Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell ignited howls of protest last year when they publicly applauded their state’s Confederate heroes. Now comes Florida Governor Rick Scott. He drew the same loud cry of Confederate lover when he proposed plopping six former Florida governors who served in the Confederate army in the state’s Veterans Hall of Fame. The outcry was swift and rightly so.
Couldn’t Scott and the State’s Department of Veterans Affairs have found other state war vets that actually served their country honorably, not fought their country dishonorably as the Florida Confederate governors did, to induct? And couldn’t Scott and the Department have found some African-American military vets from Florida who served with honor and distinction in any of America’s wars?
Neither Scott nor the Department have publicly as yet answered these elementary questions. The best that Scott could say was that he didn’t pick the names on the honoree’s list and didn’t know whether the six Confederates would be on the final roll call of honorees. But whether they are on the list, or ultimately dumped from it, is less important than why they were on there in the first place.
When the controversy comes up over whether Confederates should be honored, and continued to be honored with such reverence and passion by predominately southern GOP state officials, there argument is that it’s not about defending slavery or perpetuating racial bigotry, but they are simply honoring a proud southern history and tradition.
This phony line has been debunked countless times. Fighting to preserve the Confederacy was to fight to preserve slavery, inhumane brutality, racial apartheid American style, and the century of Jim Crow legal segregation and violence that the Confederacy encoded in law and public policy.
But Scott and the other GOP governors pining for the Confederate past, has nothing to do honoring and preserving history, but inflaming a very real living political present.
Defending the Confederate flag, Confederate monuments, and long dead Confederate soldiers, stirs conservative Southern white voter sentiments and passions. It’s their way of reminding their core voters that the south is still a major player in national politics, and can bend, shape and manipulate public opinion to get its way in framing and passing retrograde state and national laws. And that the south serves as a crucial political weight balance to Congress and the White House, and has been crucial in national elections.
Republican presidents Nixon, Reagan, Bush, George W. Bush could not have won the White House without the iron-clad popular and electoral votes from the virtual Solid South. The Southern Strategy that Nixon pioneered, and GOP presidents used with devastating political effectiveness has rested squarely on saying and doing as little as possible about civil rights, lambasting big government, and liberal Democrats, and touting states rights. The GOP presidents and contenders were never crude enough to wave the names of Confederate war heroes as American war heroes. They didn’t have to.
States rights and big government bias were all code words and phrases that pandered to the latent racial bigotry that is the solid underpinning of the enshrinement of Confederates by conservative southern whites. The furious and defiant fight that Southern state officials wage to display of the Confederate flag on statehouses, license plates, and publicly funded buildings and the praise of Confederate war heroes is their way of saying that the Confederacy is hardly an arcane, archaic and insulting past but that it’s their way to flex the south’s political muscle.
The GOP has served ample notice that it intends to do whatever it takes to fulfill its oft repeated vow to make President Obama a one term president. The shock troops of the Tea Party are not enough to make that happen. Though it was telling that a year ago officials from the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia and Mississippi argued that the Confederate Army fought for the same things that the Tea Party is fighting for. Still the GOP will need the electoral votes of a unified, conservative white South now more than ever to oust Obama.
Governor Scott and probably one or two or more Southern GOP governors will figure out a way to pull the Confederate card out of the deck again and drop it on the political table before the national presidential election dust settles.
The Confederate card will serve the same function that it always has and that’s to send the strong message that the white South doesn’t just love its dead Confederate heroes. It loathes a moderate Democratic president and will do its bit to get him out of the White House. In other words, the South won’t rise again. It never fell. Scott’s and Florida’s tout of six Confederate military vets is eternal proof of that.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Newsmaker Hour on KTYM Radio Los Angeles streamed on ktym.com podcast on blogtalkradio.com and internet TV broadcast on thehutchinsonreportnews.com Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson