I suspect that the reason for this disconnect with historical reality is that: 1) The Fox News Channel is essentially a propaganda arm of the neoconservative political cabal that has captured the Republican Party; 2) One of the cornerstones of neocon ideology is Lincoln idolatry and hatred of the South and Southerners. (Professor Paul Gottfried, for one, has written extensively about this.) 3) Therefore, if Glenn wants to keep his gig at Fox, he must toe the party line on Lincoln. Being otherwise libertarian – while the Democrats are in power – serves the purposes of the neocon cabal nicely.
Whatever the reason, I am very disappointed in Glenn Beck and have lost a degree of confidence in the accuracy and truthfulness of other statements he has made or will make in the future. I hate this because I have had such confidence in his truthfulness and admire his courage in revealing many of his findings about powerful people and potentially explosive situations.
We will have to wait and see whether Beck recants and returns to the embrace of a view that has almost nothing to do with history. As far as I can tell, all three individuals lack a serious understanding of Lincoln and the Civil War, but for some reason I find myself rooting for Beck.
Update: The interviews were conducted by the Palmetto Patriots with all the candidates and are available on the organization’s website. A wide range of issues were covered. McMaster discusses the flag in Part 2 at 2:55. Bauer comments on the flag in Part 2 at 4:50 after one of the interviewers admits that there is some crossover between the SCV and Palmetto Patriots. Barrett is a member of an SCV camp and in Part 1 at 2:25 pledged to defend the Confederate flag against “cultural genocide.” One of the interviewers also encouraged Barrett to resist calls to remove the statue of Ben Tillman from the statehouse. There is nothing surprising in any of this.
This is a wonderful example of a behind-the scenes-look at the way in which Civil War/Confederate heritage continues to shape politics. I’m not sure Nikki Haley, who recently won the Republican Gubernatorial Primary in South Carolina, knows anything about the American Civil War, but she is clearly being put through the ringer by an unknown group. I suspect that the interviewers are with the Sons of Confederate Veterans, but I can’t be sure. Haley reduces the war to a matter of “tradition vs. change” and is clearly doing her best not to offend. Around the 5 minute mark one of the interviewers demands to know Haley’s position on the ongoing debate about the Confederate flag and reminds her of their work to remove Governor Beasley for proposing to remove the flag from atop the statehouse.
I’m not sure if I am more upset about the complete lack of historical understanding by everyone in this video or that this is an issue that demands serious attention by our candidates for public office.
Thankfully the media circus is beginning to die down over last week’s Confederate History Month proclamation. I ended up watching more of the “debate” on the major news channels than I care to admit. It was downright painful to watch. The most disappointing aspect of it all was the almost complete absence of any professional historians. You would think that the major networks could have mustered up at least one legitimate historian. The closest I saw was a half-way decent interview that Rachel Maddow conducted with Patricia Harris-Lacewell, who teaches politics and African American Studies at Princeton. Unfortunately, the professor’s distinction between two southern pasts didn’t quite address all of the salient issues involved.
More often than not the audience was treated to the same talking heads who clearly do not understand the relevant history. CNN’s Roland Martin had a field day with this issue, which included a lively debate with Brag Bowling. No surprise that Bowling was at times inarticulate, but Martin’s comparison of Confederate soldiers with Nazis and suggestion that they were “domestic terrorists” shut the door on any chance of rational debate. You can read Martin’s recent essay comparing Confederates with terrorists on the CNN site. It is one of the most incoherent arguments that I’ve seen in a long time; I would love for someone to explain it to me. Finally, check out Martin in this little clip with Republican adviser Mary Matalin, who retreats to the old saw that most white southerners were not slaveowners and that most northerners were not abolitionists.
Next, we head on over to Hardball where we find Pat Buchanan and Chris Matthews in full combat. Neither of these guys is capable of doing much more than jabbing back and forth at one another and Buchanan’s constant referencing of the Founding Fathers as slaveowners makes little sense. Also on MSNBC is something called the Dylan Rattigan Show. I have no idea who he is nor can I identify the guests beyond their names. Regardless, there is almost nothing worth repeating from this interview. Finally, I share with you a real doozy of an interview with the chairman of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Jeff Davis. Davis does a fabulous job towing the SCV party line and we learn from the woman conducting the interview that there were 500,000 slaves in West Virginia. Oh boy.
It’s hard to believe that with the resources available to these “news” outlets that this was the best they could do in communicating much needed information to the general public. I am tired of hearing those cries about how little our students understand about this nation’s history. If the rest of the nation’s understanding of the past is anything like what was presented as news on this issue over the past week than our children are the least of our problems. In the end our mainstream news reflects our mainstream culture.
This post originally ran in April 2007. I thought it might be worth re-posting given the recent debate here in Virginia and throughout the country over Confederate History Month. I am wondering whether we are witnessing a decisive shift in our collective memory of the war? Is the governor’s apology an indication that it is no longer possible to use the Lost Cause for political gain?
One of my readers recently pointed out that the Civil War Sesquicentennial observances may coincide with the election of our first black president. How will that shape the national narrative that will arise out of political speeches, state sesquicentennial commission plans, and other observances? My friendly emailer asks:
As the bellowing over the Confederate battle flag seems to be nearing crescendo, how relevant will Confederate heritage appear four years from now? And with, perhaps, a black president, how empty will any Confederate legacy be revealed to be?
The more I think about it the more it becomes apparent that an Obama presidency could reshape our understanding of the Civil War, Reconstruction and the rest of American history right down to the Civil Rights Movement. We’ve already seen how a push for black civil rights in the 1950s and 60s served to challenge the work of various centennial commissions. This led to a noticeable waning in enthusiasm among white Americans for centennial celebrations by 1963. The difference this time around could be that with Obama potentially elected in 2008 that this will leave plenty of time for the nation to begin to rethink its history and the place of slavery and emancipation within the overall narrative. Think about it: We will hear about how far the nation has come since before the Civil War. Part of that narrative will highlight the Civil War as leading to emancipation through the sacrifice and bravery of black soldiers themselves along with the actions of countless others. It is reasonable to expect that the work of various organizations involved in setting up events for the sesquicentennial would be influenced to some extent by this natural curiosity as to how the nation has come to elect its first black president. In short, the “emancipationist legacy” of the Civil War would return to center stage. It does have the potential of becoming overly celebratory and I would resist this urge for the sake of maintaining the focus on better understanding the relevant history.
Returning to the passage quoted above it is necessary to point out that the “emptiness” referred to in connection with “Confederate heritage” is not meant to denigrate the very strong desire on the part of Southern whites to remember and acknowledge the service of ancestors. I’ve said before that there is nothing necessarily wrong or even strange about this personal need to remember. It is meant, however, to point out that this view reduces both the war years, Reconstruction, and the history of race and slavery in a way that fails to acknowledge salient factors and relevant perspectives as part of the overall historical narrative. It tends to reduce Southern history and the Civil War to the perspective of white Southerners and equates the Confederacy with the South. More importantly, Southern history is equated or understood along the overly narrow lines of the four years of the Confederacy. In short, the narratives coming out of Confederate Heritage groups would be inadequate to explain a black president.
More to the point, the attention among professional historians in recent years to better understanding the ways in which slavery shaped the Confederate experience will potentially occupy a central place in future narratives that purport to explain the historical background of a black president. We will be forced to acknowledge secession and the Confederacy as an attempt to maintain slavery and a racial hierarchy and not simply as a constitutional right or a defense of hearth and home; both points figure prominently in our collective memory while race and slavery linger on the fringes. Of course, understanding the Civil War years does not in any way come close to defining the black experience in America nor does an emphasis on the American South. What it does do, however, is highlight the importance that was attached to emancipation both during the war and in the decades to follow before it was overshadowed by reunion, reconciliation and Jim Crow at the turn of the twentieth century.
This Jimmy Kimmel Live skit about the Leno-O’Brien/NBC feud suggests that the Ken Burns-style documentary has become a permanent fixture in our cultural lexicon. Other examples can be found here and here. You will have to look closely, but when they get to photoshopping the famous photograph of Lincoln and McClellan in the tent at Antietam the audio doesn’t match the video. It’s a funny little video. By the way I am Conan supporter all the way.