April has always been my favorite month. Sure, it's best known for practical jokes, prolific rains, taxes, and breeding lilacs out of the dead land, but to me it represents my birthday and a brand new opportunity to be let down by the Red Sox, so I have no complaints. Fortunately, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has given a whole new group of folks a reason to celebrate "the cruellest month" with me this year. Who is it, you ask? Grandmothers? Native Americans? Lovers? So close, dear reader, but the answer we were looking for was Confederates.
Yes, by dint of gubernatorial proclamation, April is now Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This is not a drill. Recalling how those brave, tyranny-averse renegades "fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today," Governor McDonnell proudly reinstituted a month-long jubilee honoring the Old Dominion's cherished history of rebelliousness that had fallen by the wayside under the last two Democratic governors, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. To avoid any confusion, the proclamation makes clear that April was chosen not because it was the month that the Confederacy officially surrendered and rejoined America (it was), but rather because it was the month that Virginia seceded from the Union. Priorities, people.
This is roughly the point where I would have ended this article had I been writing it in, say, 1873, but as it turns out it's now 2010 and celebrating the Confederacy is one hundred percent insane. After nearly 150 years of fetishization of the Stainless Banner, from the playful to the hurtful, it's time to acknowledge the incontestable truth about the Confederacy: it was, quite literally, the most unpatriotic thing in the entire history of America. Now, I love Southern culture -- particularly of the culinary variety -- and I would never begrudge someone pride in their heritage, but there is a large difference between celebrating where you came from and glorifying a failed four-year experiment in anti-Americanism. The Confederacy stands for sedition and slavery, and not any of the things that make the South great and strong. I hope that Governor McDonnell eventually realizes that it is the 218 best years of Commonwealth history that ought to be feted, not the fetid four that saw her take up arms against the United States.
There is an added dimension to the timing of this proclamation, and it's a disturbing one. While lovers of the Confederacy have long brushed aside the political reality of the Civil War -- excuse me, the Great War of Yankee Aggression -- by downplaying all of the negative treason business and focusing on the rebellion as a symbol of Southern culture, we are presently in the midst of a bizarre moment in America where the concept of secession has become something of a battle cry among certain logic-challenged pockets of Governor McDonnell's party. A Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll of self-identified Republicans conducted back in January asked respondents if they believed their state should secede from the United States. 23% said 'yes,' 19% said 'not sure,' and only 58% said 'no.' Among southerners, the 'yes' number was 33%. At a Tea Party protest last spring, Texas Governor Rick Perry famously declared that he was open to the idea of the Lone Star State going it alone. I get that conservatives are furious about the fact that President Obama has cut taxes for 95% of Americans (because this is Opposite Year), but when nearly half of your party, prominent elected officials, and Todd Palin are all open to the idea of seceding, is that a patriotic response? Or is it the exact opposite of a patriotic response?
While the racial insensitivity inherent in Confederate History Month would be enough to make it a terrible and ugly idea, I wonder about the other message it sends. The Supreme Court held in Texas v. White, 74 U.S. 700 (1869), that the Constitution does not permit states to break off from the Union, yet more than a century later the specter persists. By electing to honor those who fought to destroy America, McDonnell is articulating a false and worrisome statement about our country and our Constitution: "Yes, Virginia, there is a secession clause." It is my hope that the good people of Virginia reject the divisive intentions of their Governor, and my further hope that Mr. McDonnell comes to recognize that his magnificent Commonwealth has moved beyond the traitors of its past.