Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell has declared April to be Confederate History Month in Virginia. He will thus issue a proclamation honoring soldiers who fought for the South in the Civil War.
So far, so good. McDonnell’s two Democratic predecessors refused to issue this proclamation, first given by George Allen when he was governor. But those who fought for the South were mostly honorable (and in many cases even heroic) men, even though they were on the wrong side. They deserve a proclamation.
Unfortunately, McDonnell decided to remove anti-slavery language from the proclamation. George Allen’s original proclamation did not contain such language, but Gov. Jim Gilmore added it. McDonnell explained its omission from his proclamation this way:
There were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.
This attempt to give Virginia a pass on the issue of slavery is historically untenable and, I must add, rather offfensive.
It also seems like bad politics. To my knowledge, McDonnell has no problems with his base. To be sure, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has supplanted him as the base’s favorite by being out-front on certain social issues. But by keeping a lower profile, McDonnell has been able to come across, to his benefit, as a somewhat moderate figure without actually “moderating” himself.
Now he is a polarizing figure. Already, former Gov. Douglas Wilder, an African-American who has been supportive of McDonnell and who declined to endorse his opponent last year, has expressed his dismay over McDonnell’s failure to mention slavery in the proclamation.
Republicans may be on the verge of gaining a share of national power, but the electorate still has justifiable reservations about whether the Party deserves power. McDonnell’s decision won’t inspire confidence.