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McDonnell Untangles Himself

Bob McDonnell, who had been off to a virtually error-free start as governor of Virginia, got himself tangled up in the Civil War:

After a barrage of nationwide criticism for excluding slavery from his Confederate History Month proclamation, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) on Wednesday conceded that it was “a major omission” and amended the document to acknowledge the state’s complicated past.  day earlier, McDonnell said he left out any reference to slavery in the original seven-paragraph proclamation because he wanted to include issues he thought were most “significant” to Virginia. He also said the document was designed to promote tourism in the state, which next year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

However, Wednesday afternoon the governor issued a mea culpa for the document’s exclusion of slavery. “The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission,” McDonnell said in a statement. “The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.”

To his credit, he defused the controversy within 24 hours, managing to soothe all but the perpetually and intentionally aggrieved, who remained miffed that there should be any month studying the state’s Confederate past. The contrast between McDonnell’s quick-extraction-from-the-quicksand-of-racial-politics and Obama’s Gatesgate is instructive. McDonnell’s apology was direct, swift, and profuse. Obama never managed — at least not in public — such a confession of error and allowed the incident to fester for days.

Politicians, even smart and competent ones, still manage to ensnare themselves in the politics of race. The best they can do when it happens is to follow McDonnell’s lead — cut your losses, apologize, and move on. The racial-grievance mongers will most likely be disappointed that the incident came to an abrupt end, but for those weary of the feigned outrage that surrounds these incidents, McDonnell’s prompt mea culpa comes as a relief.


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