Ever since South Carolina’s Rep. Joe Wilson insulted the president and his office during Wednesday’s Health Care speech, the newspapers can’t get enough of his connection with the Sons of Confederate Veterans as well as his outspoken support for the public display of the Confederate flag and “Confederate honor.” Today’s NYT’s column by Maureen Dowd takes this news thread to drive home an essentially reductionist connection between Wilson’s nutty little outburst, his personal past, and the broader history of his home state of South Carolina:
The congressman, we learned, belonged to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, led a 2000 campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above South Carolina’s state Capitol and denounced as a “smear” the true claim of a black woman that she was the daughter of Strom Thurmond, the ’48 segregationist candidate for president. [Therefore] Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.
Others have tried to situate Wilson into a broader historical narrative that includes the likes of John Calhoun, Preston Brooks, and South Carolina’s own place in the story of secession, Civil War, and Massive Resistance. These narrative memes are so predictable, but ultimately tell us next to nothing about what motivated Joe Wilson’s outburst. Oh…I get it. Because Calhoun, Brooks, and Thurmond are so easily lumped together in some vague reactionary category we might as well throw good old Wilson in there. Dowd and others draw much too close of a connection between between Wilson’s past and the broader history of the state that he represents. It’s almost silly that it even has to be pointed out. SCV members are not necessarily card carrying racists; in fact, I read plenty of news reports of members who voted for Obama back in November. It also doesn’t follow that those who identify with the Confederate past by flying a flag on private property are engaged in racial commentary or attempting to role back the clock to the Jim Crow Era. How much do you think Dowd and others know about the SCV to be able to imply such a connection? Please don’t get me wrong, this is not meant in any way as a public statement of support for the SCV or a signal that a Confederate flag is going up on my front porch. I’ve made my position clear on both the SCV and the flag on this blog.
I get the sense that the many reports that have implied such connections present Americans with another opportunity to play with our Civil War memory.