Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour recently put his foot in his mouth as all potential presidential candidates do from time to time. His gaffe, which shows up in a Weekly Standard feature article, consisted of two parts.
The first part of the goof was concerning racial segregation where Barbour says “I just don’t remember it being that bad”. The author of the story, Andrew Ferguson, gave his take on Barbour’s remark:
“I don’t think that he meant segregation wasn’t that bad. I think he meant that it didn’t roil the town the way some people might think it did.” He added: ”I get the sense that [Barbour] himself was just kind of oblivious. He was a fun loving football player, probably chasing skirts and all that.”
Ferguson said he got a similar sense from others he spoke to in Yazoo City. ”No one I talked to would defend segregation or anything like that — it just didn’t impinge on their consciousness the way it does ours in retrospect.”
I think moderate and conservative blacks are offended not by bad policy decisions but for white failure to see how bad it was in the Jim Crow days. Some of us just don’t get it. It ought to “impinge on our consciousnesses”.
Whites often don’t gain respect from blacks on the issue of race. Whites mistakenly think they must hold liberal policy positions. Liberals think they must talk down to them. Admittedly liberals get by with racially dim-witted comments and pay no price: Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid are prime examples of the phenomenon. White Democratic politicians are never going to get the scrutiny for these racially tinged comments, just as Bill Clinton could get away with obnoxious behavior with women and still get the NOW vote, gun control advocates like Carl Rowan can get away with recklessly shooting off handguns, and Al Gore still has a “green” following in spite of his own personal environmentally-hypocritical bad habits.
Sometimes self-inflicted wounds like Barbour’s can end a candidacy (remember “Macaca” and Virginia Senator George Allen?). Sometimes they are just a blip on the radar screen. It remains to be seen how this might affect a Barbour candidacy.
The more infamous part of Barbour’s remarks was when he attributed racial healing to groups that were apparently formed to continue segregation, the (White) Citizen’s Councils.
Ferguson offered this weak explanation:
Barbour raised this point during a conversation about the history of Yazoo City in the civil rights era. Barbour told Ferguson that one of his aides was doing research (for reasons that are not clear) and had dug up an article from a local newspaper that described the local Citizens’ Council this way. That’s where Barbour picked up that talking point.
By the time these groups were in their heyday, Barbour was not 15, but at least 22 years old. Are we to believe Barbour had no knowledge of the purpose of these groups by that time? It is hard to believe that a Governor in the Deep South would have so little knowledge of his own town and memory of his state’s history to totally misread history this way. We are not talking about “white guilt”, we are talking understanding and honesty.
Contrast this with Mike Huckabee. Steven Loeb has written an written an article entitled “Haley Barbour Should Take A Page From Mike Huckabee When It Comes To Talking About South’s Racist History.”
“Huckabee talks about race probably better than any other candidate in the ’08 elections….Huckabee is kind of the straight-shooting southern white man who can talk about racial history. The fact is, though, that when you looked at his policies, in the contemporary moment, they are not that dramatically different than that of Haley Barbour’s.
This is no new revelation about Huckabee, who got 48% of the black vote in his first campaign for governor of Arkansas in 1998 while most other Republican governors struggled to get 10% (Barbour got 6% of the black vote his last time out in 2007). A large group of Black pastors endorsed Huckabee’s candidacy in 2008:
Huckabee’s willingness and eagerness to engage and interact with all voters has earned him the reciprocity of unprecedented public support from black voters for a Republican candidate over the past several decades.
At the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock High School, Huckabee brought many to tears saying
“… and today, we call upon every church, every pulpit, every synagogue, every mosque in every part of Arkansas and the rest of the world to say never, never, never, never again will we be silent when people’s rights are at stake.”
Huckabee has also won kudos for entering a September, 2008 debate held at Morgan State University in Baltimore on racial issues that most other Republicans shunned, for integrating one of the early churches he pastored, and for quietly sitting with the Martin Luther King family at a Civil Rights commemoration held right before Super Tuesday, though he was not personally invited to speak.
Barbour’s apparent blindness on this issue doesn’t justify calling him a racist. But perhaps its time for a little introspection. More importantly, we should take a closer at the ugly history of the culture we grew up in.