Chris McDaniel, who currently serves in the Mississippi State Senate and has his sights set on a U.S. Senate seat, published a Facebook post on Wednesday praising the supposed honor of Robert E. Lee, the Virginia-born general who fought in defense of the South’s slaver aristocracy during the Civil War.
Here’s the irony: McDaniel’s attempt to refute the “historically illiterate left” is astoundingly historically illiterate itself. The claim that Lee “opposed both slavery and secession” would likely come as a great surprise to the Confederate general, who waged a five-year war against the United States on behalf of a secessionist rebellion that sought to preserve slavery. The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer noted last year that not only did Lee own slaves himself, but soldiers under his command sought to enslave free black Americans during the Pennsylvania campaign and routinely murdered captured black Union soldiers throughout the war. Misrepresenting Lee as a benign, honorable figure is a common feature of Lost Cause mythology, which valorizes him and other Confederate leaders who fought to defend white supremacy.
McDaniel might have fared better if he hadn’t lifted the passage whole cloth from Dinesh D’Souza. The conservative filmmaker is known for his relentless efforts to deflect criticism of the Republican Party’s racist tendencies by citing historical episodes of racism within the pre-1960s Democratic Party. Real historians have thoroughly debunked the charade, which willfully ignores the parties’ historic flip on racial issues in the mid-twentieth century over civil rights, but D’Souza remains unrepentant in his quest to paint Democrats as the real racists of the Trump era.
What prompted McDaniel to rise to Lee’s defense in this occasion is unclear. In any event, it’s a jarring move for a public official to make. After all, why should anyone seeking elected office in the federal government praise a man who sought to destroy it?