BARBOUR WELL POSITIONED TO WRAP UP THE RACIST VOTE…. To put it mildly, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a likely presidential candidate in 2012, has a difficult background on race relations.
The far-right lobbyist-turned-governor has at times conveyed a demonstrably ridiculous version of history when it comes to civil rights in the South, and Barbour is known for keeping a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office. He’s cited Jim Eastland as his political inspiration — Eastland is best known as a champion on segregation — and once told a campaign aide who’d made racist comments that “he would be reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks.”
But Barbour has opened a new chapter in this story with a lengthy interview with the Weekly Standard.
In interviews Barbour doesn’t have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. “I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” he said. “I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in ’62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white.”
Did you go? I asked.
“Sure, I was there with some of my friends.”
I asked him why he went out.
“We wanted to hear him speak.”
I asked what King had said that day.
“I don’t really remember. The truth is, we couldn’t hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King.”
It’s hard to know where to start with such odious madness. As far as Barbour is concerned, Mississippi — home to lynchings and other Jim Crow-era violence — wasn’t “that bad” in the 1950s and early 1960s? This coming from a man who “never thought twice” about integration, because he attended all-white, segregated schools.
Wait, it gets worse.
Both Mr. Mott and Mr. Kelly had told me that Yazoo City was perhaps the only municipality in Mississippi that managed to integrate the schools without violence. I asked Haley Barbour why he thought that was so.
“Because the business community wouldn’t stand for it,” he said. “You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you’d lose it. If you had a store, they’d see nobody shopped there. We didn’t have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.”
Those “up north” happen to be right, and Barbour happens to be dangerously ignorant. As Matt Yglesias noted, “The Citizens’ Councils were, right in the state of Mississippi where Barbour is from, the respectable face of white supremacist political activism.” Josh Marshall added that these Citizens’ Councils were so transparently racist, the conservative mainstream “would have nothing to do with them.”
But from Barbour’s twisted perspective, he’s inclined to credit these white supremacists for keeping Mississippi calm during the civil rights era.
I recognize, and have written about, political reporters’ love for Barbour, in part because of his willingness to feed their egos and serve them alcohol.
But as the 2012 race draws closer, I can only hope the political world recognizes Barbour for what, by all accounts, he appears to be: an old-school Southern racist.