Welcome to history as farce.
When I described the sudden mania surrounding the nationwide campaign to remove all things Confederate from the public eye as “an orgy of iconoclasm,” I didn’t realize the festivities were only getting started.
California once again is at the vanguard of dubious progress. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that outlawed the sale or the display of the Confederate flag on state property.
Now we are treated to Senate Bill 539 by Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, which would remove the names of Confederate political leaders and senior military officers from public schools, buildings, parks, roads and other state-owned property.
Glazer’s bill is a succinct masterpiece of moral preening for easy political points. It declares that naming a public park after a Confederate leader or general “is antithetical to California’s mission for racial equality.”
Understand: The Confederate banner has nothing to commend it. The “Lost Cause” lost for a reason. The Confederacy was a tyrannical hellhole built on the self-evident lie of white supremacy.
What we see in Glazer’s bill, and similar efforts in other states, is something more insidious. It is an attack on history itself.
Understandably, the senator and his colleagues would deny the charge. It’s not as if California is a hotbed of Southern nostalgia. Glazer’s bill would only affect two schools in Southern California.
There was some angst earlier this week that SB 539 might also compel the Mendocino County town of Fort Bragg to change its name. Glazer’s office says the bill wouldn’t affect city names, so there’s nothing to worry about.
Hold on a moment. On what principle should the Mendocino County city be spared from the great Confederate purge? None, from what I can see.
If Robert E. Lee High School is “antithetical” to the state’s mission of racial equality, then a town named after Braxton Bragg is too. It shouldn’t matter that the place was founded before Bragg left California and defected to the Confederacy. Lee was a distinguished U.S. Army officer before he led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia against the Union.
Glazer and his legislative colleagues should embrace their zeal for sanitizing history. Don’t stop with Confederates. California had too few of them anyway, and we have so many other corpses to exhume and defile.
How about Henry Haight? The 10th governor of California was an unabashed racist and opponent of the post-Civil War reconstruction. He also has at least one school named after him and may or may not be the namesake of a famous street in San Francisco. There’s some question whether the “Haight” of Haight Street fame is the governor, or his uncle Henry, the banker.
Why take a chance? Let’s dump Haight, Lee, Bragg and everyone else whose feet were constructed of clay, as opposed to whatever our progressive superiors are made of these days.
Suitable replacement names shouldn’t be hard to find. How about instead of Fort Bragg we call the city Fort Bowdler? Thomas Bowdler was the 19th-century Englishman who thought it would be a good idea to publish an edition of William Shakespeare’s plays that cut words and phrases that “cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family.”
From Bowdler we get the delightful pejorative “bowdlerize,” which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as “to expurgate (a book or writing) by omitting or modifying words or passages considered to be indelicate or offensive; to castrate.”
Maybe that’s too obscure. In any case, it doesn’t quite capture the grandeur and ambition of what Glazer and his sympathizers are attempting to do.
New circumstances call for new words. I humbly submit “glazerize,” a verb meaning “to purge (a public place) by removing historical names now considered to be indelicate, offensive or politically incorrect; to self-emasculate.”
Glazerville sounds like a lovely name for a city in our enlightened state. And Glazer-Ashbury has a nice ring to it, too, don’t you think?
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.