BARBOUR ISN’T DOING HIMSELF ANY FAVORS…. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a very likely GOP presidential candidate, is aware of the criticism he’s received lately, but has an explanation. As the governor sees it, “some people on the left” don’t like “conservative Christian Republicans from the Deep South.”
Just what we need, a corporate lobbyist with a persecution complex running for president.
Jon Chait argues, persuasively, that there’s something to this as a political strategy: “If he is seen to be under attack from the left on spurious grounds, this makes him a right-wing racial martyr, a powerful source of attraction on the right. And that is indeed the angle Barbour pushes here: They’re attacking me because they hate people like you — white, Christian, Southern. Barbour is not the perpetrator but the victim of bigotry.”
Of course, as a matter of reality, Barbour has come under fire, particularly on matters related to race, because of a genuinely horrendous record, 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.”
Over the weekend, that record got just a little worse.
Gov. Haley Barbour recalled hearing Martin Luther King Jr. speak at the old fairgrounds in his hometown of Yazoo City in 1962. “I was there with some of my friends,” Barbour told the Weekly Standard. “We wanted to hear him speak.”
Asked what King had said, Barbour replied, “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.”
A search of the King Papers at the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute and the papers of David Garrow, author of the definitive biography on King, Bearing the Cross, failed to find evidence King spoke in Yazoo City in 1962.
Former NAACP chairman Julian Bond responded, “Haley’s history is as reliable as Glenn Beck’s.”
In fairness, the number of Americans from that era who falsely claim to have heard Dr. King speak is probably pretty high. Some may have even convinced themselves that they actually attended an event they did not.
But the context is particular importance as it relates to Barbour — sensitive to allegations of racism, the far-right governor very likely claimed he “wanted to hear [MLK] speak” as a way of diffusing some of the allegations. If he’d grown up as a racist in the segregated South, the argument goes, then Barbour wouldn’t have attended an event to hear King’s remarks. Except, we now know he didn’t.
What’s more, this isn’t a case in which Barbour said he heard King in 1962, but meant 1963 — King never delivered a public speech in Yazoo City.
To be sure, on the controversy richter scale, this doesn’t move the needle much, and it pales in comparison to Barbour’s praise for Citizens Councils. That said, if the governor was hoping to use the King event as some kind of cover, this is an embarrassing revelation.
Update: Ben Smith reports that King did speak in Yazoo City in 1966, and that may be what Barbour was referring to. But I think this breezes past the details too quickly — King did not make a public appearance at the time, and instead offered a private talk with civil-rights marchers. Barbour “was there” with some of his friends? His memory is way off.