Haley Barbour and The GOP’s Old South Problem
Well, at least Mississippi Governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate Haley Barbour is comfortable enough in his racism to speak openly about it. In a new profile in The Weekly Standard, Barbour reminisces about the good times growing up in Yazoo, City, a city that steadfastly refused to integrate its schools until 1970 and who proudly and openly resisted all forms of integration. Barbour also praises the local branch of the Citizens Council movement, an organization founded to promote white supremacy.
Barbour admits that the rest of the country would view the Citizens Council as the KKK but where he came from it was simply an “organization of town leaders.” But like most confederate apologists, Barbour fails (or flat out refuses) to acknowledge the history of this group of town leaders.
Founded in 1954 shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the White Citizens Council movement dedicated itself to political activities that opposed civil rights. Some of the group’s most notable activities included boycotts of pro-civil rights individuals. The group eventually got itself barred from the annual CPAC conference because the conservative movement viewed the group as simply a bunch of racists.
In fact, the single distinguishing factor between the Klan and the Citizens Council was the fact that members of the Citizens Council publicly self-identified as members and wore suits and ties in lieu of the Klan’s white robes.
Overall the profile paints Barbour as a traditionalist in the true sense of the Old South. Race permeates every aspect of memory re-told by Barbour’s acquaintances and constituents, and the men interviewed are proud of their segregationist past.
There also seems to be little acknowledgement that to the rest of the country embracing the vestiges of racism is a normal, let alone commendable feat. This of course poses an interesting challenge for the Republicans as Barbour’s dominance in the party reinforces the rift between establishment Republicans and those “Jacksonian” Republicans like Barbour whose values align what can only be described as the new Confederacy. And while the party made some electoral gains this past November, even party leaders admit that national prospects dim if Latinos and other minorities continue to flee the party because of its open embrace of racist rhetoric and policy positions like opposition to immigration reform and the DREAM Act, for example.
But what might be the most upsetting in the Barbour profile is just how little has changed in the way these confederate values are communicated to the public at large. The piece is littered with references to “resisting the reach of the federal government” and “traditional values” uttered in the same breath as descriptions of entrenched racial divides. Which means of course for Barbour and many of his Republican supporters, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
photo courtesy of IowaPolitics.com via Flickr