Last week (July 22), the House voted to remove Confederate statues in the Capitol from public view. The bill specified three men (white supremacists) whose statues must be removed no later than 30 days after the enactment of the act. One of those statues is James P. Clarke which was contributed to the National Statuary Hall by Arkansas.
The vote was bi-partisan (305-113) with seventy-two Republicans joining Democrats.
Congressman Bruce Westerman voted NO.
For a representative of Arkansas, it is an unusual vote given the fact that Governor Hutchinson, in April 2019, signed into law a bill that will swap out the state’s current statues with those of civil rights activist Daisy Bates and singer Johnny Cash. Almost everyone involved in this decision agreed that it was time to update our statues to reflect our more recent history.
In a statement explaining his vote, Mr. Westerman said that “the federal government shouldn’t be picking state statues.” “America’s leaders have never been perfect, and they never will be. In order to have an open and frank discussion about our forefathers’ shortcomings, we need to confront our past head-on and not wipe all traces of it from our history.”
He is wrong on both points.
The bill doesn’t pick statues for a state. It simply removes the statues of white supremacists. It also prohibits the display of any statue in the National Statuary Hall of persons who voluntarily served with the Confederate States of America while it was in rebellion against the United States. While they may deserve a place in history, they do not deserve a place of honor, particularly in public places that are paid for by public dollars and that should be welcoming to us all.
However, I am still a little confused by his vote. In 2017, in a statement responding to press inquiries about Charlottesville and President Trump’s response, Mr. Westerman stated the following: “Neo-Nazism and white supremacy are reprehensible belief systems that are steeped in hate and adorned with evil actions throughout history. The actions of people who ascribe to these belief systems are contrary to everything I’ve learned in my Christian faith and are an affront to basic morality and the underpinnings of America.” Arkansas Republicans on Charlottesville, Trump’s Response and Confederate Monuments (Arkansas Times, August 24, 2017).
I thought Mr. Westerman’s statement on this issue in 2017 was clear and unequivocal, and I agreed with him. However, if Neo-Nazism and white supremacy are reprehensible belief systems, why does he support a state placing statues of those who hold these beliefs in our National Statuary Hall? State’s Rights? We’ve heard this before: from Fort Sumter (1861) to Little Rock (1957).
Then Mr. Westerman went biblical on us. In a written statement, citing John:8, he said, “I am reminded of a story when Jesus happened upon a crowd who was going to stone a prostitute. He approached the crowd and wrote something on the ground. I speculate He was listing the sins of the mob, because when He suggested that the person without sin should cast the first stone, the crowd dispersed…. When we cast stones, we must realize we are likely to have stones cast back at us.” Confederate debate splits state’s delegation; some are open to review of removals (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 14, 2020)
I am unclear about what he means but it seems to be a version of Trump’s “very good people on both sides” (e.g., bad people on both sides).
Let’s be clear. There is no moral equivalency here.
Those of us who support the removal of white supremacists and confederates from our National Statuary Hall are not traitors, enslavers or racial supremacists. We are trying to move past the racism and bigotry in our past and to acknowledge the great progress we have made as a country in our march toward a more perfect union. That’s what we did in Arkansas in deciding to replace our current statues with our modern-day heroes.
Like he does ninety-five percent of the time, Mr. Westerman is aligning his position with President Trump. This “stick your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing” style of policymaking is not good for the country and certainly not good for Arkansas.
William Hanson, Candidate for Congress, D (AR-4)