Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is facing scrutiny over some controversially nostalgic remarks he made in a recent Weekly Standard piece. Barbour praised the White Citizens Council, a pro–racial segregation group active in the 1950s and '60s, and reminisced about growing up in Yazoo City, Miss., during the "civil rights revolution": As Barbour put it, "I just don't remember it as being that bad." A spokesman says critics are unfairly "trying to paint the governor," a likely 2012 presidential aspirant, "as a racist." Will Barbour's words hurt, or possibly help, his reputation? (Watch Rachel Maddow discuss Barbour's comments)
This brouhaha was bound to happen: A white Southern Republican being "smeared as a racist"? says Jim Geraghty in National Review. Gee, didn't see that coming. Yes, many Citizens Council members "held reprehensible views," but they also, as Barbour notes, kept the Ku Klux Klan and racial violence out of Yazoo City. Besides, Barbour was a boy at the time, and if his "sin" is viewing "his hometown through rose-colored glasses," who isn't guilty of that?
"Haley Barbour faces an all-too familiar, all-too exhausted accusation"
Barbour's gunning for Palin: This "whitewashing" of Southern racism is Barbour's version of Nixon's "Southern Strategy," says Heather "Digby" Parton in Hullabaloo, and it's a "clever" one. This would-be presidential candidate knows who votes in GOP primaries, and his implicit pitch here — that "racism in America was always overblown" and "those who complain about it have always been whiners" — is the type of revisionist "dogwhistle" he'll need to beat Sarah Palin.
"Barbour's Southern Strategy"
Barbour's real strategy is umbrage: Barbour's "past is not racist enough to disqualify him" from winning the GOP primary, says Jonathan Chait in The New Republic, "but it is murky enough to spur the liberal media to raise questions." And given conservatives' "petulant anti-anti-racism," there is potential electoral gold in being "the white conservative attacked by liberals for his alleged racism."
"How Haley Barbour can win"
This could damage Barbour's chances... with the GOP elite: Barbour's "larger problem" is his history of being "overly casual" about race, the "third rail of American politics," says Greg Sargent in The Washington Post. His presidential aspirations are being taken seriously in "Beltway circles" now, but these kinds of remarks make "GOP establishment figures very nervous" and if "the narrative takes hold that Barbour is undisciplined or sloppy about racial matters," he'll lose the support of "insiders."
"Does Haley Barbour have a 'bubba' problem?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why the West should let Russia have eastern Ukraine
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- The dangers of our passionless American life
- 4 strategies for organizing your money, based on your personality
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- The essential techniques that every home cook should know
- 7 grammar rules you really should pay attention to
- The real reason conservatives should be outraged that police killed a white youth
- The amazing resurrection of Mitt Romney
- Even critics of the euro didn't see this coming
Subscribe to the Week