09 June 2008

Obama's Confederate Running Mate?

“Truth is stranger than fiction.”
~ Lord Byron

Virginia’s Junior Senator, James Webb, is an interesting character. He is somewhat of an enigma. Rumors that the presumptive (the fat lady doesn’t sing until the convention) Democratic Presidential nominee, Barack Obama, is considering Webb for the VP slot struck me as one of the most ironic and strange possibilities in the current wacky political campaign that we are witnessing.

A June 5 article by AP political correspondent, Bob Lewis noted the following:

“Webb, a Republican-turned-Democrat and an economic populist, could lend the ticket credibility on defense issues. In 2004, Webb published "Born Fighting," a best-selling book that explores the role of the Scots-Irish, including his ancestors, in the nation's development. That could help the ticket connect with groups Hillary Clinton dominated in the primaries.”

Webb is a highly decorated Marine and Vietnam veteran and served as Navy secretary under President Reagan. He opposes the war in Iraq. He’s got guts and is a true warrior-poet. Webb is hard to pigeon-hole and seems out of place in both parties, but appears to have embraced much of the Democratic agenda—perhaps out of expediency. He is also very proud of his Confederate heritage and his Scots-Irish ancestry, a.k.a. – “rednecks” or, according to Obama, folks who, “cling to guns or religion.” Indeed.

This is also interesting to me because a number of CW bloggers and historians seem to have experienced the proverbial “thrill up the leg”—similar to that of Chris Matthews—when it comes to Senator Obama. Many of these same bloggers go to great lengths mocking and besmirching those who, like Senator Webb, take pride in their Southern heritage and Confederate ancestors. I wonder how these folks will react if Obama does tap Webb to be his running mate. Will that “thrill up the leg” turn to a “chill down the spine”? Perhaps they will morph into Gumby and contort their views to accommodate someone many of them would otherwise label a “neo-Confederate.”

Consider the following excerpts (all emphasis mine) about his ancestors, the Scots-Irish, taken from Senator Webb’s book, Born Fighting:

“The contributions of this culture are too great to be forgotten as America rushes forward into yet another redefinition of itself. And in a society obsessed with multicultural jealousies, those who cannot articulate their ethnic origins are doomed to a form of social and political isolation. My culture needs to rediscover itself, and in so doing to regain its power to shape the direction of America.” (Page 8)

“. . . a feeling that the culture so dramatically symbolized by the Southern redneck was the greatest inhibitor of the plans of the activist Left and the cultural Marxists for a new kind of society altogether.” (Page 295.)

“And thus the Scots-Irish had nothing in common with either the English aristocracy or the New England WASP settlements.” (Page 15 – which may explain, at least in part, why Webb dislikes President Bush. Bush, despite his phony Texas swagger, is a New Englander to the core.)

“There is another reason that the Scots-Irish story has been lost to common identification. In the age of political correctness and ultraethnic sensitivities, it has become delicate, to say the least, to celebrate many of this culture’s hard-won accomplishments when teaching American history in today’s public schools.” (Page 17.)

And here is Webb’s interesting take on the Scots-Irish and the slavery issue:

“Their legacy is stained because they became the dominant culture in the South, whose economic system was based on slavery. No matter that the . . . typical Scots-Irish yeoman had no slaves and actually suffered economic detriment from the practice.” (Page 17-18.)

More on the Scots-Irish:

“And they are the very heartbeat of fundamentalist Christianity . . .” (Page 18.)

America’s elites have had very little contact with this culture.” (Page 18.)

“. . . they ignore them at their peril.” (Page 19.)

“The Scottish people did not care much for the larger crowd and they especially did not care much for elites.” (Page 42.)

“Insult a Yankee and he’ll sue you. Insult a mountain boy [Scots-Irish] and he’ll kill you.” (Page 68. That’s my personal favorite.)

“Their answer, then as now, was to tell the Eastern Establishment to go to hell.” (Page 129. Actually, this one is my personal favorite.)

“The Scots-Irish were the cultural antithesis of those who had founded New England.” (Page 134.)

Webb also points out that one Anglican minister, Charles Woodmason, characterized the Scots-Irish as, “Ignorant, mean, worthless, beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the Scum of the Earth, and Refuse of Mankind.” And then Webb adds: “Such invective is not unheard of in modern days. If a sensitive ear would substitute ‘redneck’ for ‘Irish Presbyterians’, he might have a pretty accurate picture of how many modern-day New Englanders and European elites [and some CW bloggers and historians] still characterize rural Southerners.”

Now, some of Webb’s comments regarding the Confederacy:

“Even the venerable Robert E. Lee has taken some vicious hits, as dishonest or misinformed advocates among political interest groups and in academia attempt to twist yesterday’s America into a fantasy that might better serve the political issues of today. The greatest disservice on this count has been the attempt by these revisionist politicians and academics to defame the entire Confederate Army in a move that can only be termed the Nazification of the Confederacy. Often cloaked in the argument over the public display of the Confederate battle flag, the syllogism goes something like this: Slavery is evil. The soldiers of the Confederacy fought for a system that wished to preserve it. Therefore they were evil as well, and any attempt to honor their service is a veiled effort to glorify the cause of slavery.” (Page 208.)

“This blatant use of the ‘race card’ in order to inflame their political and academic constituencies is a tired, seemingly endless game that is itself perhaps the greatest legacy of the Civil War’s aftermath. But in this case it dishonors hundreds of thousands of men who can defend themselves only through the voices of their descendants. It goes without saying—but unfortunately it must be said—that morality and decency were traits shared by both sides in this war, to an extent that was uncommon in almost any other war America has fought.” (Page 208.)

But what most historians miss—and what those who react so strongly to seeing Confederate battle flags on car bumpers and in the yards of descendants of Confederate veterans do not understand—is that slavery was emphatically not the reason that most individual Southerners fought so long and hard, and at such overwhelming cost.” (Page 211.)

“. . . to tar the sacrifices of the Confederate soldier as simple acts of racism, and reduce the battle flag under which he fought to nothing more than the symbol of a racist heritage, is one of the great blasphemies of our modern age.” (Page 225.)

“. . . we are also the caretakers of the memory, and the reputation, of those who performed their duty—as they understood it—under circumstances too difficult for us ever to fully comprehend. No one but a fool—or a bigot in their own right—would call on the descendants of those Confederate veterans to forget the sacrifices of those who went before them or argue that they should not be remembered with honor.” (Page 231.)

There is much more to Webb’s book—too much to discuss here. But I highly recommend it—especially to those of Southern heritage who wish to learn more about that heritage; but also to “outsiders” who think they know the South. It is well-written and insightful—rare coming from a politician; though Webb was not yet a Senator at the time the book was published.

If Webb is ultimately Obama’s running mate, it will be interesting to see if the media brings up the conflicting worldviews of these two men. Despite the fact that both are in the Democratic Party—and assuming both men are sincere about what they’ve written and spoken—their worldviews could not be further apart.

Webb’s book reveals a man who is a “conservative populist” and one who despises cultural Marxists and elites—exactly what Obama’s critics accuse him of being and which Obama’s own words, voting record, and associations would seem to confirm. How either man could embrace (politically speaking) the other is puzzling—even to someone as cynical toward modern politicians as I am.

Perhaps Senator Webb is hopeful Senator Obama would come to realize the truth of these words:

“On a personal level, there was then, and there still remains today, an evolved compatibility between whites and blacks in the South that is purer and more honest than in any other region of the country, and this closeness grew most profoundly after slavery ended.” (Page 246.)

Of course, Barack Obama is the furthest thing from a Southerner. Yet Webb has expressed his belief that the Scots-Irish and African-Americans could unite to form a formidable voting bloc; since they do share some historically common traits:

“Black America and Scots-Irish America are like tortured siblings. They both have [a] long history and they both missed the boat when it came to the larger benefits that a lot of other people were able to receive. There's a saying in the Appalachian mountains that they say to one another, and it's, ‘if you're poor and white, you're out of sight’ . . . If this cultural group could get at the same table as black America you could rechange populist American politics. Because they have so much in common in terms of what they need out of government.” ~ Virginia Senator James Webb (The Huffington Post – 21 May 2008)

It’s an interesting theory and if you read Born Fighting, you will agree that Webb makes a compelling argument that this voting bloc is a possibility. I just don’t think Obama is the one who can pull it off. J. C. Watts maybe, but not Obama. Furthermore, Webb assumes that these tough, independent Scots-Irish who are instinctively distrustful of politicians want to eat at the government’s table. That will be an even harder sell. I agree with Webb that this coalition should happen, but I differ on some of the reasons as to why it should happen. I reject Webb's suggestion that we should be looking to the government for "benefits." As I heard J. C. Watts express recently, the voting bloc to which Webb alludes should be a natural one due to the common cultural values both groups share regarding views on religion, abortion, and the family. That would be more of a uniting theme than Webb's attempt to highlight the two groups' "victim status" and what "they need out of government." I think all of us would be better served by a statesman (like Watts) who encourages self-reliance, overcoming obstacles, and the spirit of perseverance— three quintessential American qualities that Scots-Irish and African-Americans do share. If there is one thing our respective histories have shown us, it’s this: the government cannot be trusted.


Carl Kilo said...

Great post. I linked to it.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Carl.

James Atticus Bowden said...

Super information. Thanks. I've read Webb's book and the primary sources he used. Webb describes 'what has been and what is' fairly well. But, he prognosis for our future is way off.

First, it won't be eating at the trough of big, Liberal Human Secularist socialism.

Second, Webb isn't the man to bridge the mirrored societies of the black and white South because he has walked away from Evangelical Christianity. Only a Believer will make the connection because it can only be done by Jesus Christ.

FYI, you might want to check out my Southern History posts on my blog Deo Vindice and other op eds on my archives at www.americancivilization.net

Glad to see this site. Thanks.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you James. I don't know enough about Senator Webb's Christian faith - or lack thereof - to comment on it. He seems to at least understand some of the implications of orthodox Christianity as it has impacted American history. Whether or not he personally embraces Christianity, I do not know.


Stephen Boyd said...

I don't agree %100 with Mr. Webb's position on some things, but I really enjoyed his book. It is rare to find a politician that will give an accurate representation of history, as well as one that is proud of his heritage.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Yes Stephen, an excellent book. I just learned that Senator Webb published a new book in May.