Right wing radio personalities need no excuse to engage in South-bashing, but the recent events in the Old Dominion have given them free rein to indulge in their passion non-stop.  Governor Ralph Northam’s perceived hatred of “the other” quickly overshadowed his chilling, matter of fact endorsement of proposed legislation establishing new and ghoulish abortion protocols in his state, and with this development, virtue signaling big talkers on AM, FM and Sirius were off to the races apotheosizing Lincoln and begging questions about Southern history and heritage.

Chicago native Chris Plante, who labels himself a “Practi-crat,” read relativist, has hosted a morning show on WMAL for the last ten years, his cumulative audience tuned in across the D. C. metro area which includes Virginia and Maryland. When the 1984 yearbook photo of Ralph Northam came to light, Plante broke out his signature comedy routines and one-liners, playing Dixie and mocking the old anthem, comparing the Confederacy’s statesmen to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.  An occasional Fox News contributor, Plante considers a deadly pejorative his oft-repeated mantra that the Democrats are the party of Nathan Bedford Forrest.  But Plante knows it is fashionable to malign Forrest who was in reality a champion of education and training for freedmen and an honored speaker at the 1875 convention of the Independent Pole-Bearers Association, the forerunner of the NAACP.   In October of 1877 hundreds of black Tennesseans stood at his graveside at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis. 

And Plante is no better schooled in the Constitution, apparently unaware that the North at one time wanted to define slaves as property not persons, the latter designation more advantageous to the South.  He brandishes the “Three-Fifths” provision as proof of Southern “wickedness” when in truth it was a compromise between the South and the North which was seeking to reduce the Southern states’ representation in Congress.  Unfortunately the few indigenous Virginians and Marylanders who “call in” fail to challenge Plante’s revisionism, and those who would dare to confront him would soon find themselves subjected to a broadside of sarcastic quips and catch phrases before an unceremonious silencing via the audio kill button.  According to Plante, the North was good, the South bad; a Southern ancestry is a disgrace to live down, something to rise above.  Unwilling to entertain another point of view on the subject, he reveled in the news of Northam’s posing for a photo as a Klansman or person “of color” (whichever one the governor finally reckons the less ruinous). 

But Northam’s decades-old collegiate attempt at humor is no weighty matter that warrants being taken up round the clock by the self-satisfied wags on the radio.  Political strumpet that he is, the governor, who was elected by the Yankee transplants in Northern Virginia, admittedly makes an easy target.  He has one redeeming characteristic, however:  He is a real Virginian, if a scalawag.  And his debasing of himself before such luminaries as CBS’s Gayle King, his apologizing to Oprah’s BFF for the transgression of white privilege, inspire pity as much as contempt.

More shameful still, in a disturbing juxtaposition of disparate elements, Northam speaks of neonatal infanticide with a lovely Tidewater Virginia accent, an accent that Rush Limbaugh, not surprisingly, has mocked relentlessly ever since the Old Dominion’s scandals broke.  Affecting a wildly exaggerated non-rhotic drawl reminiscent of Foghorn J. Leghorn, Limbaugh holds forth on the Northam controversies, his clownish impersonation intended to imply that anyone who comes from the Old Dominion’s Eastern Shore is a mental and moral deficient.   Early on in his life, Limbaugh rid himself of all traces of his native Southernisms in order to appear more “educated.”  His brother, author and commentator David Limbaugh, more faithful to his roots, still talks “Missourian,” while Rush fakes a flat American-speak.   

No more competent an historian than Chris Plante, Limbaugh believes that America is great because Americans died to free those held in bondage in the South.  But the fallen in Lincoln’s war on the South had either taken up arms in the name of the right to self-determination or in service to a regime that wished to impose some unconstitutional “national will” on the Southern states lawfully disaffiliated from the Union.  Lincoln, who had little regard for the slaves –they were just pawns in his war— invaded the South out of economic considerations and a disregard for the Tenth Amendment, the North’s victory having enormous consequences for America. 

But Limbaugh, like Plante, does not tolerate callers who counter his received history.  Clueless, he goes on praising Lincoln as he rails against that which he and his armies wrought, revisiting at every opportunity the sins of the Southern fathers.  For Rush, Ralph Northam is the embodiment of the traditional South, in his opinion a benighted place, but the governor, to the contrary, is a smooth talking Southern sellout, a moral craven with big political aspirations.  A man without conviction who voted twice for conservative-in-name-only George W. Bush, Northam, when he observed the cultural and ideological shifts in Virginia, turned on a dime, and joined the Evil Party.  That said, Virginia’s governor is her problem, as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi rightly commented to the outrage of the right wing establishment, who desire another one of those nauseating “national dialogues” on race and hatred.  No real advocate of subsidiarity, Pelosi is, rather, merely fond of political expediencies; she has no use for state sovereignty unless it suits her purposes.  The Speaker has this in common with the Chris Plantes and the Rush Limbaughs. 

J.L. Bennett

J.L. Bennett is an independent historian living in Maryland and the author of Maryland, My Maryland: The Cultural Cleansing of a Small Southern State.

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