Tim Kaine, Charlottesville and “Basket of Deplorables” Redux | Blog#42
Former Vice Presidential candidate and current Virginia senator, Tim Kaine, was a guest on Face The Nation to discuss the removal of monuments to the confederacy and President Trump’s reaction to the white supremacist march in Charlottesville.
Kaine did quite the tap dance. Watch:
Kaine’s answer to whether confederate monuments should go was to trot out his past dealings with the subject matter and proudly remind viewers that he added a monument to Arthur Ashe, never once addressing the question why Arthur Ashe’s statue has to stand in the same equivalence to Robert E. Lee. Kaine never once acknowledged that the entirety of the crop of confederate monuments was erected, not after the civil war, but during the Jim Crow era. Everywhere in the world, and in America for a time, the victors erect monuments to their heroes.
It is useful here to remind readers that among the things President Trump did in his press conference at Trump Tower last week, was to ask whose statues would come down next?
“So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I notice that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down,” he said. “I wonder: Is it George Washington next week, and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop?”
NPR’s All Things Considered had an excellent segment on the history of confederate monuments:
It must be stressed, memorials to the confederacy weren’t erected immediately after the end of the Civil War.
“That’s right. I mean, well, first off, they didn’t really have the money. But it’s true that these things really get going around the time that Jim Crow is being re-imposed and then in later years when there are movements for equality for blacks. They were put up as sort of a reminder of who was in charge. They were meant to send a message. So I’m not doubting that these people admired Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee and people like that. But the main purpose – the timing suggests that this was to send a message to the black people in their midst that whites were in control.”
Between Kaine’s obvious reluctance to directly address the first question he was asked, about the removal of monuments, and his retelling of how he dealt with the issue as mayor and governor, Kaine falls into the same trap as Trump, drawing a variant of the same historical equivalency that Trump assigns to our Founders and confederate figures. Contrary to Kaine’s demurral, he was “here” to talk about statues, and the insistence by Klansmen and neo-Nazis to keep these statues around is why three people died.
When it comes to which moral or historical equivalencies are the right ones to draw, Historian, Annette Gordon-Reed’s answer is perfect in its precision:
SIMON: Are there differences between the founders who owned slaves and the people who ran the Confederacy?
GORDON-REED: Yes, I think there are differences. Obviously, their owning slaves, you know, is not something that we can admire – something we abhor. But the problem with the leaders of the Confederacy is not just that they own slaves. It’s that they rebelled against the United States of America and did so in service of maintaining the system of slavery. The founding generation – and we can fault them for the hypocrisy – many of them were of the mind that slavery was an evil that would in fact be destroyed or should end. They didn’t do very much to further that along, but at least they professed that. By the time we get to the Confederacy, many of the people – certainly, the founding documents of the Confederacy – proclaimed that African slavery was natural. So we’re dealing with two separate types of people. And the magnitude of and acting treason against the United States of America and supporting slavery puts them in a different category, I believe.
No historical figure – no human, really – is without his or her contradictions, no matter how beloved and successful they were in the societies they lived in, just as no human is perfect, one hundred percent of the time. Our founders were a very flawed bunch, as erudite and thoughtful as they were in many areas, they were deficient and hypocritical in others. There is no getting around that. But there is no moral or historical equivalence to celebrating our founders and the celebration of the confederacy that took place during the Jim Crow era. Those statues were erected not as a celebration or commemoration, but as a veiled threat to America’s Blacks.
In his answer, Kaine demonstrated that he understands this difference, but applies it only in the context of replacing Virginia’s statues in the Senate’s Statuary Hall, and not in Charlottesville or elsewhere in Virginia. In Statuary Hall, according to Kaine, Robert E. Lee is best replaced by Pocahontas, Barbara Johns or Doug Wilder, the nation’s first African American governor. You’ll get no argument from me as to the excellence of all three figures as candidates for commemoration in the Senate. But the fact remains that monuments of confederate figures were erected for a distinct purpose and for that reason alone, they must be subtracted and not added to. To add, as Kaine proposes, is no less morally-deficient than what Trump has been saying because, in the end, the refusal to categorically and unhesitatingly express a willingness to take down these confederate threats to civil rights serves the same purpose as the white supremacist march on Charlottesville: keep those threats right where they are and perpetuate the false notion that confederate monuments serve a Southern cultural tradition. They don’t, and never have.
Kaine was perfectly correct in pointing out that when a Somali-American drove a car into a crowd at Ohio State, or when a car was driven into a crowd in Barcelona, Spain, the president correctly called those acts terrorism, but when the same type of act is perpetrated by a white supremacist, the president won’t apply the same term to it.
But logic is something we must apply consistently and Kaine is inconsistent and partisan in what he is willing to apply logic to.
There are additional problems with Kaine’s Face The Nation appearance. He was also asked about Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “deplorables” during her campaign for president.
Kaine is right about throwing away all the brushes and being very specific about what one condemns. But, again, when asked about a specific issue connected to a specific leader, Kaine tap dances his way out of the question without fully addressing it.
Yes, precise language is needed when condemning the behaviors of specific people. The usage of “deplorables” by Hillary Clinton was about the widest use of a racial brush used in a presidential campaign and by using it often and so broadly, Clinton alienated millions of Democrats by using the race card against them in an attempt to shame them into voting for her.
The truth of the matter is that most Americans aren’t educated not to be deplorable in some fashion. America didn’t become more racist in 2016 in time for the election. It’s an undeniable fact. Using deplorables was a very poor calculation on the part of Clinton that continues to have repercussions, today, months after the election was over. Tim Kaine, as her partner in the campaign, could have taken the opportunity during this appearance, to lead Democrats out of what continues to be a deepening of existing racial divisions, with no end in sight to the anger that was instigated during the campaign he was a party to. Since Election 2016, no Democratic leader has risen to specifically address the divisive racial storm the campaign started and not only begin to find ways to reunite a party that took yet another electoral blow, but also suffered a sizable new tear in its fabric, one that must be repaired if the Democratic party is to survive in the long term.
We are revisiting all of the issues that Martin Luther King outlined in one of his most eloquent and relevant speeches applying to the present:
“Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir) That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality. (Yes, sir)”
In spite of what some mistakenly see as progress in recent years, we are still fighting the same battles and struggling with the same demons.
“Whatever white people do not know about Negroes reveals, precisely and inexorably, what they do not know about themselves.”
The Fire Next Time (1963)
Americans are deplorable because they have no real concept of history – only a smattering – and, as a result, are too reliant on analyses that are deficient and timid in their assessment of what central events mean. There shouldn’t be a need for so much TV, radio and print to retell the story of confederate monuments after Trump makes a false statement. The facts imparted by the media should have long been part and parcel of what every American knows, almost subconsciously about how this nation came to be and how it remains since its founding.
In the lead-up to his interview above, Scott Simon, the NPR host, said “I think a lot of us have learned over the past couple of years that most of these Confederate monuments were not put up in the years following the Civil War.” I think? We know that Americans are largely ignorant of their own history.
Both parties have made their mark – both separately, and as bi-partisan efforts – on the American education system since education became compulsory. The ability of states and localities to make changes to the curriculum public and private schools must follow, under “states’ rights,” in great part hinders the ability to ensure a uniform education of America’s population, going from state to state. That problem notwithstanding, neither of the dominant political parties has made an effort at strengthening the quantity, quality and baseline of knowledge every American must receive from our system of education. Charlottesville is a direct consequence of this lack of effort, a consistent one throughout all of the educational reforms instituted. This failing of our leadership – all of it – more than anything else, is what allows for the periodic resurgence of Jim Crow ideologies and ideologues. It must be remedied, forthwith, before catastrophic events begin to multiply.
If one has given up on Republicans to help carry America’s moral banner, what is one to say about Democrats and their continued lack of guidance of the day’s core principles?
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