In February 2000, Republican presidential candidate John McCain told “Face the Nation” that he considered the Confederate Battle Flag to be “offensive” and a “symbols of racism and slavery.” Candidate George W. Bush remarked that while he considered the display of the flag to be a state issue, he refused to allow Confederate symbolism at the Texas statehouse and had several plaques commemorating the War removed from the Texas Supreme Court building.
At the time, many Republicans in South Carolina were steadfast in their determination to keep the flag flying atop the capital in Columbia. It was raised in 1962 to honor the Civil War centennial and was never removed. For nearly two decades, Democrats made removing the flag from the dome a priority only to be blocked by the will of South Carolina voters and the Republican led State House of Representatives. Republican Governor David Besasley proposed moving the flag in 1996 and suffered a crushing defeat in the 1998 gubernatorial election due in large part to the issue as the Sons of Confederate Veterans mobilized against him. Yet, after 46,000 people marched to the Statehouse in January 2000 to protest the flag, Republicans capitulated and eventually moved the flag from the Statehouse dome to the Confederate Soldiers’ Monument on the Statehouse grounds. They pitched the “compromise” as a permanent measure and promised never to lower the flag.
But the issue did not die, and by 2015, when Dylan Roof murdered several black churchgoers in Charleston, many Republicans had already decided that the flag and perhaps other Confederate symbolism had to go. Removing the flag was already a fait accompli when images with Roof posing with a Confederate flag surfaced and Republican Governor Nimarata Haley tearfully argued that the flag had to be lowered. Republicans took it down.
That same year, Republican “conservative” talk show host Dennis Prager’s “Prager U” commissioned unknown West Point Professor Ty Seidule to produce a short video on the War that blamed the entire event on slavery. Seidule later remarked that he could not understand why a conservative group wanted him to make that video. His record on social issues was clear. Seidule had gone woke long before 2015 as evidenced by his publications for the United States Army.
But to Republicans, West Point and the United States military mean “conservative,” as do corporations and big business. The Republican love affair with Abraham Lincoln contributes to the problem. When Harry Jaffa insisted that equality was conservative in the 1950s—and then doubled down in 2000—he codified Republican acceptance of the “proposition nation myth.” This eventually formed the backbone of Republican Party dogma on the War and produced the narrative that John McCain, George W. Bush, David Beasley, and Nimarata Haley parroted for the last thirty years.
“Conservative” think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, the Claremont Institute, and their affiliated scholars provided enough fuel to keep the anti-Confederate fires burning. For nearly two decades, Victor Davis Hanson has attempted to attach the modern left to the Confederacy. Scholars like Michael Anton and Larry Arnn have described statesmen John C. Calhoun as the American Hitler. Republican strategist Karl Rove has openly called Confederate soldiers “the enemy” while talk show hosts like Mark Levin consistently attempt to slander the Democrats as the party of Jefferson Davis. He often shouts they murdered Lincoln and opposed Reconstruction!
Thus, it made sense when Republicans failed to support Donald Trump’s veto of the bill that created the Naming Commission in 2021. Ty Seidule eventually helped chair that group. Republicans like Mike Rogers of Alabama, the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, chose funneling money into his district over blocking the woke destruction of American history. Rogers, along with forty other Republicans, later offered a weak-kneed opposition to the removal of the Arlington Confederate Monument only after its demise was guaranteed. Eight of the forty Republicans who signed a stern letter of disagreement to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin voted to over-ride Trump’s veto, including Rogers.
It wasn’t long ago that conservatives could admire John C. Calhoun and Robert E. Lee. Russell Kirk thought Calhoun was, in many ways, a quintessential American conservative. Much has changed. In the end, American conservatives have no one to blame but themselves for the continued woke lurch of America. They support and champion people like Hanson and Larry Arnn, gobble up books my Mark Levin, and more importantly keep voting Republican while expecting a different outcome. That is the very definition of insanity. When “conservatives” sound like a moderate form of the left on American history, the game is over. R.L. Dabney predicted as much in 1871 when he wrote:
“Northern conservatism…is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is to-day one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will to-morrow be forced upon its timidity, and will be succeeded by some third revolution, to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader.”
Until conservatives stop venerating Abraham Lincoln and the 1860s Republicans while voting for Republicans like Nimarata Haley and Mike Rogers, nothing will change.
The views expressed at the Abbeville Institute blog do not necessarily represent the views of the Abbeville Institute.