Confederate legacy lingers in D.C.

Tim Paluch

I have to admit I am not too hip on the culture or lifestyle of our American neighbors that reside beneath the Mason-Dixon line. The South is another world to me; I have never been there (Disney World doesn’t count), and I don’t have a desire to experience what it has to offer. So, needless to say, I was a little nervous when President Dubya announced that he would be bringing a little bit of Texas to the White House. What does that mean? Rodeos on the White House lawn, perhaps? Maybe a couple of Camp David family barbecues? It won’t be long before every mailbox in D.C. is mysteriously knocked off its hinges with no evidence left behind but a couple of empty bottles of Southern Comfort, a pork rind here and there and the faint sound of Brooks and Dunn trailing from a 1972 Ford pickup turning onto Washington Avenue at 55 mph.I think we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief, though, because as you probably know, calling Dubya a true Southerner is like calling Pauly Shore a competent dramatic actor because he wasn’t funny in “Jury Duty.” Neither quite fit the mold.Born in that PO-dunk, back country town of New Haven, Conn., li’l Dubya had to endure the hardship of attending the Phillips Academy, an exclusive school in Andover, Mass., before getting degrees from such prestigious southern institutions as Yale and Harvard.It’s true Dubya has been a Texan for quite some time now. He was even anointed owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team after failing in the business sector with a few dozen oil companies. But that doesn’t make him a southerner; Dubya’s a bona fide East-coast privileged boy through and through.So why does Dubya, along with a lot of other contemporary conservatives, tend to align themselves with the old southern Confederacy?Two of Dubya’s cabinet appointees, Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft and Interior Secretary-designate Gale Norton, both have been questioned recently over their past praise of the Confederacy.In a 1996 speech, Norton compared her fight to preserve state’s rights to the Confederate war, saying that “We lost too much” in the defeat to the Union. Ashcroft, in 1998, praised Southern Partisan, a neo-Confederate magazine, for its defense of “patriots” Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Ashcroft has also argued that the Confederacy’s cause in the war had been misrepresented and that slavery did have its benefits.Ashcroft was born in Chicago, grew up in Missouri and got his schooling at Yale. Norton was raised in Colorado. It strikes me as odd that these modern-day conservatives would align themselves with the tradition-rich Confederacy, all without the faintest mention of slavery, Jim Crow laws or segregation problems. In the 50s and 60s, conservatives found a brand new constituency in Southern whites who resisted desegregation. Libertarians argued that federal orders instilling civil rights would violate local authority, again failing to mention the lack of blacks’ rights established by those very local authorities.The white South became the electoral backbone of the conservative cause in 1964 and hasn’t been abandoned since. That was the year that Barry Goldwater carried five southern states, running on a platform that opposed the Civil Rights Act of the same year.You can argue it all you want, but the fact is that magazines such as Southern Partisan are racially insensitive with no real purpose other than defending a racist and immoral Confederacy.Southern Partisan has published articles defending apartheid and denying that slavery is contrary to fundamental Christian values. It also has argued that immigration is contaminating the American genetic racial pool. Hardly an appropriate medium for the U.S. Attorney General to throw his support behind. Whether or not Ashcroft, Norton or other conservatives like Pat Buchanan, Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond would like to see the return of slavery isn’t in question. I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t.What is questionable is the lack of sensitivity shown by these politicians to people outside of the extreme conservative realm. I mean, how do they expect Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson to react when they hear such statements?The views of one John Ashcroft are not the views of mainstream America, just as the views of Al Sharpton are not either. And yet election after election, conservative after conservative find themselves speaking at Bob Jones University, championing states’ rights, shooting down gun-protection laws and supporting the flying of the Confederate flag over a capitol building. The South represents the Confederacy to old-time conservatives, which equal votes from the racially insensitive southern white voters. Dubya may not appear to be as far to the extreme right as some of his peers, but his selections to important cabinet positions show he knows how to play the game. He smirked, waved and appealed to the moderates with talk of unity and inclusion, all the while silently winking to Pat Robertson and southern Christian whites telling them, “Just be patient, I won’t abandon y’all.” Early executive orders are evidence of this.It’s going to be a long time before the Republican party abandons the Confederate constituency that is the white South. It is, and will remain, an electoral jackpot, and the Dubyas and John Ashcrofts and Gale Nortons of the world will continue eating out of their hands. Tim Paluch is a junior in journalism and mass communication from Orland Park, Ill.