Getting in Touch With Your Inner Scalawag

It’s pretty clear that Brian Beutler hasn’t gotten too much positive reaction from southerners for his idea of commemorating the defeat of the Confederacy (which occurred 150 years ago this week) as a national holiday (I’m for the most part an exception). He says today he couldn’t even get a response from the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. And so he figures something like a Reunion Day may not be ripe until the bicentennial of Appomattox.

But Beutler does go on to encourage southern liberals to stop internalizing the Confederate apologia, and I agree. The resemblance of today’s radical conservatives in the South to yesteryear’s should be enough to keep any progressive cracker from identifying with the Lost Cause, even as a purely cultural matter (I’ve never understood why you need to sympathize with racism to enjoy grits or country music or even NASCAR).

Frankly, though, I’m not sure that’s why Beutler’s getting the cold shoulder from white southerners of good will. I suspect they don’t like his idea purely and simply because it would create another handicap for liberalism and another grievance for conservatives in a region with far too much of both already. Had, for example, this idea come up last year and Democratic Senate candidate Michelle Nunn of Georgia was asked about it, I’m pretty sure she’d have rejected it, and nobody much would have second-guessed her. I’m even more certain she doesn’t have a pro-Confederate bone in her body.

Still, there’s something to be said for simple honesty yoked to historical accuracy. If white southerners can look back at Jim Crow with unmixed disdain and even anger, it’s unclear why its Confederate parentage deserves perpetual respect. Yes, many good people died on the Confederate side of the Civil War barricades, but that’s all the more reason to despise the politicians who drove them to the grave in a bad as well as a Lost Cause. So I’d encourage southern white liberals to get in touch with their inner Scalawags, and maybe move the South towards the day when Dixieland does not “look away” from its crimes.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.