Youngkin and Confederate Heritage

by Donald Smith

Does the Virginia GOP want the help and support of the Confederate heritage community? We should get a pretty good indicator this week.

Three bills just passed by the General Assembly will soon land on Governor Youngkin’s desk, if they haven’t already. They will remove the tax exemptions of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Stonewall Jackson Memorial House in Lexington, and stop further issuance of the General Robert E. Lee and Sons of Confederate Veterans license plates (but not recall existing ones). The governor will have only seven days to sign, veto, or let them become law without his signature.

That is plenty of time. Plenty of time for him to do the right thing, and veto them.

Now would be a good time for the governor and his party to take note of an observation made by a noted Confederate heritage partisan — Bill Maher, the comedian and political commentator who hosts the show Real Time with Bill Maher. On the episode that aired days after Governor Youngkin’s election, Maher noted that, in the 2020 presidential election, only four Virginia counties voted 70% or more Republican. In the 2021 governor’s election, 44 did. Maher then showed a map of the strongest areas of GOP turnout. Many were counties where support for Confederate heritage is strong.  

Smart politicians take care of their bases. Especially near election time. There are statewide elections for U.S. senator this year and for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general next year. Republican strategists probably presume that voters who support Confederate heritage are unlikely to vote for Democrats, no matter how unhappy they are. That’s probably true. But they may choose to not vote at all. Or they might sit on their wallets when WinRed and other GOP fundraisers come calling. (If memory serves, Virginia Democrats are flush with cash and can always get more. Can the state GOP say the same?)

It is human nature to think fondly of your ancestors. (Look at the popularity of and the PBS TV series Finding Your Roots). It is also human nature to think poorly of anyone who allows your ancestor’s legacies to be treated with indifference or contempt. Especially when you understand that, if you’d lived back in the times your ancestors lived, you’d most likely have thought and acted the same way they did. Bill Maher pointed this out in a September 2022 episode, where he criticized the adherents of “presentism:”

In today’s world, when truth conflicts with narrative, it’s the truth that has to apologize.  Being woke is like a magic moral time machine, where you judge everyone against what you would have done in 1066, and you always win. Presentism is just a way to congratulate yourself about being better than George Washington because you have a gay friend and he didn’t. But if he were alive today, he would too. And if you were alive then, you wouldn’t.”

Do woke whites honestly think that, if they’d been in Virginia in 1861, they wouldn’t have joined the Confederate Army? That they wouldn’t have thought of whites as superior to people of color? They’re kidding themselves. That’s what virtually all whites thought back then.

The Democrats have succumbed to presentism and wokeism. Everyone knows it. Everyone sees it. People are sick of wokeists. Many yearn for some elected official, any elected official, to stand up to the silly people. Instead, too many officials flinch before them. Many of us who take pride in Virginia and its heritage expect our leaders to defend that heritage. Especially when defending that heritage is easily justified. 

Why should the governor care if The Washington Post, Richmond-Times Dispatch, Virginian-Pilot and other Virginia MSM outlets whine if he vetoes the bills? If you want to get the measure of today’s American mainstream media (MSM) culture, read Adam Rubenstein’s account of his time at The New York Times, the pinnacle of American journalism.  

On one of my first days at The New York Times, I went to an orientation with more than a dozen other new hires. We had to do an icebreaker: Pick a Starburst out of a jar and then answer a question. My Starburst was pink, I believe, and so I had to answer the pink prompt, which had me respond with my favorite sandwich. Russ & Daughters’ Super Heebster came to mind, but I figured mentioning a $19 sandwich wasn’t a great way to win new friends. So I blurted out, “The spicy chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A,” and considered the ice broken.

The HR representative leading the orientation chided me: “We don’t do that here. They hate gay people.” People started snapping their fingers in acclamation. I hadn’t been thinking about the fact that Chick-fil-A was transgressive in liberal circles for its chairman’s opposition to gay marriage. “Not the politics, the chicken,” I quickly said, but it was too late. I sat down, ashamed.

Done laughing yet, or rolling your eyes? Great—there’s more! Read James Bennett’s account of his NYT experiences. Or Bari Weiss’.  I’m confident that, if most Virginia MSM reporters were offered a job at the NYT, they’d crawl over broken glass to get it. Snapping their fingers the whole way. The media is one of the least-respected institutions in America. Why let yourself be pushed around by it? By people who get snippy at the mention of Chick-Fil-A? People who are “figures of fun,” as the British would say. Or, as Robert E. Lee would probably have put it, “those people.”

Governor Youngkin can easily justify vetoing all three bills. All he needs to do, when the wokeists whine, is quote Jim Bacon, who said that these bills “are born of bitter spite, and they open an ugly can of worms.” (If he wants to rub it in, Youngkin could eat a spicy Chick-Fil-A sandwich in front of the reporters as he announces his vetoes. Slowly. Savoring each bite.)

Governors have veto powers to check spiteful and reckless legislatures. We expect the men and women we’ve elected to high office to act when the times and circumstances call for them to act. Josh Shapiro, the Democrat governor of Pennsylvania, knows that. I’ll let National Review’s Charles Cooke take it from here: (Emphasis added)

Governor Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania seems to have worked out what ought to have been entirely obvious to everyone lo these many years: That the easiest way to defeat the silliest people within our society is simply to tell them “No.” Having learned that the Biden administration intended to remove a statue of William Penn from Philadelphia’s Welcome Park, Governor Shapiro contacted the president and told him that this was a remarkably bad idea. In consequence, the plans were changed. Easy, huh?

In parenting, showing up is half the game. In politics, saying “No” fulfills the same role. At present, certain people seem determined to impose their terrible ideas on American society at breakneck pace, in the hope that everyone else will be overwhelmed into submission. When one says “No,” one thwarts this approach at the outset. Going forward, more politicians ought to try it.

Shapiro didn’t have to say or do anything. He could have foisted the blame off on the Biden administration. But he didn’t stay silent. He stepped up. He took action. He led. If Democrats can stand up to their own wokeists, certainly a Republican governor can, too. 

We’ll have a better idea where the governor, and his party, stand at the end of the week.

Note: This column was edited to reflect that Robert E. Lee and SCV license plates would not be recalled by the bills passed this session.