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December 20, 2010

Today's 2 Minutes Of Liberal Hate: Haley Barbour Loves Racists Or Something

The Weekly Standard has a lengthy and positive profile of Mississippi Governor and possible GOP presidential candidate Haley Barbour. It seems some on the left, led by Matt Yglesias and followed by the usual suspects at TPM, The Atlantic and Politico, Time and MSNBC, are outrageously outraged by this passage dealing with Barbour's recollection of his hometown's integration efforts.

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.”

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.”

Yglesias points out that in 1955 (when Barbour was 8) this committee was staunchly opposed to school integration and the Yazoo Chapter was always fully on board with the most despicable racism imaginable.

There are a couple of things to chew on here.

First, both Barbour and Yglesias can be right. Based on the profile it's clear that many people in Barbour's home town (including his brother Jeppie, the then Mayor) held beliefs that simply were reprehensible about blacks but none the less managed to take a relatively benign course of action in integrating the community.

Willie Morris was in Yazoo City for deadline day too, like Haley a son of the segregated South, though unlike Haley a racial liberal. “By the middle of the day,” Morris wrote in Yazoo: Integration in a Deep Southern Town, “it was quite apparent that Yazoo City had indeed integrated its schools calmly and deliberately.” The national reporters presented the city to the world as a model of how integration at its best could work. The new school system was roughly 55 percent black, and as the deadline passed few whites withdrew for the handful of private schools that had hurriedly opened not long before.

Jeppie Barbour is one of the protagonists of Morris’s book. He is portrayed as a racial moderate, despite his boasts about the Mace canisters that local police had taken to wearing on their belts. “You get a drunk,” Morris quotes Jeppie saying, “you either get him to come with you or you have to manhandle him. You give him Mace and he’ll want to go anywhere with you. It keeps that nigger’s head in good shape.”

Jeppie saw the policy of the city’s white leaders not as capitulation to the federal government but as resignation to the inevitable. “We’re gonna make the most of this,” he told Morris. “It won’t be any fun. We don’t have many newcomers, and it’s hard to leave here no matter what happens. We’re not gonna have any mass exodus, black or white. We don’t have much other choice.”

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.

Were members of the Yazoo Citizens Council less than the shining examples Barbour holds them up as? Based on the examples Yglesias digs up, yeah. That's not exactly a surprise given the time we're talking about.

Does Barbour's romanticized version of events fail to convey the whole picture and give some people more credit than they deserve? I'd say so. But that's not exactly news either. The profile makes it clear these are people Barbour grew up around and admired. The fact that he cuts them slack the rest of us wouldn't does not exactly shock me. It's a pretty human reaction. Does this mean Barbour is a racist? Of course not. Does it mean Barbour supported segregation then or supports it now? Of course not.

So what does it prove? Nothing much as far as I can see. What it does is confirm something we already know...Democrats get a pass for their past and Republicans get nailed for the slightest variation from liberal dogma.


Obama skated by on Bill Ayers by saying he was a child when Ayers was bombing buildings and killing people. Of course Ayers past wasn't the issue, it was his unapologetic defense of it and the wisdom of a presidential candidate associating himself with such a man in the present.

Barbour was 8 years old when the 1955 campaign to intimidate supporters of school integration Yglesias cites was conducted. What's the relevance of that to Barbour or his memories of integration efforts in the 60's?

If Barbour were associating with men who still believed in segregation or defended their role in opposing it back in the day (as Ayers does about his terrorist past and continued belief in violence as a political tool), I'd be the first to say he has a disqualifying problem. But that's not the charge, is it?

Oh and if supporting segregation is disqualifying (and again no one is claiming Barbour did any such thing, then or now), then I'd like liberals to explain their on going love affair with Jimmy Carter.

As Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Project, relates in his book A Voting Rights Odyssey: Black Enfranchisement in Georgia, Carter’s board tried to stop the construction of a new “Elementary Negro School” in 1956. Local white citizens had complained that the school would be “too close” to a white school. As a result, “the children, both colored and white, would have to travel the same streets and roads in order to reach their respective schools.” The prospect of black and white children commingling on the streets on their way to school was apparently so horrible to Carter that he requested that the state school board stop construction of the black school until a new site could be found. The state board turned down Carter’s request because of “the staggering cost.” Carter and the rest of the Sumter County School Board then reassured parents at a meeting on October 5, 1956, that the board “would do everything in its power to minimize simultaneous traffic between white and colored students in route to and from school.”

It's clear that this country still hasn't fully dealt with the implications of the Civil Rights era or how to deal with the sides people took or didn't take at the time. That's only going to fully come about when the generations that lived through that era have all passed.

I get that it's a complicated and emotional issue but I think we need some balance in how we deal with it. To simply and forever give Democrats who actively took part in it a pass, while smearing Republicans who only had tangential involvement (like a high school aged Haley Barbour) is simply unacceptable.

Now, all of that said...this is simply bad politics for Barbour. A lot of folks whose only notions of the south come from watching or reading To Kill a Mockingbird or popular history simply equate "southern" with "racism".

The insinuation that Barbour is an apologist for racists (or worse) is a powerful one. People want to hear their own worldview reflected back at them by politicians. That's why Obama is forced to pretend his incredibly strange childhood and background fits perfectly within the traditional American narrative. Barbour's recollection of the south in the 60s will no doubt resonate with a lot of people who live there and know people they like and respect who did the best they could in difficult times. But for a lot of others it will sound like (pardon the phrase) whitewashing history. Personally, it strikes me as somewhere in between.

As a matter of pure politics, if Barbour does run for President (and you can tell the left is at least a little worried about that judged on the hits he's taking today), he's going to need to have a better spin on his take about this period in history. Because, as we see, it's going to be brought up over and over again if he is nominated. Voters outside the south (think Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, even Florida) are going to want a better narrative than, "there were some good people who stood up for integration regardless of their feelings about blacks".

I'm not saying that's fair, I'm just saying that's the reality.

digg this
posted by DrewM. at 03:24 PM

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