Defending Webb the Confederate
There’s been lots of good discussion surrounding David Mark’s piece noting Sen. Jim Webb’s affinity for the cause of the Confederacy:
Webb is no mere student of the Civil War era. He’s an author, too, and he’s left a trail of writings and statements about one of the rawest and most sensitive topics in American history.
He has suggested many times that while the Confederacy is a symbol to many of the racist legacy of slavery and segregation, for others it simply reflects Southern pride. In a June 1990 speech in front of the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, posted on his personal website, he lauded the rebels’ “gallantry,” which he said “is still misunderstood by most Americans.”
Webb, a descendant of Confederate officers, also voiced sympathy for the notion of state sovereignty as it was understood in the early 1860s, and seemed to suggest that states were justified in trying to secede.
James Fallows effectively takes Mark to task for the journalism of it:
[T]he article…is written in classic and depressing Beltway “could be perceived as problematic” style. It doesn’t flat-out say that there is anything wrong or illegitimate in Webb’s views. In fact it includes one “to be sure” sentence: “There’s nothing scandalous in the paper trail, nothing that on its face would disqualify Webb from consideration for national office.” But then we have:
Yet it veers into perilous waters since the slightest sign of support or statement of understanding of the Confederate cause has the potential to alienate African-Americans who are acutely sensitive to the topic.
The distinctions Webb makes, however, tend not to receive a full airing in the heat of political debate.
“Unless he is able to explain it, it would raise some questions,” [Ron] Walters said.
Please. If someone thinks certain views are outrageous, then say so. Not that they could be misperceived that way if not fully explained, et cetera.
And on the merits:
[W]e’re discussing scenarios in which the first black major party nominee might choose Webb as his running mate. Somehow this would “have the potential” of conveying a pro-Confederate tilt? I don’t think this is the right job for Webb, but his respect for his Confederate ancestors is not the reason why.
I’m of two minds as to whether this Confederate stuff suggests bad things about Webb as a politician. On the one hand, I don’t like Webb’s emotional instinct to glorify the Confederate soldier above the Union one, as if to make up for a perceived century and a half of slights. They were on the wrong side. Period. [...]
On the other hand, resentment does play a powerful and often-neglected role in politics, and it’s useful to have a politician around who’s made an effort to understand its roots. It felt like a totally sick and weird thought, but when I read Webb’s brief description of, he is careful to say, some Southerners’ motive in going to KKK rallies (“bitterness”), Obama’s infamous line that poor whites are “bitter” popped into my mind. Both Webb and Obama have a strong sense of the toxicity and endurance of resentments in American politics, and both men, I think, wish to show attention to, charity to, and empathy towards those who harbor them.