looking ahead. That has helped us in so many ways. Unlike, say, the Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East, we don’t consume ourselves with arguments more than a millennium in the making.

Yet our failure to acknowledge a turbulent and cruel history is a hindrance, a barrier to a richer future. We can continue to perfect our union only through a full accounting of the past.


By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, July 4, 2015

July 7, 2015 Posted by | American History, Confederate Flag, Slavery | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“It’s Just West Virginia!”: The State Where The Right Won The Culture War

This is not, I readily confess, the development that will dominate the headlines on November 5, but I couldn’t help but notice recently that there is a sporting chance that, after this election, my old home state might no longer be represented by a single Democrat in the United States House of Representatives. So what, you say—it’s just West Virginia. Okay, maybe. But trust me: This idea would have been beyond inconceivable only a decade or so ago, and there’s an interesting and much broader story behind the change that has to do with deep cultural and economic anxieties, and I can’t help but wonder whether the Democrats can tap into them and attempt to ameliorate their effects.

First the facts. West Virginia has three congressional districts. The first, which contains the northern panhandle and my home town of Morgantown, is represented by Republican David McKinley, who first won in 2010 (by less than 1 percent) and was the first Republican to represent most of those areas since I was playing Little League. He is strongly favored to be reelected. The second district is an open seat, vacated by Republican Shelley Moore Capito to run for Senate. Tea Party Republican Alex Mooney is facing Democrat Nick Casey. They are basically tied (Casey’s in the hunt in part because Mooney is actually from Maryland; it’s complicated), but Mooney is getting lots of national money. In the third district, longtime Democratic incumbent Nick Joe Rahall, one of the few Lebanese-Americans roaming the halls of Congress, is facing a stiff challenge from a state senator named Evan Jenkins, who switched from D to R last year and can boast two important endorsements, from the Coal Association and the state’s right-to-life group, that don’t usually land in a non-incumbent’s lap.

Now, two of those races are close, and if the Democrats win them, the party would actually pick up a seat, so there goes my alarmism. But still, it could well be a GOP sweep, which is especially jarring when you throw in Capito, the Republican who’ll be taking over Jay Rockefeller’s seat (the state hasn’t had a Republican senator since 1958). That would leave Joe Manchin as the state’s only Democrat in Washington, and of course, on the coasts, lots of Democrats don’t think he’s much of a Democrat.

It’s really a stunning transformation. People don’t pay much attention to the state, but if they did, they’d know that West Virginia is the only—yes, only—state in the union that has gone in this century from deep blue to rock-ribbed red.

So what’s happened? No, it’s not as simple as the president is b-l-a-c-k. It’s the decline in union membership (a handful of men can now mine as much coal as hundreds used to). It’s the organizing strength of the NRA. It’s the less-discussed-but-pivotal inroads the Southern Baptist Convention has made into the state since the 1980s. It’s the fact that there are no real cities to speak of, not many people of color, only one large university, no hipsters (well, a few; I know some of them). I watched the transformation only as an occasional interloper on trips back home to see my folks, but even from that vantage point, things were pretty clear—the increasing proliferation of NASCAR paraphernalia in the stores next to the Mountaineer swag, the appearance in Morgantown of a Christian high school, and of course presidential vote totals (although Obama did carry my home county in 2008). We smart people in the big cities all agree that the right has lost the culture war. That may be so nationally. But West Virginia is the one place where the right won the culture war.

And so it’s a place of profound anxieties, cultural and economic. Being from Morgantown doesn’t give me much of a window on them. Morgantown is one of the nicest small cities in America (no, really) and has a diverse economy and diverse (by West Virginia standards) population.

The southern part of the state, which is really what outlanders think of when they bother to think of West Virginia, is where the anxieties run deeper. It’s a place in real trouble, and the people know it. Culturally, America has changed on them. The state is now issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Let’s just say that in some of those counties down there, I wouldn’t want to be the first guy to apply for one. And fossil fuels probably aren’t long for this world—there is still plenty of coal in them thar hills, as they say, but in 20 or 30 years, the way energy technologies are transforming, the world may not want it anymore.

I, you’ll be un-shocked to hear, do not think the Republican Party has any real answers for these people. The GOP will fight for coal, but at the same time its broader policies are all harmful to the state (aren’t many 2 percenters in West Virginia). What the state really needs is to figure out how to elbow its way into the tech economy. That requires investments, in schools and in infrastructure of both the physical and telecom varieties. And it means, yep, taxes.

I suppose there’s a chance that Hillary Clinton could win West Virginia, if Bill spends a lot of time there. But why would they bother? She won’t need its five measly electoral votes. I think it would be a grand thing if President Clinton, among her first acts, proposed something big and meaningful for precisely the people who didn’t vote for her (a Republican president should do the same). But that just isn’t likely, the way things are today. Politics is too expensive, and a new president has people to pay back.

No, we’re not sure it’s going to be President Clinton, but we are sure that the GOP is up against both the electoral college and demographic walls in a big way, and it may not win a presidential election for some time. Poor West Virginia: It stayed true to Democratic losers like Walter Mondale and Mike Dukakis but is completing its insistent makeover to red just as the Republicans are in danger of being a quasi-permanent out party.

There’s a great scene in the lovely film October Sky where the residents of Coalwood gather to watch Sputnik race by in the sky. One person speculates about the Russians dropping a bomb on the town. Another retorts: “I own’t know why anybody’d drop a bomb on ’is place. Be a waste of a perfectly good bomb.” It captured a worldview and fate that I hope the people from the poorer parts of the state can one day escape.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 10, 2014

October 12, 2014 Posted by | GOP, Politics, West Virginia | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Cracker To Cracker”: The Bonding Of Southern “Populists” And Good ol’ Boys Without, Of Course, The Racism

As longtime readers of my stuff know, I’ve got a real ax to grind whenever someone tries to justify display of Confederate regalia, particularly the Confederate Battle Flag (a.k.a., the Cross of St. Andrew), as an innocent symbol of “southern pride.” As a proud southerner who regards the Confederacy (not to mention the neo-Confederacy of the late Jim Crow era) as a shameful period in my home region’s history, I felt this way even before I helped Zell Miller (you know, the old Zell Miller, before he turned to the dark side) write the 1993 State of the State Address calling for eliminating the Battle Flag from Georgia’s state flag. And as the years went by, amnesia about both the Confederacy and the Battle Flag has always made me a bit crazy, driving me at one point to write a long rant about Appomattox. When Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a “Confederate History Month” in 2010, I counter-proposed a “Neo-Confederate History Month” to take notice of the long, dark shadow the Lost Cause had cast over white and black southern folk in the many years since the planters’ revolution failed. And I got agitated just last month when country music star Brad Paisley tried to claim the Battle Flag was just an innocent token of “southern pride” (presumably “white southern pride,” since I’m not aware of too many African-Americans sporting the symbol).

This is all preamble to what I feel I need to address to former U.S. Rep. Ben “Cooter” Jones, cracker to cracker, about the hissy fit he pitched in the Boston Globe yesterday in response to the decision by Rep. Ed Markey’s campaign to disinvite Jones from performing at a fundraiser for his “old pal Eddie” because it discovered he’s a loud-and-proud defender of the display of the Battle Flag (most notably emblazoned on the car he drove as a character on Dukes of Hazzard).

I’m not going to quote Cooter’s op-ed extensively; you can read it for yourself. His private views on the subject (the standard-brand post-neo-Confederate “populist” view that the Battle Flag was just misappropriated by racists and should offend no one if displayed by non-racists) wouldn’t have been an issue if Jones hadn’t waged a very public battle last year with NASCAR (word to Cooter: when you are to the right of NASCAR, it’s time to reconsider) over its “politically correct” decision to bar the car from The Dukes, named “General Lee,” from a raceway). I guess a really good staff vetting might have also turned up Doug Wilder’s complaint when Jones used the General Lee in his unsuccessful 2002 congressional campaign in Virginia (Cooter lost to some guy named Eric Cantor).

In the op-ed, Jones complains that he’s got a sterling civil rights record, and I’m sure that’s true. I’m also sure he doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. I actually know the guy a little from back in the day, when I did some light campaign work for him in Georgia. And I was one of his constituents when he was in Congress, and thought he was a fine public servant. And yes, I am very familiar with the constant temptation southern white liberals (or as they usually style themselves, “populists”) have succumbed to over the years to try to make some common cultural bond with good ol’ boys by adopting Confederate symbols–without, of course, the racism. Hell, I remember a southern-based New Left group back in the 60s that made as its logo a Battle Flag with the clenched fist of The Movement at the center!

But I’d say to Ben Jones (as another “old pal Eddie”) that it’s time, and actually far past time, to give it up and consign the Battle Flag to its well-deserved grave in the Museum of Bad Symbols. Seriously, Ben, aside from its original association with a violent revolution against the United States in the cause of human bondage, and aside from its long association with Jim Crow, and aside from its twentieth-century revival as the emblem of hard-core resistance to measures of basic decency, and aside from the fact that it defines “southern pride” in a way that inherently excludes a huge number of actual and hereditary southerners–aside from all that, if you can possibly put all that aside: displaying that Flag makes four violent years of failure that plunged our region into grinding poverty and cultural isolation for nearly a century the centerpiece of southern identity. That’s an insult to all the southerners who lived before and after the disaster of the Confederacy, and a continuing distortion of what it means to be southern.

To use an appropriate analogy, if the Serbs can give up Kosovo, white southerners can give up the Confederacy and its symbols. Most of them, in fact, already have. But the process of recovery won’t be helped by southern celebrities, however well-meaning, running around the country taking offense at the “political correctness” of people who don’t have much stomach for the St. Andrew’s Cross and its bloody history.


By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, May 16, 2013

May 17, 2013 Posted by | Civil War, Confederacy | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Guns Make Us Safer Is A Cruel Lie”: The “NRA 500” Suicide Highlights Our Hidden Epidemic

News that a man shot and killed himself at a NASCAR race sponsored by the National Rifle Association Saturday night is sure to launch a thousand columns and politicians’ statements making liberal use of the word “irony” — and rightly so — but it also underscores a type of gun violence that is the least talked about in Washington but also the most common: suicide.

Here’s what we know about the incident: 42-year-old Kirk Franklin was found dead in the infield of the Texas Motor Speedway, where he had been camping. Police say the man died of a “self-inflicted” gunshot wound, apparently after getting into an argument with other campers. Alcohol may have been involved.

Of the more than 32,000 firearm-related deaths in 2011, almost 20,000 — 62 percent — were suicides. While horrific mass shootings like the one in Newtown, Conn., provoke national outrage and demands for legislation, they represent less than 1 percent of all gun deaths. It’s the kind of quotidian but lethal admixture of mental health issues, interpersonal dispute and the presence of a firearm that is responsible for the majority of all gun deaths in this country.

“Gun suicide is our ‘hidden’ epidemic — the type of gun violence that results in the most fatalities, yet which is rarely discussed by the media or legislators,” Ladd Everitt of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence told Salon this morning.

“More than anything, Kirk Franklin’s death provides additional proof that the NRA’s ‘guns make us safer’ claim is a cruel lie. In the end, the gun that Franklin brought to the NRA 500 offered him no protection. Instead, in an intense moment of anger or depression, it allowed him to snuff out his own life in an instant—without any recourse to a second chance,” he added.

And these suicide attempts need not end in death, gun safety advocates say. Sure, people will find other ways to attempt suicide, but nothing is nearly as deadly as firearms, which are fatal 85 percent of the time they’re used in an attempt to take one’s life. By contrast, “Many of the most widely used suicide attempt methods have case fatality rates below 5 percent,” according to data from the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Easy access to guns by mentally ill people, even if it’s temporary insanity like among teenagers, can lead to depression turning into a death,” John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence told Salon. “A gun in the home is three to five times more likely to be used against somebody in the home — in a teenage suicide or a domestic argument turning into a homicide. So many of these deaths are preventable.”

Meanwhile, the fact that an interpersonal dispute with some fellow campers, which might otherwise have run its course and been forgotten, became deadly is all too common. Indeed, it’s all too common that a domestic or other personal dispute leads to death simply because a firearm was available, as researchers from Johns Hopkins University have explained.

By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, April 15, 2013

April 16, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Rich Are Different From You And Me”: Mitt Romney’s Good Friends Own Football Teams, Too

Newsflash: Some of Mitt Romney’s good friends own football teams. 
That’s in addition to his great friends who own NASCAR teams.
The rich are different from you and me. Apparently they have lots of friends who own sports teams — something most people probably never thought about until Romney’s presidential campaign.
The interview with Paul Finebaum, a syndicated sports radio host based in Birmingham, Ala., was going so well for Romney until the last couple of minutes. He had described as “pretty tasty” if “a bit fattening” his dinner the night before of catfish, fried dill pickles and hush puppies. He had convincingly discussed his longstanding loyalty to the basketball team at Brigham Young University, which he attended as an undergrad, as opposed to Harvard, where he earned his business and law degrees.
And then came the Peyton Manning question. “I know you want him somewhere away from New England. Where do you think he ought to go?” Finebaum asked about the star quarterback.
“I don’t want him in our neck of the woods, let’s put it that way. I don’t want him to go to Miami or the Jets,” Romney said, laughing, referring to two teams that play the New England Patriots in the American Football Conference Eastern Division. “I got a lot of good friends — the owners of the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets — both owners are friends of mine, but let’s keep away from New England so that Tom Brady has a better shot of picking up a championship for us.”
Romney didn’t mention that Jets owner Woody Johnson is one of his national finance co-chairmen. A very good friend indeed.
The $10,000 bet, the two Cadillacs, the $374,000 in speaking fees that Romney described as “not very much,” the NASCAR team owners and now the football team owners — it is getting hard to keep track of all the times Romney doesn’t notice he is casually saying things that are completely outside the experience of regular people. 
I predicted this problem wouldn’t stop. But it’s still amazing that it continues.


By: Jill Lawrence, The National Journal, March 12, 2012

March 14, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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