Courtesy of Memeorandum River:
On Wednesday, April 7, Virginia’s Gov. Bob McDonnell publicly apologized for having left slavery out of his announced observance of April as National Confederacy Month, and then for saying — in response to objections — that he didn’t mention slavery because slavery wasn’t “significant” enough to be included.
The conservative response to Gov. McDonnell’s ignorance was mostly chagrined and critical, but one far right commentator — Jennifer Rubin at Commentary — used the occasion of McDonnell’s apology to equate the governor’s assertion that slavery was not important enough to include in Virginia’s National Confederacy Month, to Barack Obama’s use of the phrase “teachable moment” as part of an attempt to put a positive spin on the racially charged confrontation between black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and a Boston police officer who arrested Gates in his home.
Then, on Sunday, April 11, after McDonnell had apologized and issued a new announcement of National Confederacy Month with slavery included, Haley Barbour, Mississippi’s governor, told CNN’s Candy Crowley that “it goes without saying that slavery was bad” and so it didn’t need to be mentioned or included in Virginia’s promotion for the study of the Confederacy:
“I don’t know what you would say about slavery,” Barbour told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, “but anybody who thinks that slavery is a bad thing – I think goes without saying.”
Responding to concerns that McDonnell’s omission of any mention of slavery was insensitive, Barbour said, “To me, it’s a sort of feeling that it’s a nit. That it is not significant, that it’s not a – it’s trying to make a big deal out of something doesn’t amount to diddly.”
So…. If slavery is “a nit” to the subject of the Confederacy because everyone knows it was bad, then why is the Confederacy so centrally important to Virginia’s history? Because it was good, and a much-loved part of Virginians’ collective memories?
But don’t spend any time wondering if Gov. McDonnell is feeling embarrassed or annoyed by having his apology undercut. He’s already on to the next opportunity to demonstrate how far he is from being the mainstream presidential hopeful that the GOP leadership would have us believe he is. This time, he is putting up an extra hoop for nonviolent felons to jump through in order to get their voting rights restored after getting out of prison — and it’s one that is likely to have a disproportionate effect on African Americans (surprise, surprise):
McDonnell (R) will require the offenders to submit an essay outlining their contributions to society since their release, turning a nearly automatic process into a subjective one that some say may prevent poor, less-educated or minority residents from being allowed to vote.
McDonnell’s administration said the essay requirement is designed to put a human face on each applicant and to help staff members better understand each person’s situation.
“It gives all applicants the opportunity to have their cases heard and have their full stories told,” said Janet Polarek, secretary of the commonwealth, whose office handles the requests. “It’s an opportunity, not an obstacle.”
Um, yeah. This kind of opportunity.
To understand how disingenuous Polarek’s comment is, consider this (from the jump of the same WaPo article):
Only Virginia and Kentucky require an act of the governor to restore voting rights to felons. The vast majority of states, including Maryland, automatically restore voting rights after a sentence is completed. The District allows felons to vote upon their release from prison.
In Virginia, under a system designed by then-Gov. Mark R. Warner (D), felons convicted of nonviolent crimes have been able to apply to have their voting rights restored by filling out a one-page form with information about their arrest and conviction.
Bernard Henderson, who served as deputy secretary of the commonwealth under Warner and his successor, Timothy M. Kaine (D), said voting rights were restored to applicants who had clean records for three years after their sentences were completed. He said that restoration was not automatic but that rights were restored to about 95 percent of those who applied.
In coming weeks, McDonnell will start requiring nonviolent offenders to write a letter to him explaining the circumstances of their arrest; their efforts to get a job, seek an education and participate in church and community activities; and why they believe their rights should be restored. Some applicants already have been notified that letters will be required.
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