At the stop light today, I looked around at the cars on both sides of us and at the ones entering the freeway to our right. During the time it took that light to turn green, I counted one TEA (Taxed Enough Already) window sticker, one Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate, one “W” sticker and my husband noted one shiny new car with a single tail light disabled, which apparently is a signal to Klan members that the driver is one of them. I’ve come to accept that every third or fourth car here will spot a “W” or a “NObama” sticker. I had not really thought about the uglier remnants of Southern racism and separatism.
That license plate sighting caused me to consider what Sons of Confederate Veterans represents. The great-grandpas on both sides of my family wore the Confederate gray; my father’s great grandpa went to war as a twelve year old drummer boy and somehow made it through. My mom’s family owned slaves as prominent cotton gin operators in Georgia before the Civil War. I’m not sure mom’s great-grandpa lived through the war – all family lore says on the matter is that the family lost everything and retreated to the hills of Southeastern Oklahoma, where my uncles and cousins live today. While I don’t spend time agonizing over the fact that my ancestors were part of a terrible injustice – they were simply caught in the economic, social and political conventions of their time and place – I don’t celebrate their Confederate slave-owning pedigree either.
What thought process goes into someone joining an organization dedicated to celebrating and preserving a Confederate viewpoint? What “good old days” are they looking toward? I understand they don’t want people to view their forebears as evil and degenerate – and they weren’t; the fact remains that the Confederacy was on the wrong side morally.
Some say that the Sons of the Confederacy is simply a historic preservation group. Others, like noted Civil War historian James M. McPherson, think that certain groups of Sons of Confederate Veterans and its sister organization, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, have what he calls a “neo-Confederate” agenda with white supremacist goals at their core. Not having known anyone personally who’s involved in either group, I can’t say who’s right. But if McPherson is, the recent talk of secession takes on a more sinister taint.
Among the notable Sons of Confederate Veterans, one finds governors of Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Virginia, Senators and Representatives from most of the Southern states, Pat Buchanan, Clint Eastwood and President Truman. Current newsmakers who are members include Representative Joe Wilson and maybe-we’ll-just-secede-then TX Governor Rick Perry. Maybe Governor Hairpiece, as some of us in the Lone Star state refer to him, is doing something more than simply grandstanding for the cameras to get some national air. Maybe he has a neo-confederate agenda.
Perry’s record would certainly read like one of someone who doesn’t look favorably on minorities. He’s executed more death row inmates than any other governor in modern times – 200 – the vast majority of whom were African American and Latino.
Perry tried to decline Federal stimulus monies aimed at extending unemployment benefits, but got overturned by the TX legislature. He has refused to bring funding for children’s health programs back up to levels he himself had previously advocated, despite the availability of federal matching fund that would more than do the job. TX ranks 49 among the 50 states in number of residents who have completed high school, due in part to the effect of Perry tax cuts on public education. Perry rejects all regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. All of these things arguably have a greater effect on the poor since they use children’s health programs more, can’t afford to send their children to private schools and often live in neighborhoods more subjected to industrial pollution.
In Texas, where the poverty rate is almost 4% higher than the national average, poverty rates are even higher among Latino and African American Texans. Most of these poor families are working poor – over 80% of them. Rick Perry’s Texas is a horrible place to be poor. Our eligibility for public assistance programs is much tougher than other states, benefits are comparatively lower and there are not as many health resources available to adults. Could this callous public policy be partially informed by a worldview that looks nostalgically back at Confederate days? Maybe.
As alarming as the practical effects of his policies is the effect of Perry’s strident tone and arrogant attitude. Those of us who don’t agree with him politically see the idea of being marooned in a Republic of Texas under the guidance of Governor Hairpiece as tantamount to suddenly being transported to a third world nation to live. But the fact that people often forget when debating how awful it would be if we seceded is that we wouldn’t just be cut loose on the say-so of Rick Perry and a bunch of wing-nuts. If TX (or any other state) actually decided to act on this harebrained secession talk, the Army would become involved and there would be blood. Which may be what some of these people want.
The healthcare reform 9/12 protests in DC are being spearheaded by the National Association of Rural Landowners (NARLO), as Rachel Maddow exposed on her show this week. One of the things this group is known for is producing a video titled “The Coming Civil War”. Here is the closing statement from that video:
“Although we are being civil now, our civility is straining at the leash. After civility and calls for redress of grievances that aren’t answered come massive protests and the potential break-down of civil order.
After massive protests will come the secession of states. After the secession of states will come the pitchforks. And after the pitchforks will come the guns. After the guns will come civil war or outright revolution.”
As a Governor of one of our most populous states, is Rick Perry telegraphing that armed revolution is the outcome he is seeking when he advocates secession? Probably not. He is likely just being noxiously politically opportunistic, trying to appeal to those in his electorate – a substantial number – who agree with the sentiments of NARLO head Ron Ewart that the Obama government does not represent them. Such a stance against an African American President may be easier for Perry to countenance given his background as a Sons of Confederate Veterans member. Perhaps to him secession doesn’t have an infantry stink of terror and bloodshed; perhaps it carries with it a whiff of nostalgia for a lost time, when Southern gentlemen went gallantly off to war on their Calvary chargers.
I just can’t relate to such an attitude, and I can’t help but fear the casual discussion of pitchforks, guns, secession and civil war. It’s just idle talk now – politicians posturing before an ill-informed crowd. But the same sort of talk – harkening back to the founding fathers, complaining bitterly of tariffs and rejecting all compromise – also occurred in the 1860s right before the Civil War. When I look at the map of our nation showing the red vs. the blue states, and when I look around at a random sampling of my fellow citizens’ self-identifications as displayed on their cars, I can’t help but wonder if Governor Hairpiece is not getting himself in deeper than he may have bargained for by opening the secession discussion in TX once more.