Slow news week or not, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour's praise for his hometown's segregationist Citizens' Council in a Weekly Standard article released yesterday was bound to blow up in his face like a Fourth of July fireworks mishap. Barbour, a prospective 2012 presidential candidate, has a history of racial tactlessness: He recalled the integration of his alma mater, Ole Miss, as a "very pleasant experience," while a Verna Bailey a black classmate who Barbour says he "still loves" but who barely even remembers meeting him said she "thought [her] life was going to end." When Virginia governor Bob McDonnell faced outrage for failing to acknowledge slavery in his declaration of "Confederate History Month," Barbour said, "To me, it's a sort of feeling that it's a nit, that it is not significant, that it's ... trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't amount to diddly." Oh, and back in 1982, he made a hilarious joke about black people and watermelons. But, judging from a statement he released today, it seems that this time, at least, Barbour realizes that he crossed a line.
Here's how Barbour backpedaled today:
"When asked why my hometown in Mississippi did not suffer the same racial violence when I was a young man that accompanied other towns' integration efforts, I accurately said the community leadership wouldn't tolerate it and helped prevent violence there. My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either. Their vehicle, called the 'Citizens Council,' is totally indefensible, as is segregation. It was a difficult and painful era for Mississippi, the rest of the country, and especially African Americans who were persecuted in that time."
Emphasis ours, because it's the complete absence of the sentiments expressed in those last two sentences that made his remarks in the Weekly Standard article so outrageous. He didn't say the members of the Yazoo City Citizens' Council were saints exactly, but he described them in completely innocuous terms.
“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."
And when acknowledging that his personal experience during the civil-rights movement wasn't "that bad,” Barbour made no mention that for plenty of other people, it was a hellish struggle.
So it's good that he's decided to amend his remarks. But with yet another incident added to a growing file of racial insensitivity and rosy revisionism, even some conservative bloggers are already sticking a fork in his presidential hopes.