George W. Bush issued a stern rebuke to Senator Trent Lott in December for his praise of the segregationist 1948 presidential bid of Strom Thurmond. But Bush has revived a practice of paying homage to an even greater champion of the Confederacy--Jefferson Davis. Last Memorial Day, for the second year in a row, Bush's White House sent a floral wreath to the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery. Six days later, as the United Daughters of the Confederacy celebrated Jefferson Davis' birthday there, Washington chapter president Vicki Heilig offered a "word of gratitude to George W. Bush" for "honoring" the Old South's dead.
Bush has quietly reinstated a tradition dating back to Woodrow Wilson that his father had halted in 1990. The elder Bush was weary of infighting among various Confederacy groups, so his White House quit participating altogether. The current Bush White House denies any change in policy. But John Edward Hurley, head of the Confederate Memorial Association in Washington, says, "No one saw a wreath from 1990 until George W. Bush got elected," and other participants in the annual event support his account.
It's not clear why, after more than a decade's lapse, the current Bush White House resumed this symbolic tribute to the Old South. But one of the organizations connected to the ceremony is the Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose "Chief Aide-de-Camp" is Richard T. Hines, a politically active lobbyist from South Carolina. In that state's brutal 2000 Republican primary, Hines reportedly helped finance tens of thousands of letters blasting Bush rival John McCain for failing to support the flying of the Confederate flag over the state capitol. Hines declined to comment. --By Michael Weisskopf and Karen Tumulty