David Firestone of The New York Times reminds us that what he calls Cliven Bundy's "slavery nostalgia" is hardly unique to Bundy, and isn't always expressed privately, especially in the redder states:
... in the South, such sentiments are hardly unheard of, even if they are usually muttered in private over a few bourbons rather than spoken at a news conference.And the upshot? Wait for it:
Occasionally, in fact, they are expressed or embraced by public figures. A particularly relevant case started about 14 years ago, when Maurice Bessinger, owner of a chain of South Carolina barbecue restaurants called Maurice’s Piggie Park, began distributing pro-slavery tracts in his stores. One of the tracts, called the "Biblical View of Slavery," said the practice wasn't really so bad, because it was permitted in the Bible. It argued that many black slaves in the South "blessed the Lord" for their condition, because it was better than their life in Africa.
When the tract was discovered, Mr. Bessinger was denounced and his restaurants boycotted. Many retail stores pulled his distinctive (to be kind) yellow mustardy barbecue sauce from their shelves.
But one prominent South Carolinian decided to stand up for Mr. Bessinger. Glenn McConnell, then a state senator from Charleston, stocked the sauce in his Confederate "art gallery," which was loaded with secessionist flags and uniforms, as well as toilet paper bearing the image of Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman. When a local power utility banned its trucks from the parking lots of Piggie Park, Mr. McConnell threatened a legislative vendetta against the company.
Mr. Bessinger died in February. Mr. McConnell is now the lieutenant governor of South Carolina.And not only is McConnell the lieutenant governor now -- as Firestone notes, McConnell has been handed the presidency of the College of Charleston, despite the fact that he has no relevant academic experience. There he's expected to rein in a dangerous strain of contemporary thinking, which has led to the placement of (gasp!) a lesbian-themed memoir on a voluntary reading list, and to plans for a campus performance of a play based on that memoir.
Glenn McConnell's thriving career is a reminder to me of why I automatically tune out any argument that contains the phrase "political correctness." I grant that there are things you simply "can't say," according to America's "official culture." But outside America's political and media centers, these "incorrect" ideas are loving cultivated, valorized, and carefully transmitted to future generations. That's why there are still Klansmen and neo-Nazis. That's why well-educated young men still think sexual penetration after the administration of Rohypnol or a few too many drinks is perfectly OK. That's why Silicon Valley and Internet comments sections are still hotbeds of virulent sexism. And so on. Cliven Bundy isn't a throwback. He's just a guy whose ideology usually flies under the radar. We just ignore the precincts where that ideology thrives.