Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is a slippery customer. In 2015, McAuliffe favored keeping Virginia’s monuments to Confederate leaders, arguing that “these are part of our heritage.” “Leave the statues and those things alone,” he told MSNBC.
But just two years later, McAuliffe supports local governments that want to take statues of Robert E. Lee and others down. How does he explain this shift?
He did so yesterday by telling Jake Tapper that the statues have become very controversial. But the statues have always been very controversial. In the 1890s, black leader John Mitchell opposed the erection of the statue of Gen. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, calling it a celebration of Lee’s “legacy of treason and blood.”
Indeed, the law the Democrats are trying to overturn, which prohibits local jurisdictions from trying to “disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials” erected to honor Civil War veterans, was passed in 1904 precisely because the legislature recognized that these monuments were, and would remain, controversial.
They were controversial enough in 2015 that McAuliffe had to take a position on the matter. Surely, he understood that a great many Virginians were not best pleased to see statues of those who fought against the Union and on the side of Slave States.
However, McAuliffe also understood that most Virginians want the statues on display, and that it was in his interests as governor to agree with that position. Now that he’s a lame duck (term limits are not without advantages) his interests have shifted.
In any event, the fact that an issue is very controversial provides no justification for taking a particular side. Lots of things are very controversial. Gay marriage, for one. McAuliffe’s decision to let felons vote en masse, for another. Controversy raises issues; it doesn’t answer them.
I happen to agree that local jurisdictions should be able to remove statues if that’s what the people in the locality want to do. But McAuliffe offers no sensible justification for his change of heart.
As I said, he’s a slippery customer.