Why Obama Should Give Neo-Confederate Bigots What They Want This Memorial Day

by Meg White

Ever since Woodrow Wilson’s administration, American presidents have been honoring a group with racist and secessionist undertones, which is influenced by religious extremism. This Memorial Day, President Barack Obama will have the choice to either break with this shameful tradition or continue it.

My advice to him is this: Keep it going.

Presidents have consistently sent a wreath to a monument in Arlington National Cemetery confederate monument arlington cemeteryhonoring the Confederate side of the Civil War every year for decades. In recent years, this has taken place on Memorial Day, though in the past, presidents have favored the June birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The monument goes further than just honoring dead soldiers, however. The language inscribed upon it glorifies the ideals of the Confederacy itself, and detractors say it is used as an excuse to embrace racism and neo-Confederate ideology.

There is a movement brewing to encourage Obama to stop legitimizing neo-Confederates by refusing to send the obligatory wreath to the monument. The effort is led by a group of thoughtful scholars influenced by good intentions. While I agree that it is morally reprehensible to honor the deaths of those who killed their own brothers in an effort to destroy our country, I respectfully disagree with their interpretation of the reality of the situation facing our president.

The argument for sending the wreath championed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that originally gathered the funds to build the monument in Arlington National Cemetery to honor the remains of over 200 Confederate soldiers that were re-interred there in 1900, is ostensibly historic. Ever since the memorial was erected in 1914, presidents have been paying homage annually. But that’s not why I think Obama should send the wreath. I think he should comply with this tradition because it’s cheap.

I don’t think the Daughters of Confederate Soldiers are this genteel southern ladies’ group they pretend to be. They have a history of cavorting with the Klan and other white supremacists and they do not deny that the monument was built to glorify the ideology of the South during its secessionist period. I don’t want to oversimplify an incredibly complex period of our national history, but the South stood for the right to practice brutal slavery and used violence to resolve its issues with the Union. These are not American values, and Obama does not personify them. But if the only thing these wackos want is a wreath I have to say that frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.

That’s right; give the intolerant bastards their silly wreath. OK, can I have my universal healthcare now?

There are scores of conservative groups circulating lies and opinions about how the president has dishonored the military. Obama not sending a wreath to the Confederate monument would be one more round to add to their arsenal, so to speak. They would take the nugget of truth to the story and mix in all the conspiracy theories about Obama being a socialist Muslim atheist Black Panther born in Africa who is bent on destroying the country. The last thing these loose cannons need is ammo.

Take for example this comment on a poll asking whether or not Obama should send the wreath (the site on which the poll is posted seems to be politically neutral, but the user who submitted the question is decidedly conservative. The question itself, though, is phrased in a relatively non-combative way). The comment comes from a writer who identifies him or herself as "Extremist Soldier of Christ" and accompanies the comment with a picture of Obama’s birth certificate from Hawaii:

No… I think we should change the tradition- Let Obama put his birth certificate on it and tell the people that you don’t need to be a citizen and die for this great land. Just pay the people and use big black national liberation thugs to scare you at the polls. Let this replace the wreath.

Another commenter wrote this:

BO snubbed the Salute To Heroes Ball, which honors all the Medal Of Honor recipients, on inauguration day to hang with the MTV party crowd. Chances are the muslim

[sic] bastard will snub this event as well.

Dozens of historians and scholars have signed a May 18 letter urging the president to not send a wreath to the monument. You can read the letter and view some of the signatories here at the History News Network site.

The letter argues that the "monument should not be elevated in prestige above other monuments by a presidential wreath." One of the main arguments in the letter seems to be that the monument and its proponents suggest "that the humanity of Africans and African Americans is of no significance."

The mere existence of President Barack Obama flies in the face of such an assertion. I can think of no better way to illustrate the backwardness and complete irrelevance of such an assertion than a gift from the first black president of the United States. Obama has the opportunity to illustrate that he is the better man here. While the notion of a big tent should not include the bigot tent, it is important to light the way for those who are willing to break from racism and join the rest of the modern world. Isolating these people has the chance of allowing the wound of intolerance to fester and attract more flies.

Religion also plays a role. The letter also states that the notion that "the Civil War was a holy war between an orthodox Christian nation (the South)" and the unholy north is "a view widespread in the neo-Confederate movement" that inspires north-south animosity to this day.

Obama has done more to broaden the recognition of various traditions of religion and spirituality — as well as traditions of atheism and agnosticism — in this country than any other modern president. This is why the religious right has been actively attacking the president and sustaining the lie that Obama is a Muslim and/or atheist, a story neo-Confederates are comfortable repeating.

One need only compare the electoral maps of 2004 to 2008 to see a change has come in the way we define red states and blue states. In the aftermath of George W. Bush’s re-election, there were actually concerns that a new Civil War would emerge from the red-blue (and generally north-south) divide. But this past election season showed that majorities in states such as Florida and Virginia were comfortable voting for a black president.

There has been no indication from the White House as to whether or not they will be sending a wreath to the Arlington Confederate Memorial, but my guess is they will. The Obama Administration is a pragmatic one that picks its battles, sometimes to a fault. Perhaps the left would might be more forgiving if Obama gave the symbolic concessions such as this wreath while also taking real progressive action in a trade.

My humble suggestions:

    * Send the wreath for the fundamentalist religious zealots, but make gay marriage legal and never again invite the intolerant Rick Warren to pray over the country.
    * Send the wreath for the flag-waving ditto-heads, but give every veteran PTSD screening and lend support to a truth commission to find out how we got into the Iraq war.
    * Send the wreath for the backwards racists, but give the country fair immigration reform and stop neo-redlining and other discriminatory practices in lending.

In other words, let the bigots have their pomp and circumstance, but whistling Dixie is not the change I voted for.

On The Web:   blog.buzzflash.com/analysis/773