BARBOUR FAILS AN EASY TEST…. A Mississippi group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans is pushing for a state license plate that honors Nathan Bedford Forrest, perhaps best known as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. By all appearances, it’s unlikely officials will approve the plate.

This should make it easy, then, for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a likely presidential candidate, to denounce the idea that’s likely to fail anyway. He’s choosing not to.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour refused Tuesday to denounce attempts to create a special license plate honoring a 19th-century Ku Klux Klan leader.

“I don’t go around denouncing people,” Barbour told reporters Tuesday in Jackson, MS.

When asked by a reporter what he thought about the KKK leader in a historical context, Barbour gave a terse response.

“He’s a historical figure,” Barbour said.

Well, sure, the founder of the KKK is a historical figure. He’s also a murderer, slave trader, and the founder of the KKK.

It shouldn’t be a tough call. Barbour doesn’t have to deliver a lengthy historical analysis of Forrest’s crimes, he just as to say, “The push for a Forrest license plate is an awful mistake.”

But Barbour doesn’t want to say this. He’d rather stick to, “I don’t go around denouncing people.”

As Garance Franke-Ruta explained this week, “There are some bright shiny lines in American political life at the national level. One of them is that it’s an easy call to say negative things about the KKK when asked to do so, and that this does not require any particularly complex level of thought or strategy. If you’re not ready to cross that line, you’re not ready to be president. Period.”

Compounding the problem is the fact that the far-right Mississippi governor already has a horrendous record on race relations, as evidenced by his recent praise for White Citizens Councils — known for touting “racial integrity” and fighting for segregation through economic coercion — and his belief that the civil rights era in Mississippi just wasn’t “that bad.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.