SC State Senate Majority Leader Glenn McConnell’s Confederate Obsession

Paul Wachter

(Sept. 15) — It comes as no surprise to South Carolina natives that state Senate Majority Leader Glenn McConnell likes to play dress-up. On Tuesday, Will Folks, former spokesman for Gov. Mark Sanford and self-described cuckolder of GOP gubernatorial candidate Nikki Haley’s husband, posted pictures to his political website of McConnell attending a party dressed as a Confederate general. In the pictures, he’s surrounded by various African-Americans dressed as slaves.

This was not some secret party. It was last weekend’s annual board of directors meeting of the National Federation of Republican Women in Charleston, McConnell’s district. Sanford and other prominent local Republican politicos were there. "Invited speakers to the NFRW conference included U.S. House Majority Leader John Boehner, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, RNC Chairman Michael Steele, Rep. Joe Wilson, House Speaker Bobby Harrell, former U.S. Ambassador David Wilkins and GOP gubernatorial nominee Nikki Haley," Folks writes.

Gawker and other national media sites picked up the story, largely focusing on McConnell and asking a fair question: Why would any African-American dress up as a slave? That remains a good question, but there’s no doubt as to why McConnell appeared so happy decked out as Robert E. Lee’s contemporary. He’s obsessed with the Confederacy.

McConnell owns a store that sells Confederate memorabilia. Last time I saw him, his cell phone bore a Confederate flag, and its ring tone chimed Dixie. This was several years ago. I was working on a Nation magazine article about two Charleston-based museum projects. (It’s well worth the $2.95 to get behind the subscriber wall!) One’s an African-American history museum, which intends to provide an unvarnished look at the realities of slavery in Charleston, the port through which half of American slaves entered the country.

The other museum project is a showcase for the Hunley, a Confederate submarine. The Hunley sunk on its voyage back to port after sinking the USS Housatonic on Feb. 17, 1864. This is McConnell’s pet project, or more accurately, his obsession. Among South Carolina politicos there’s a saying: "All the other state senators have a honey, while Glenn McConnell has a Hunley."

The Hunley, which has been recovered and is on display at a warehouse in Charleston, has obvious historic significance: It was the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel. But when I visited, the site included a gallery and gift shop that oozed Confederate nostalgia, replete with fresh bolls of cotton for sale.

Given that McConnell is the state’s most powerful legislator, I’ll leave it to the readers to guess which one of these projects is being funded by South Carolina taxpayers.

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