Barbour backpedals

BARBOUR BACKPEDALS…. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s (R) comments to the Weekly Standard weren’t exactly subtle. 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.

This hasn’t exactly gone over well, and more than a few political observers — from the left and the right — have said Barbour’s presidential ambitions have taken a serious hit.

Hoping to clean up the mess he created, Barbour issued a statement today, backpedaling a bit.

“When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns’ integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn’t tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the ‘Citizens Council,’ is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time.”

There are a few angles to this. The first is that these remarks are wholly at odds with what he told the Weekly Standard, which, as a prominent Republican magazine, doesn’t have any reason to misquote him or twist his words out of context.

The second is that Barbour’s chief spokesperson, hoping to defend his boss, took a slightly different line than the governor did yesterday. This makes today’s statement look more like spin and crisis management than a sincere clarification.

And finally, let’s also not forget that the published remarks became so instantly inflammatory this week precisely because of Barbour’s atrocious record on racial issues. Today’s statement more or less makes the right points, but it’s not as if the governor has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to diversity and respect for minority groups.

As for the larger context, Markos Moulitsas noted earlier that the fact that Barbour backpedaled quickly “shows that race remains the ONE thing that’ll get a Republican in trouble with traditional media.” I think that’s entirely right, and it’s the only reason the governor couldn’t let this go without a response.