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Republicans Can Be Shamed Into Denouncing Slavery

On Tuesday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell caused a stir by designating April Confederate History Month for the first time in the state in eight years. In particular, McDonnell, a far-right conservative who paraded as a moderate during the 2009 gubernatorial election, angered many by neglecting to even mention slavery in his announcement.

McDonnell apparently went out of his way to make his declaration as insulting as possible. Virginia’s last two governors — Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine — scrapped the practice of annual Confederate resolutions altogether, while Virginia’s last Republican governor, Jim Gilmore, included anti-slavery language in his resolution. McDonnell turned back the clock, honoring those who fought against the United States, and neglecting entirely to mention slavery.

The outrage grew on Wednesday, with even former supporters, like Sheila Johnson (the wife of BET founder Bob Johnson and a key endorser during the campaign), denouncing him. So finally, McDonnell relented, issuing a long apology. Here’s an excerpt:

“The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of “profound regret” for the Commonwealth’s history of slavery, which was the right thing to do […]

We cannot avoid our past; instead we must demand that it be discussed with civility and responsibility. During the commemoration of the Civil War over the next four years, I intend to lead an effort to promote greater understanding and harmony in our state among our citizens.”

In addition the Governor announced that the following language will be added to the Proclamation:

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history…

This is not the first example of McDonnell lurching to the right after his election. In February he issued an executive order barring discrimination in state hiring that neglected sexual orientation as one of the grounds.

But it’s good to know that, after a day and a half of condemnation, you can get a conservative to denounce slavery. Don’t say they’re not flexible.

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David Dayen

David Dayen