Robert E. Lee and the Race Obsession

by Phil Leigh

Richmond’s Monument Avenue is the latest consequence of a culture obsessed with imaginary systemic racism. Presently, the only legal systemic racism is fifty years of Affirmative Action, which benefits minority races. According to black Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Shelby Steele, Affirmative Action was the first of a long chain of futile initiatives prompted by white guilt to lift blacks out of poverty. All failed because their true motivation was to provide the ruling white elites the moral authority to continue governing.

Affirmative Action never closed the academic performance gap, and government housing forced black fathers out of the home. Instead of promoting self-reliance in the black community, these policies discouraged it. They were, however, habit forming bribes for black votes. Confederate statue destruction is merely the latest bribe. Although chiefly a symbolic gesture, it is vote and donor magnet for race-hustling politicians and “activists.” Razing Monument Avenue statues will do nothing to lift black self-esteem, but it may deepen the racial divide with those who admire Robert E. Lee’s leadership qualities.
Compare, for example, President Joe Biden’s Afghanistan leadership to that of Lee at Gettysburg. Both faced decisive defeats but Biden’s concluding press conference tried to celebrate his chaotic withdrawal as a kind of victory for ending a twenty-year war. In contrast, when the repulsed soldiers of Pickett’s Charge returned after heavy losses to Confederate lines, General Lee rode out to meet them. He immediately took responsibility for the failure. When a distraught general tried to summarize the carnage in his brigade Lee replied, “Never mind, General, all this has been my fault. It is I that have lost this fight.” To General Pickett he said, “Your men have done all that men can do. The fault is entirely my own.” Neither then, nor anytime later, did Lee blame any of his subordinates.

Unlike Biden who tried to manage the Afghanistan departure in luxury from Camp David, Lee shared his soldier’s hardships. He normally slept in tent whereas other army commanders appropriated the home of a nearby prosperous citizen. About a month after he got his army safely back to Virginia, he submitted a battle report to President Jefferson Davis. It praised his soldiers and took all the blame on himself. He wrote, “I know how prone we are to blame others for the nonfulfillment of our expectations. . . The general remedy for want of success in a military commander is his removal. . .” He then proffered his resignation, which Davis rejected.

Lee’s soldiers knew that his acceptance for the Gettysburg failure was genuine. It enabled the army to recuperate to a point where it thrashed General Ulysses Grant’s bigger army at the Battle of the Wilderness ten months later. No commander, North or South, was more beloved by his soldiers than General Lee. General Grant amplified the point after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. When Lincoln’s War Secretary asked Grant what impact Lee’s surrender would have on the remaining Confederate armies, Grant replied, “All the people except a few political leaders of the South will accept whatever [Lee] does as right and will be guided by his example.”

In contrast, President Biden told us that he had consulted with NATO before starting the Afghanistan withdrawal even though the British Parliament promptly denied his claim. Earlier Biden stated that it was extremely unlikely that his evacuation would be as chaotic as the fall of Saigon 45 years ago. In truth, the fall of Kabul was worse. After he could no longer hide the chaos, Biden promised that all Americans that wanted to evacuate would be taken out. That did not happen. He also boasted of taking out a hundred thousand Afghans, most of whom could not possibly have been vetted for terrorist backgrounds. To change the media narrative, he made a video address to American Jews concerning their September holy days. He falsely claimed to have visited a Pittsburgh Synagogue which was violently attacked in 2018. Finally, when saying “the buck stops with me” he often tried to put the blame on Trump for a conditional executive agreement that Biden falsely claimed had straitjacketed him.

The conduct of Biden, as the political leader of the Identity Politics movement,  must give us pause. America cannot prosper if her own political leaders constantly disparage her. Both Shelby Steele and Brown University Economics professor Glenn Loury consider themselves Americans first and black men second.

Loury states, “The richest and most powerful segment of the worldwide black population is here in America. We have black billionaires. Who thinks the American dream is a fraud? Are you kidding me? Tens of millions of non-European immigrants have come to this country in the last fifty years. The statistics show that they are doing well. America is an open and free society.”

Identity Politics is poison. Tearing down Confederate memorials will not advance the status of blacks. While Affirmative Action and monument destruction can be vote magnets for the white ruling class, they might become increasingly offensive to the white middle class who get no benefit from them. Nobody knows how this will turn out. Today’s polarization rivals that of the 1860 presidential campaign. The 1860 candidates thought they were only arguing politics as usual. With 20-20 hindsight we know something much worse came next.

This column is republished with permission from Phil Leigh’s blog, Civil War Chat.