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The Capitol's Confederate past is still present

Jamie Stiehm on

WASHINGTON -- Eleven Confederate statues still stand tall in the Capitol. Let the ghost of the "Lost Cause" be gone for good as the nation undergoes a wrenching racial awakening.

Oh, no, says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He refuses to "airbrush the Capitol."

Call me a Yankee, but I have no love for men who praise men who took up arms against the United States and shed the blood of 750,000 on both sides of the Civil War. If they were dashing rebels -- "rebby boys" -- the Confederacy itself was a crime against humanity.

Statues take up public space and also cross into our psychic space. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., understands this point perfectly. "This is a perfect time for us to move those statues," she declared.

However, senators say today, she can't make that decision.

Don't they know the past can oppress us with whispered, weighted and coded messages when utterly wrong figures are honored for throngs of visitors to see?

 

Gen. Robert E. Lee gives a history girl flashbacks to Gettysburg. The Confederacy's president and vice president, Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, also haunt the halls of American democracy's house. These openly racist men -- and traitors -- tried to tear this nation in two. They almost succeeded but for President Abraham Lincoln, who never lost a fight in this life.

Days ago, I asked Pelosi if the Senate was willing to work with her to remove the statues. "Public sentiment is everything," she said, "because other times, people may think, I never go there anyway." The first female Speaker makes no secret of her desire to breathe Confederate-free Capitol air.

But the chairman who oversees statues, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., told me Tuesday he has not even responded to the Speaker's letter urging removal. That's the lull where the Confederate statues live another day.

They call the Senate the "plantation," and not for nothing. Verandas and fine rich food abound, served with fresh lemonade in summer and sugary ice tea all year round.

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