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Tilting at Windmills

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September 2, 2010

BARBOUR EXPLAINS THE SOUTH WITH BASELESS, REVISIONIST HISTORY.... For much of the 20th century, America's Southeast, now the Republicans' strongest region, was closely aligned with Democratic politics. The shift began quickly after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, culminating in the Republican stronghold we see today.

As far as likely presidential candidate Haley Barbour of Mississippi, the corporate-lobbyist-turned governor, is concerned, the transition can be explained as a matter of generational change. Barbour's version of events, though, is so wildly ridiculous, it bears no resemblance to reality.

Barbour has invented his own sanitized, suburb-friendly version of history -- an account that paints the South's shift to the GOP as the product of young, racially inclusive conservatives who had reasons completely separate and apart from racial politics for abandoning their forebears' partisan allegiances. In an interview with Human Events that was posted on Wednesday, Barbour insists that "the people who led the change of parties in the South ... was my generation. My generation who went to integrated schools. I went to integrated college -- never thought twice about it." Segregationists in the South, in his telling, were "old Democrats," but "by my time, people realized that was the past, it was indefensible, it wasn't gonna be that way anymore. So the people who really changed the South from Democrat to Republican was a different generation from those who fought integration."

This is utter nonsense.

This comes up from time to time, especially when Republicans are feeling defensive about race (or when right-wing Mississippi governors prepare to run against the nation's first African-American president), so let's set the record straight.

The Democratic Party, in the first half of the 20th century, was home to competing constituencies -- southern conservative whites with abhorrent views on race, and white progressives and African Americans in the north, who sought to advance the cause of civil rights. The party struggled, ultimately siding with an inclusive, liberal agenda.

It wasn't easy. As Steve Kornacki reminds us, "When the party ratified a civil rights plank at its 1948 convention, Southern Democrats staged a walkout and lined up behind Strom Thurmond, South Carolina's governor and (like all Southern Democrats of the time) an arch-segregationist. Running under the Dixiecrat banner, Thurmond won four Deep South states that fall."

As the party shifted, the Democratic mainstream embraced its new role. Republicans, meanwhile, also changed.

In the wake of Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act, the Republican Party welcomed the white supremacists who no longer felt comfortable in the Democratic Party. Indeed, in 1964, Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater boasted of his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and made it part of his platform. Other than his home state, Goldwater won exactly five states in that race: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. To pretend this had nothing to do with race -- we're talking about states that hadn't backed a GOP candidate since the Civil War -- is absurd.

This was, of course, right around the time when figures like Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond made the transition -- leaving the Democratic Party for the GOP.

In the ensuing years, Democrats embraced their role as the party of diversity, inclusion, and civil rights. Republicans became the party of the "Southern Strategy," opposition to affirmative action, campaigns based on race-baiting, vote-caging, discriminatory voter-ID laws, and politicians like Helms and Thurmond.

Indeed, as the chairman of the Republican National Committee recently conceded, his party deliberately used racial division for electoral gain for the last four decades.

Matt Finkelstein, who noted that Barbour's version of history "is so grossly distorted that it's tough to decide where to start," added, "Barbour says that he was raised an 'Eastland Democrat,' but fails to mention that Jim Eastland once said that 'segregation is not discrimination,' but rather 'the law of God.'"

Barbour, a man who placed a Confederate flag signed by Jefferson Davis in his office, surely knows his historical perspective is radically untrue. He's just hoping the public doesn't know better. It's ugly and cynical ... and par for the course for one of America's least honorable politicians.

Steve Benen 10:45 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Hey Haley - poppy-cock to you and your loved ones! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on September 2, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

Gee, I though Barbour was about 62, 63 years old. I guess I was wrong. He just be in his late forties to early to mid 50's if he went to truly integrated schools. Especially in the South.
And as for the Confederate flag in his office, well he like movie 'stars' and likes hanging around in 'bars,' so this was his way of telling people about himself.
Another lying sack of shit Republican. Nothing to see here...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on September 2, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Please, not "corporate-lobbyist-turned governor."

Instead, "tobacco lobbyist."

It's the poison pill; can't be repeated often enough.

Posted by: penalcolony on September 2, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

My generation who went to integrated schools. I went to integrated college -- never thought twice about it.

Hmm. Wikipedia suggests that Barbour started college at the University of Mississippi in the fall of 1965, just three years after Ole Miss admitted its first black student. (The Ole Miss football team wasn't integrated until 1972.) Barbour was also a member of the SAE fraternity at Ole Miss, which I think was segregated at that time. Whatever Barbour's own views, it's just not correct that by the mid-1960s, no one at Ole Miss ever thought twice about racial issues.

Posted by: alkali on September 2, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

My favorite memory of Hale Barbour was his testimony that when he was head of the National Republican Committee and sat on the deck of a yacht in Hong Kong harbor and received a check for a million dollars from a Hong Kong National for the NRC, it never occured to him that it was a foreign donation and therefore banned.

Posted by: CDRealist on September 2, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Barbour's history is nuts, but there's some truth there too. Today's southern GOP depends heavily on a "New South" conservatism based in wealthy suburbs, one best described as "Old North" (circa 1890s). The great irony is that TVA--the one "socialist" element in the New Deal--coupled with decades of federal government investment electrified the South and made it safe for capitalism, while also subsidizing deflated tax rates.

Where I live, in Middle Tennessee, the GOP base has swelled thanks to Nashville suburban growth in ring counties--a lot of transient, ex-Northern, middle class strivers who embrace a lot of that right-wing rhetoric about free markets and the deserving rich. My county has recently gone from solidly Democratic to solidly GOP, but it wasn't about segregation in the 1960s. It was boomtown growth from the 90s-00s. It would be nice to see a native progressivism emerge as a counterweight, as it did in the 1890s North, but we lack much of the union base necessary to support it, and the GOP no longer has an internal reform wing, as it did a century ago. So what we got is a toxic merger of Carnegie and Calhoun, where regulating insurance companies is "tyranny" and torching an Islamic Center is "freedom."

Still, no surprise that southern governors like Barbour would rather play up the robberbaron elements of their identity at the expense of the race warriors. After all, it's the former who actually call the shots.

Posted by: RMcD on September 2, 2010 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans are not going to nominate someone who reminds voters of Boss Hogg. Even Sarah Palin makes more sense as a candidate. As for the revisionism, it's a simple process: assert, repeat ad infinitum. These aren't arguments. It's simply the way the American right communicates. Anyone who's ever been to church knows how it's done.

Posted by: walt on September 2, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

The south has gone down ever since. With the exception of a few urban centers it is behind the rest of the country. Slowly approaching third world status. Which is where the rebublicans want to take the rest of the country.

Posted by: awake on September 2, 2010 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Gov. Barbour has a realistic chance of gaining the GOP nod in 2012. The institutional GOP will need to rally behind someone to thwart the North Star Express, and who better than the ultimate insider?

The narrative almost writes itself: the insider vs. the outsider in a galactic Battle of the Stupid and Evil for the soul of the GOP. Stay tuned.

Posted by: danimal on September 2, 2010 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

awake, do you live in the south? What you describe is not at all what I see. Culturally and economically, the South gets less and less distinct from the rest of America every year. The "Sun Belt" has been more prosperous over recent decades than the Rust Belt. It's only in politics where we've polarized and isolated ourselves.

Posted by: RMcD on September 2, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

But Joe Klein thinks Barbour's just a good ole boy:

If Obama is not reelected, it will be because he comes across as disdaining what he does for a living. I don't think he thinks of it that way, but you watch someone with a real love of the game -- Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell, Mississippi's Haley Barbour (and, of course, William Jefferson Clinton) -- and you can tell the difference immediately.

Barbour's just a regular guy, someone you'd want to have a beer with -- as opposed to the 'disdaining' [elite liberal] Obama who probably only drinks sherry.

Posted by: leo on September 2, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

The electorate that voted for Obama in 2008 is not under any circumstances gonna vote for Haley Barbour in 2012.

This is just inside the beltway chatter, nothing more.

Posted by: Archon on September 2, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are crazy, Who wudda thunk? Thanks for telling us 2-3X every day.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on September 2, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

While the claim that Barbour's generation thought nothing of race is absurd, the claim that the rise of the Republican party in the south is the result of economic development and the rise of a broad middle class is actually pretty conclusively supported by micro and county level analyses of election returns. See "the end of southern exceptionalism" by Shafer and Johnston. This is primarily true for congressional elections, with a more complicated story for the presidency. For the most part, racist dems didn't change parties ; although there is always anecdotes of those who did the data suggests it was not a large trend. they voted less often, and eventually started dying, replaced by younger republicans who didn't come from the old counties of white supremacy. While hyperbolic, Barbour is probably right on this one.

Posted by: david on September 2, 2010 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

Good historical outline by Steve, but the conflict in the Democratic party over race did not heat up until the 1940s. The Republicans under Theodore Roosevelt had the black vote in the South and moderate and progressive white voters all over the country. They blew them all off under Taft, Harding, Hoover, etc., and left them ripe for the picking by Roosevelt, Truman, and Johnson.

Posted by: Midland on September 2, 2010 at 12:04 PM | PERMALINK

Federalism has dominated Southern politics as an idea/ideal since before the civil war. There has been a perpetual unease about the usurptation of state's rights by the federal government not just because of slavery but on a host of issues. Southerners feel an inherent alienation from Washington particularly when it is occupied by someone who doesn't share their values. The Democratic party was generally viewed as the party of federalism and local control up until FDR. After FDR, the Democratic Party increasingly became the party advocating for increased federal authority, and the Republican party increasingly advocated for less federal authority. Yes, attitudes towards African-Americans was clearly in play, but always under the umbrella of emphasizing state's rights and suspicion of the federal goverment.

Posted by: Scott F. on September 2, 2010 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK

The "Sun Belt" has been more prosperous over recent decades than the Rust Belt. -RMcD

The prosperity of the south comes on the back of the rest of the country. Other than Texas, the Southern states take much more than they give in federal taxes. That money is then funneled to foreign companies, like Toyota, in the form of huge tax breaks for setting up low wage assembly plants, which ultimately harms American manufacturing, drives down wages or eliminates jobs altogether, and increases the tax burden on the middle class.

That can only be described as prosperity if you consider slowly poisoning yourself to be prosperous.

When people from the South bitch about the country becoming a welfare state or high taxes I can't help but laugh.

Posted by: doubtful on September 2, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I've been in Alabama since 1985.The transition from Dems to Repubs on the statewide level took place soon after. It certainly was not lead by the "young" Repubs who grew up in integrated schools. It was lead by the old Dems who grew up in seg academys.

Posted by: martin on September 2, 2010 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Wasn't Johnson supposed to have said something like, "If I sign this the Democrats will have lost the South for a generation"?

Posted by: David Dabney on September 2, 2010 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

One time, locally(Upper Floida), they published a recipe for pulled pork which began, 1. Soak your butt in Jack Daniels overnight. 2. Park your whiskey-soaked butt on a hot grill...
I reckon I blacked out then, but every time I see Haley Barbour, I am reminded of this terrible thing.

Posted by: La Piovra on September 2, 2010 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

doubtful: if you look at my first post above (not just my rejoinder to "awake"), you'll see that I largely agree with your point about southern prosperity.

However, I would not say that the dependance of the southern economy on the largesse of the federal government makes it illusory. The American economy, S and N, has ALWAYS been built upon the back of federal policy and spending. That's how Hamilton intended it and that's how it has worked ever since.

Posted by: RMcD on September 2, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Without even investigating Barbour's grade-school & high school, just knowing the history of Miss. desegregation, I can tell he's flat LYING when he says "My generation who went to integrated schools. I went to integrated college -- never thought twice about it." He grew up in a SEGREGATED society and went to SEGREGATED schools largely including college. Period.

Barbour was born October 22, 1947. That means he was 18 and graduated high-school in 1965. He went to the U. of Miss. at Oxford from 1965 until 1968 when he left to work on Richard Nixon's campaign and never graduated.

Mississippi schools were completely SEGREGATED in 1965 and remained so right up until 1970!

Here's the history of school desegregation in Miss:

Lawsuits by black parents in Biloxi, Jackson, and Leake County, who were supported in their efforts by the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund, finally led to the first court-ordered school desegregation in the state in the fall of 1964. In the following year, because of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, most Mississippi school districts reluctantly adopted freedom-of-choice desegregation plans, which essentially provided that any student could choose to go to any school in a district.

Freedom-of-choice desegregation, however, only offered five years of token desegregation and the preservation of largely segregated schools. The problem was that in the 1960s, most black Mississippians really did not have freedom of choice.

Between 1964 and 1969, black parents who chose white schools for their children were subjected to numerous forms of intimidation: some were pressured or fired by their employers; some lost their housing; some lost their credit at the local bank; and others received threatening phone calls, had crosses burned on their lawns, or were victims of physical intimidation.

In 1968, largely because of the continuing resistance of white Southerners to school desegregation, the Supreme Court ruled in Green v. County School Board that freedom of choice was ineffective and no longer an acceptable method of desegregation.

In October 1969, the Supreme Court essentially said enough is enough, and in a landmark decision involving thirty Mississippi school districts, Alexander v. Holmes, the court ordered the immediate termination of dual school systems and the establishment of unitary ones. Thus, many Mississippi school districts had to begin the complete integration of their school systems in mid-year, during January and February of 1970."

So, Barbour is FLAT LYING. He went to completely segregated grade and high schools and a virtually segregated college where he was in a segregated fraternity. Then he left to help Richard Nixon with his "Southern Strategy." To pretend race wasn't important to him is just a lie!

Posted by: Cugel on September 2, 2010 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Didn't boss hog's family & associates grow fat as ticks on the Katrina tit? The FBI raided his niece's office. What ever happened with that?

Posted by: marilyn on September 2, 2010 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, Barbour doesn't "give a hoot in Hell" (that's a southern term) whether "the American public knows better." He's not accountable to the American public; he's accountable to the voters of Mississippi; more precisely still, he's accountable to a majority of voters of the stae of Mississippi. And those folks have a huge appetite for anodyne, sanitized visions of a historical past when there were no lynchings, no cross-burnings, and no dead civil rights workers.

In the states of the former Confederacy, that's how "racial conservatives" like Barbour win elections, and it will be that way for at least another generation until those states actually begin developing an urban core.

Posted by: Ken on September 2, 2010 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK



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