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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pat Buchanan Defends the Confederacy

This past week, the right-wing leader and journalist, Pat Buchanan, raised more controversy in defending Virginia's governor McDonnell in his determination to pay tribute to Virginia's Confederate history. According to an article by David Edwards and Daniel Tencer on the raw story website (9 Apr.), Buchanan was interviewed on MSNBC's Hardball, where he made an outrageous apologetic in favor of the historical Confederacy, misrepresented the motivation of Virginia's secession from the Union on April 17, 1861, and then proceeded to defend the rebel cause. According to Edwards and Tencer:
Virginia did not secede over slavery," Buchanan said. "Virginia stayed in the union when Lincoln was elected. ... What took them out of the Union was when Abraham Lincoln said, ‘We want 75,000 volunteers, your militia and your soldiers in Virginia, to attack the deep South and bring them back into the union.’ They said, ‘We're not going to kill our kinsmen.’ That's how Virginia left the union."

The writers report that Buchanan then angered his host, Chris Matthews, by contending that Southern secession was based on a desire for freedom.

"They wanted to be free of the Union," Buchanan said. "They wanted to keep slaves," Matthews retorted. Finally, Matthews pushed Buchanan into a corner. "Who was right in the Civil War?" he asked. "I think in a way both sides were right," Buchanan responded. "Lincoln had a right to save the Union. I think they [the South] had a right to go free."

The date of this posting (17 Apr.) is the 149th anniversary of Virginia's secession from the United States and it seems appropriate to publish notice of Pat Buchanan's undisguised, unrepentant declaration on behalf of the Confederacy. Frankly, none of this is a surprise--no more than Pat Robertson's recent, idiotic declaration regarding Haitian liberation and an alleged pact with the devil. Men like Robertson and Buchanan represent the legacy of the Southern establishment and there is nothing actually revelatory about their remarks if one understands them rightly. The truth is that there are many people, many of them descended from slave holders and Southern rebels, who continue to portray Confederate history in romantic, noble, and grandiose moral and political terms. To be sure, they are not like their fathers and grandfathers, who enforced segregation and opposed black liberation in the civil rights era; but people like Pat Buchanan have done everything possible to reverse the gains of the civil rights struggle within the bounds of contemporary politics.

Jesus once impugned the Pharisees for being like unmarked graves over which people unknowingly walked in defilement (Luke 11:44). In other words, their acceptable appearance as leaders belied the decadence hidden beneath the surface of their religious posturing. The same thing can be said for the Pat Robertsons and Pat Buchanans of the conservative Christian right-wing, particularly in their devotion to Confederate heritage. Pat Buchanan is not a villainous, evil person. However he is unfortunately steeped in the same "Christian" assumptions of his forebears. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, Buchanan is not only the great-grandson of a Confederate army soldier, but a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and an admirer of Robert E. Lee the military mastermind of the Southern war of secession. Should anyone be surprised that Buchanan should go on the offensive in favor of the Confederate cause? Then it also should not be a surprise that his revisionist approach to Confederate history is premised on Southern "freedom" in opposition to the "oppression" of the federal government. Buchanan likely believes his own propaganda. He really does think that the Confederacy was heroic, that its cause was about freedom, and that his forebears were noble, admirable figures whose political militancy can somehow be set apart from the wicked institution of black chattel slavery.

I should stress here that this is not an anti-South diatribe. First, not all Southerners supported secession, nor did all Southerners advocate slavery. Second, chattel slavery is not solely a legacy of the old South; rather, it is a legacy of the Founding Fathers and their Constitution. Thirdly, although chattel slavery became a sectional issue by the time of John Brown's political activism in the 1850s, we should remember that slavery was a national blight that infested many northern states, and many northern slave holders enriched themselves on stolen black labor in New York, Connecticut, and other states that abolished slavery in the 19th century. John Brown himself was not patently anti-South, nor did he blame Southerners for slavery. He blamed the nation as a whole although he recognized that the so-called Peculiar Institution had become essential to the Southern economy in his era. The struggle against slavery and racism in the United States is not a North versus South argument; it is a contest of freedom versus oppression and truth versus fallacy.

As the ancient proverb goes, "the fathers eat the sour grapes and the children's teeth are set on edge." Buchanan's forefather fought for the right of the South to enslave blacks, not for "freedom." The delusion of the slave master's mind (which John Brown recognized as a kind of madness)--the "sour grapes" of Confederate self-justification--has long infested the minds of their descendants with a certain bitterness, namely the prideful necessity of defending immorality and injustice in the name of "Southern" heritage. Yet the question needs to be asked: in what way does Confederate history relate to Southern history? How should it be properly understood? Is Nazism fundamentally identical to German heritage? Is La Cosa Nostra history identical to Italian and Italian American heritage? I would hope that the answer would be obvious. Yet why have so few Southerners ever sufficiently differentiated themselves from the history of slavery and Confederate rebellion? What is it about the fallen Confederacy that so enamors men like Pat Buchanan that they cannot bear witness to the generations of groaning, bleeding, and exploited black people who suffered under the rule that the Confederacy sought to sustain? What is it about the Confederacy that exempts its proud sons and daughters from any sense of regret--yea, that seems even to puff them up with arrogant pride? Even if one accepts the spurious notion that "State's Rights" was the real reason for Southern secession, what was at the core of these "rights"? Was it not primarily the "right" to hold black people in captivity? Was the South otherwise so abused and oppressed by the federal government that it had a higher purpose to rebel? How can Pat Buchanan speak of Southern secession as a matter of "freedom"?

Patrick Buchanan is a true son of the Confederacy. Ostensibly an advocate of high morality, family values, and Christian heritage, he is also a defender of a "lost cause," a fallen slavocracy, and an ill-fated and bloody adventure in rebellion largely premised on the presumption of white supremacy. John Brown has admirers in many nations, especially wherever struggles for freedom have ensued. The same cannot be said for the leaders of the Confederacy whom--with the exception of people like Pat Buchanan--are universally seen as racist oppressors.

Surely the rebel apple doesn't fall far from the Confederate tree.

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