It seems like only yesterday that Bush’s blow-dried and homophobic Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, burnished her scholarly credentials and pronounced that the South was “defending state sovereignty” during the Civil War, but with “bad facts,” which she reluctantly identified as slavery.  Describing the rape, torture and murder of millions of forced laborers as annoying “bad facts” obscuring a larger, nobler ideal, can easily be attributed to the pathology of the Bush era, with its dubious commitment to history and its penchant for praising the worst types of political crimes with faint damnation.

Many of us hoped that this type of rhetoric, at once syrupy and ugly, would pass away as fleetingly as one of Bush’s smirks after Obama was elected and something like sanity was restored to our government.  But then came the Tea Party and the libertarian chic, which make Norton look like Spengler.   With the sesquicentennial of the Civil War this month, the Right-Wing Noise Machine was belching out smoke and revisionist narratives of that foundational event in US history.

The stage had already been set by libertarian Opa Ron Paul who based his half-baked candidacy for president on the half-baked idea that the Civil War was “unnecessary”.   His wonderfully lightsome theory is that the North could have just bought all the slaves.   Problem solved.  You could almost hear him say under his breath: “Lincoln the warmonger.”

If this sounds like libertarian chic (market solutions!), it is.  Paul got his peculiar historiography from the ever-off-kilter Von Mises Institute, a libertarian think tank given to the idea that traffic lights cause traffic.  Paul’s former chief of staff, Lew Rockwell, was part of the coterie of Neo-Confederates at the VMI, who like Norton, were sympathetic to the South, and deplored the North’s worst facts -- that of using federal power to form that demonic presence that haunts the troubled minds of all Tea Partiers, “Big Government.” 

Paul seemed to open the flood gates of Neo-Confederate revisionism as the 150th anniversary of the Civil War approached.  This took literary form in a book by John Avery Emison, an environmental scientist and crank historian, entitled "Lincoln Uber Alles: Dictatorship Comes To America."  This bible of the Neo-Confederates reads like a hoax got up by Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin as a high school history teacher.   It was published by Pelican Publishing Company, an eerily pro-South outfit with a weakness for nostalgia and conspiracy theories.  Last year, the governor of Virginia, Bob “What Slavery?” McDonnell, proudly declared April Confederate History Month, and assiduously avoided mentioning the “bad facts” plaguing the secessionists’ up-with-states-rights narrative.  This was something the black residents of Ol’ Virginie didn’t much appreciate.  Not to be outdone, the goofy Sons of Confederate Veterans decided to throw a “Secessionist’s Ball” in that vortex of political weirdness, South Carolina (remember family-values conservative Mark Sanford, AWOL and  tangoing with his Latina mistress in Argentina?).   Typical of Tea Party types (remember Palin’s “blood libel”?), with their absurd sense of entitlement, the response to the controversy was worse than the initial hullabaloo.   Mark Simpson, a spokesman (called “commander”) for the aforementioned Sons defended the Ball with this wonderfully Nortonesque feint:

"War and death is never something to celebrate. But we do celebrate the courage and the integrity of 170 men who signed their signatures to the Article of Secession – the courage of men to do what they think is right."

In one fell swoop, the secessionist South is purged of any responsibility for the bloody institution of slavery, and emerges as a lovely if unlucky gem, the glorious martial efforts of courageous men doing the right thing against all odds and Northeastern bureaucrats.  The problem is it’s all too clear that the Tea Party and the Neo-Confederates also think the secessionists were right. 

There is no point in rebutting this abhorrent narrative.  The scholarship is clear.  (You might want to read The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, edited by James Loewen, which exposes the weirdness of it all). This isn’t really about the genesis of the Civil War, but the malignant cultural fantasies of the Tea Party, with its sickly adoration of the rich, indifference to the exploitation of the poor, and unheimlich hatred of the federal government, which conservatives trace back to Lincoln, that most unteapartyesque of all presidents, for siding with the powerless and being willing to use the full force of US government to that humane end.

So we should be thankful – if the Civil War didn’t end in the hanging of Robert E. Lee (I think it should have, since he was personally responsible for the deaths of half a million Americans), at least the 150th anniversary is allowing the Tea Party types to hang themselves with their own rhetorical rope.  They've used the occasion to admit that bad facts or no, in their overwrought minds, the South really was right. 



04/19/2011 15:12

The "unheimlich" Tea Party. That's just wonderful. I bet half of their parents spoke German, but it was too hard for them to learn.

04/19/2011 15:14

Ironically, Emison blames the German immigrants (German radicals he calls them) for influencing Lincoln and making him receptive the central authority. Heil Lincoln.

It's a the crappiest piece of historical research ever done. Lincoln in fact supported the purchase of the slaves from the South by the Feds. He tried and tried to avoid the war. The slaveonwers would have none of it, so fixated they were on their slave society.

Ms Peel
04/19/2011 15:16

My understanding is that the Southern Elite fancied themselves a new aristocracy, based on the French Monarchy. And the slaves were integral to that self-image. Even when slavery made no sense economically, they needed slaves to make themselves feel superior.

It was a mass pathology suffered in the South, and I'm afraid it hasn't really gone away.

04/20/2011 05:37

I'm white, and a southerner, and a lover of history. By its very nature, history is subjective, even revisionist, by most accounts. Slavery was and is just wrong, but the northern industrial complex needed and supported it to be supplied. Much like our dependence on oil despite its known catastrophic side effects, so ht north continued to sigh and wring its hands but do nothing. Lincoln did something, and that one voice opened up a cacophony of brave voices. But to the point of the article, revisionism - why do you think the Tea party types feel the need to do this in the first place? Is it because the movement is stronger there than elsewhere? I don't really think it is...South Carolina aside (starting point for my slave-owning ancestors from France) these spokespeople/historical revisionists are only out of the woodwork because it Is the sesquicentennial and, like a carnival, a brief opportunity to make a noise while they peddle a few wares, make a quick buck, and move on.

Left-Wing Noise Machine
04/21/2011 12:59

Leila, you got us on our knees.

Let's hope they sell a few t-shirts, the carnival ends, and they all go home.

Fight or Flight
04/22/2011 14:18

Very informative post. I didn't even know there was a Neo-Confederate Movement.

Ms. Peel
04/26/2011 12:11

This is the best article written on this subject on the net. I was unaware that the Tea Party was even into the whole secessionist thing.

04/26/2011 15:21

You're a blasphemer. Godly people care about their history, and that's what the Tea party is. You can't deal with their decent desire for a Godly America, like we have in the South, and like people like Michele Bachmann stand for. Shame on you.

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