MSNBC’s strange obsession with the Confederacy

Matt Philbin Managing Editor, Culture and Media Institute
Font Size:

Tuesday, April 12 marks the 150th anniversary of the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the start of the U.S. Civil War. Over the next four years, the nation will be commemorating the bloody events of a century and a half ago, pondering their meaning and their place in history. Media outlets will produce features on the valor and the squalor, the heroes, martyrs and villains, and what they mean to today’s Americans.

Oh, and MSNBC will use the anniversary to call conservatives racist neo-Confederates.

Not that they really need the excuse. After all, it’s what they do. For the anchors and contributors at the “lean forward” network, it’s always 1861, and conservatives are always slavery sympathizers and secessionists.

While still in the throes of his tingly man-crush on Barack Obama, Chris Matthews and the rest of the MSNBC gang decided that any resistance to the president’s massive spending and hyper-extension of government could only be “racism.” And one of the best ways to make sure people know who the racists are is to dress them in Confederate gray.

So conservatives who invoke federalism against the administration’s agenda are “talking like antebellum Southerners,” according to Matthews. When Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli invoked the Constitution’s Commerce Clause to sue the federal government over Obamacare, Matthews said it would “appeal to the Civil War buffs from the South who love this stuff . . . the nullification crowd . . .”

And that crowd, of course, is really only interested in white supremacy. Don’t believe it? Just ask Melissa Harris-Perry, an Ivy League African-American Studies professor and columnist for far-left magazine The Nation. She’s MSNBC’s go-to contributor for thoughtful, chin-pulling charges of racism. How thoughtful? Why, just last year she was able to discern not just one, but multiple kinds of racism in Rush Limbaugh, some of which “feel very old, very sort of Confederate versions.”

Rush is large. He contains multitudes.

But every so often, even cerebral Ivy League race hucksters have to lay it all on the table, as when Harris-Perry called out, “some people right now [read: Tea Party] with this kind of anti-federal government perspective who are doing nothing more than a kind of Confederate — Confederacy rising again narrative. And it really is about racism and anti-immigrationism and white supremacy.”

And you thought you were upset that the stimulus only stimulated the unions. Wise up, Jethro.

It should be noted that some conservative missteps have occasionally invited attack. But those incidents told us more about MSNBC than about conservatives. After GOP Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour downplayed his personal experiences with the vestiges of Jim Crow in the 1960s, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann said, “The Tea Partiers throughout the country and the Republicans in the South are playing to several despicable groups who, at best, aren’t comfortable with black people, period. And [Barbour] knows it.”

As of this writing, Barbour has yet to prove he’s become sufficiently preoccupied with race, unlike his fellow GOP governor, the properly chastened Bob McDonnell. When McDonnell declared April 2010 Confederate History Month in Virginia, his statement failed to mention slavery.

Although McDonnell apologized and condemned slavery, the MSNBC crew put on their best John-Brown-Bleeding-Kansas Biblical scowls and thrashed him for days. Matthews said the governor had sent “out the dog whistle to those [Confederate President] Jefferson Davis fans out there.” Former NAACP head and current board member Julian Bond marveled to Olbermann about Virginia’s “canine-like affection for the Confederacy.” (Sensing a dog theme?)

Bond was perplexed that the “fourth Republican governor in a row has issued a proclamation honoring treasonous insurrection against the government of the United States, actions which all over the world would be called treason.”

Yes, “treason.” Bond said it. Olbermann said it. Ed Schultz said it. Here, in the age of Obama, the American left has discovered that treason is a crime — at least when it’s perpetrated by Southern conservatives.

“Conservatives in South Carolina are celebrating the destruction of the United States,” thundered Schultz about a commemorative period-dress “Secession Ball” in Charleston where people “in the uniforms of an army that fought against the United States” danced and pretended to be their great, great grandparents.

They’re conservatives, those sinister America-haters with their petticoats and starched collars and faux presentation swords. Matthews will tell you. Think about this: there’s a GOP congressman from North Carolina who wanted Ulysses S. Grant removed from the $50 bill and replaced with, in Matthews’ words, “someone closer to the Confederate heart: Ronald Reagan.”

Reagan, a Confederate? Not a usual connection to make for an Illinois native and California governor. A quick check of his filmography shows that in “Santa Fe Trail” in 1940, the Great Communicator played George Custer — something of a rebel, to be sure, but he definitely wore the Union blue. Ah ha! Reagan played a Confederate captain in 1951’s “The Last Outpost.” And he probably enjoyed it!

Southern white supremacists are “the base” of conservatism. McDonnell was playing to his “shrinking base,” Zachary Roth from the left-wing blog Talking Points Memo told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

How should Republicans lock up the Solid South in 2012? Matthews asked liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. “First thing,” Robinson said, “declare Confederate Heritage Month.”

The “conservatives/Confederates-are-pushing-us-toward-Bull-Run” hand-wringing is leaking beyond MSNBC, being picked up by CNN and even noted historian Governor Moonbeam. Get used to it. It may change a bit, soften here or there and take on the sober respectability of historical analysis, but the message is the same. Federalism is near-treason, and dissent from the liberal agenda can only be racism.

Matt Philbin is the managing editor at The Culture and Media Institute.