Barbour’s ‘clarification’ needs some work

BARBOUR’S ‘CLARIFICATION’ NEEDS SOME WORK…. As we discussed earlier, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) made some racially-charged remarks to the Weekly Standard, which may very likely have an impact on the national ambitions of the lobbyist-turned-governor.

Among other things, Barbour said he doesn’t recall segregated Mississippi in the midst of the civil rights revolution as being “that bad,” and recalls attending a speech delivered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1962, though he didn’t pay much attention to King’s remarks.

Perhaps most notably, Barbour praised the white supremacist Citizens Council in his hometown of Yazoo City for keeping the community calm during the civil rights era.

In light of the controversy created by the remarks, TPM’s Eric Kleefeld spoke to Dan Turner, Barbour’s chief spokesperson, who sounded a little defensive.

So, I asked Turner, does Barbour have any comment on the Citizen Council movement’s basis in white supremacy, and its work of launching economic boycotts to cut off employment and business for African-Americans who became active for civil rights — including that notable occasion in Yazoo City?

“Gov. Barbour did not comment on the Citizens Council movement’s history,” Turner responded. “He commented on the business community in Yazoo City, Mississippi.”

I asked further about the Citizen Council movement’s white supremacist activities, such as the boycotts in Barbour’s hometown. “I’m not aware that that’s accurate,” Turner said. “I’m not aware that he [Barbour] has any statement on that. I’m aware of the statement that he made in context of how he made it.”

After being pressed further on whether Barbour’s comments about the Citizens Councils were accurate, Turner said: “I’m aware of what the governor said in this interview. I’m not gonna get into the business of trying to twist what the governor said, or to manipulate it.”

The remarks don’t need manipulation. Barbour was asked about the civil rights era in his Mississippi community, and he responded with praise for a racist organization, known for touting “racial integrity” and fighting for segregation.

Barbour’s point was to draw a distinction between Citizens Councils and the KKK, but what he fails to appreciate is that the two are different sides of the same coin — the Citizens Councils used economic coercion to preserve racial harmony that kept whites on top, while the KKK used violence to achieve the same ends.

The governor and his spokesperson seem impressed with the fact that the Citizens Council in the community where Barbour grew up kept the KKK out of town. That’s nice, but it’s also missing the point — that same Citizens Council enforced what was effectively mandatory apartheid; it was created in response to Brown v. Board of Education; and its efforts were focused on not only fighting the civil rights movement, but also in demanding that local African Americans never even tried to advance beyond second class citizens.

Barbour looks back at those Citizens Council efforts as laudable, effective, and worthy of praise. By any modern standards of decency, that’s simply unacceptable.

In the larger political context, does Barbour have a “Bubba” problem? That seems like a fair assessment.

Update: Also note, it’s not as if Barbour has a background on civil rights that he can fall back on to demonstrate his integrity on these issues. Just the opposite is true — few figures in American public life have an uglier past on racial issues.