06/07/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Keeping it Redneck

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's (R) attempt to keep it redneck deserves the head scratch, but it's clearly a move of political expedience. The more interesting question deals with why he issued the proclamation in the first place. Spitting template outrage at the initial omission of slavery doesn't do much about the price of milk, bread and gas these days, to be real. There's something politically nefarious about it that warrants closer look. Even in the wake of his apology and a weak head nod to "slavery," he still keeps the proclamation.

Sure, the decision is a bit baffling to the casual observer. If that pressed, why not go for a more neutral "Virginia Civil War History Month?" It is history ... as brutal, oppressive and distasteful as it is (particularly to us Northerners and assorted proud Unionists). And what's the real political gain in reviving Civil War wounds considering Virginia's rapidly changing demographics? Most folks are apt to forget they're in the commonwealth when driving through Arlington or Fairfax County. The darker shade of population spurt in NOVA should give any state-wide politician pause before prompting a Confederate knee-jerk.

But, in McDonnell's case, perhaps the conservative machine from central to southern Virgina is that powerful. Probably - especially since rural VA legislators control the fate and funding of very urban Northern VA's out-of-control traffic problem. Even though he's a single-term executive, he'll need that same machine's support when pushing legislation in the very mercurial Virginia General Assembly. It could be a tremendous pain proposing tax and fee increases to headstrong country Republicans - but, they'll remember him for this particular gimmick.

To the conservative activists, rabble-rousing Tea Partiers and Southern revisionists, McDonnell can claim needed authenticity. It maintains a strong electoral map for Senate-candidate McDonnell, who may have Senators Jim Webb (D) or Mark Warner (D) (most likely the former) in his scope. Let's not feign surprise should Webb step up his Confederate heritage game, throwing out a General Lee quote or two at a town hall. The loot-packed Warner is above that, though, with dreamy eyes set on a White House run. Going national means keeping your battle flag linens locked up.

With his not-so-Southern and fairly Fairfax roots, McDonnell has to show some Confederate bona fides. This was always a worry amongst the Virginia conservative base: "is he a closet moderate?" Believe it or not, he had to carefully manage high-profile African American support during his gubernatorial bid in a way that didn't lose votes from White Virginians. Going "rebel" relieves that tension - at the expense of Black support. What is bothersome is that the commonwealth's Black political establishment will, yet again, get wound up over an issue that does little to reverse African American unemployment, poverty and health disparity trends in Virginia. Their concern should be a reassessment of political leverage in the state or: why did McDonnell feel that comfortable to openly punk them after he enjoyed cross-the-aisle support from major Black figures such as BET co-founder Sheila Johnson (and a quiet, sideline wink from heavyweight former Gov. now Richmond, VA mayor L. Douglas Wilder)? But, what Republican candidate cares about that these days? The GOP can barely elect any African-American Republicans to Congress.

There is a more disturbing element to this latest episode over Southern pride. First: few want to acknowledge that the Confederacy was, by definition, treason - it triggered domestic terrorism of the worst kind. Observing it as historical pride is, on some levels, short of criminal and anti-constitutional. Observing the Civil War and learning how we don't repeat should be the standard rather than biting our national tongue over fear we might offend sore losers whose ancestors should've stood down in the first place. Let's call it for what it is. Allowing open displays of rebel affection (from the flags to the memorabilia) is the compromise. In the interest of maintaining free speech, we tolerate what amounts to a solid dis below the Mason-Dixon belt. It's defiant regionalism expressed through Tea Party rage, secessionist talk and an anti-government mood unleashed by Second Amendment fanatics. Not to mention a shaky economy where folks in certain parts of the country have little to lose. In this climate, McDonnell assumes he's got enough cover - not unlike many of his dumbstruck colleagues in the Grand Old Party who believe they can control this thing. But, in the end, they're just playing with fire.