Why is Virginia's governor still fighting the Civil War?

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Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is an “interesting” politician. He’s incredibly polished when speaking on script, but if you broadside him with an unexpected question, he fumbles his words like a 16-year old boy seeing a naked woman for the first time. I recall watching Gov. McDonnell on television, explaining in an incredibly eloquent fashion how Barack Obama’s health care reform plan was going to lead our nation to hell in a hand basket. Heck, he almost had me convinced. But then Greta Van Susteren threw a sharp question at McDonnell that he didn’t see coming, and that is when he lost my respect. Upon trying to answer a question about what to do with the uninsured, McDonnell lost his cool faster than a popsicle in a tanning bed. Forrest Gump could have done a better job.

When you are governor of a state like Virginia, you’ve got to be smooth. When you are a governor attempting to explain how our country should commemorate the Confederacy, you’ve got to be Bill Clinton smooth and pretty damn persuasive. McDonnell wasn’t smooth at all recently when a reporter asked him why he forgot to mention the evils of slavery during his announcement that his state will commemorate Confederate History Month. That’s when his critics really got excited.

Going beyond Bob McDonnell’s own inadequacies as governor, let’s think carefully about why a Republican governor in a southern state might want to remember the Confederacy. One can make the logical argument that Confederates, like other radical groups, were an important part of history and deserve to have their memories preserved. I can almost buy that, but not really.

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The problem, however, is that the Confederate government, which lasted less than the amount of time most students spend in college, was “rest[ed] upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth,” according to Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America.

So, as a Republican governor who is already connected to a party that is regularly accused of racism, McDonnell is promoting the commemoration of an organization founded on the premise that black people are inferior. So, we no longer have to guess if McDonnell is a racist, some might say we have undeniable proof. Attempting to honor the Confederacy while citing the evils of slavery is like trying to commemorate Santa Claus while denouncing Christmas.

The Confederate flag is the swastika for African-Americans. It reminds us of a national movement designed to legalize the rape, murder, castration, beating, bondage and lynching of our people. Those who support this movement, in the past or present, are no better and no different than those who supported the work of Adolf Hitler. That’s the bottom line.

Governor McDonnell’s decision to go out of his way to praise the movement that claims that black people are inferior is interesting in light of the recent populist backlash against our first African-American president. The vocal discussion of states rights and longing for the days in which black people were slaves is reminiscent of where our nation was 200 years ago. To give you a quick summary of who Governor McDonnell chooses as his heroes, consider the words of historian William J. Cooper, who wrote a biography of Confederacy President Jefferson Davis:

For his entire life he (Davis) believed in the superiority of the white race. He also owned slaves, defended slavery as moral and as a social good, and fought a great war to maintain it. After 1865 he opposed new rights for blacks. He rejoiced at the collapse of Reconstruction and the reassertion of white superiority with its accompanying black subordination.

Anyone who condones these beliefs in any way and celebrates a government founded on such absurd principles has no place in our democracy. The fact that this conversation is being had is yet another reminder that we do not live in a post-racial America. I would say that Bob McDonnell should no longer be governor, but the fact that so many people support him makes my case that much stronger

Dr. Boyce Watkins is the founder of the Your Black World Coalition and the initiator of the National Conversation on Race. For more information, please visit BoyceWatkins.com>