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Tilting at Windmills

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February 16, 2011

BARBOUR FAILS AN EASY TEST.... A Mississippi group called the Sons of Confederate Veterans is pushing for a state license plate that honors Nathan Bedford Forrest, perhaps best known as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. By all appearances, it's unlikely officials will approve the plate.

This should make it easy, then, for Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R), a likely presidential candidate, to denounce the idea that's likely to fail anyway. He's choosing not to.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour refused Tuesday to denounce attempts to create a special license plate honoring a 19th-century Ku Klux Klan leader.

"I don't go around denouncing people," Barbour told reporters Tuesday in Jackson, MS.

When asked by a reporter what he thought about the KKK leader in a historical context, Barbour gave a terse response.

"He's a historical figure," Barbour said.

Well, sure, the founder of the KKK is a historical figure. He's also a murderer, slave trader, and the founder of the KKK.

It shouldn't be a tough call. Barbour doesn't have to deliver a lengthy historical analysis of Forrest's crimes, he just as to say, "The push for a Forrest license plate is an awful mistake."

But Barbour doesn't want to say this. He'd rather stick to, "I don't go around denouncing people."

As Garance Franke-Ruta explained this week, "There are some bright shiny lines in American political life at the national level. One of them is that it's an easy call to say negative things about the KKK when asked to do so, and that this does not require any particularly complex level of thought or strategy. If you're not ready to cross that line, you're not ready to be president. Period."

Compounding the problem is the fact that the far-right Mississippi governor already has a horrendous record on race relations, as evidenced by his recent praise for White Citizens Councils -- known for touting "racial integrity" and fighting for segregation through economic coercion -- and his belief that the civil rights era in Mississippi just wasn't "that bad."

Steve Benen 1:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

Hitler? Haley Barbour won't denounce Hitler--he's a historical figure.

Stalin? Haley Barbour won't denounce Stalin--he's a historical figure.

I'm glad to see that Haley Barbour refuses to denounce *any* of history's greatest monsters--after all, they are *historical* figures.

Posted by: long ago on February 16, 2011 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

"He doesn't go around denouncing people".

Remember that when he's running for President! You heard it straight from the horses ass!

Posted by: Trollop on February 16, 2011 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Barbour just wants to keep his foot in the door, and then be a favorite-son/power-broker at the 2012 convention. He doesn't have to be viable as a national candidate-- in fact, keeping the Southern racists on his side is probably his strategy.

Posted by: MattF on February 16, 2011 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

I think MattF is right, and I also think we need to remember he has to keep his day job, which is Governor of Mississippi.

The KKK may be a "bright shiny line" at a national level, but among the voters and activists of Mississippi it's probably closer to the yellow one down the middle of the road.

Posted by: bleh on February 16, 2011 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

The reason Gov. Bubba the Hutt doesn't oppose a Nathan Bedford Forrest Commemorative License Plate is that he probably thinks it is a good idea.
His whole political existence has been about selling the Old South as a Good Christian American way of life, and white folks are the real victims in the Civil Rights struggle.
While there is some evidence that he repudiated the Klan late in life, Forrest's actions at the Ft. Pillow Massacre should put him beyond the pale. He killed like a psychopath: useful as a guerrilla General, but hardly meriting commemoration..

Posted by: MR Bill on February 16, 2011 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

TO......MattF

I disagree.
Did you note his weight loss at CPAC, his shiny new haircut.
His ego is boundless.
He's thinking he can be successful because ONLY HE can be INOFFENSIVE to the base (...even as he is utterly offensive to the rest of us...), and be enough of an old-line pol with a long list of friends areound the US to actually GET ER DONE, which he has become famous for***.
_____ As for his "I don't go around denouncing people" comment, that is 100% lobbyist mentality, 0% leader.

SteveADor
***
Before being elected Governor, Barbour worked as a lawyer and lobbyist, was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate and also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, during which time the Republicans captured both the United States Senate and United States House of Representatives for the first time since 1954. On June 24, 2009, Barbour was elected the new chairman of the Republican Governors Association, following the resignation of SC Gov. Mark Sanford as its leader.

''''''''''''
Barbour just wants to keep his foot in the door, and then be a favorite-son/power-broker at the 2012 convention. He doesn't have to be viable as a national candidate-- in fact, keeping the Southern racists on his side is probably his strategy.

Posted by: MattF

Posted by: SteveADor on February 16, 2011 at 1:57 PM | PERMALINK

I apologize in advance for going all Godwin on everyone:

But, shouldn't be about as easy to denounce the KKK as it is Nazi's?

I return you now to your regularly scheduled, non-Godwin, commenting...

Posted by: c u n d gulag on February 16, 2011 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

simply put, being a racist in the Republican Party is not an odd thing. Being a racist politician in Mississippi is not an odd thing. The problem with Barbour is that, in today's GOP, he's pretty representative of the Party in general. That's the problem.

Posted by: T2 on February 16, 2011 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

Barbour doesn't want to say this. He'd rather stick to, "I don't go around denouncing people." -- Steve Benen

A matching bookend to Boehner's reluctance to tell people what to think. And, like Boehner's weasly-ness, this too is limited to a particular situation where he agrees with the sentiment but feels it impolitic to say so for the record.

Posted by: exlibra on February 16, 2011 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

in fact, keeping the Southern racists on his side is probably his strategy.

Exactly. It's worth remembering that Haley Barbour is a politician first, last, and always. And what's the most important thing to a politician, other than winning high politicial office, of course? Having power.

Barbour has made the decision--as discussed in the last day or so by Digby too--that his success is tied to an obvious Southern Strategy.

I keep thinking, though...this kind of thing is not going to work much longer for the GOP. The GOP has been on its way to rump extremist status for at least 15 years. These things take awhile, especially when the rump party is supported by so much money from amoral plutocrats..but demographic changes all but guarantee that this ugly iteration of the GOP is doomed to regional status within the lifetimes of most of us.

I suggest that the Democratic Party as now constituted will become the new conservative party (as more and more rational republicans leave the rump party of the South for the Democratic Party), and we will found a new Progressive party. If the rump GOP and the conservative Democratic Party split the center-right vote, a professional, competent Progressive Party could win national elections. This does not strike me as totally out-of-the-question. There's clearly a yawning vacuum on the center-left. The Dems aren't filling it. No-one is. It's obvious from recent polling that a large plurality of Americans are actually Democratic Socialists, but don't realize it. If someone, or a competently-run Party, put it all together for that plurality...life would be a lot more interesting.

And there would be the added entertainment of watching heads explode all over the Village. I'd pay money just to witness that.

Posted by: LL on February 16, 2011 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, apparently Forrest was not actually the founder, but was the original Grand Wizard.

Posted by: Perspecticus on February 16, 2011 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

From the desk of Haley Barbour...

I don't go around denouncing people!!! Now, socialist, Muslim, n1ggr, democrat presidents - that's not real people.

Posted by: Haley Bardoor on February 16, 2011 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

So a quick stroll through the history books reveals that he was indeed a slave trader in Memphis. This alone should be enough to disqualify his honor, anywhere. It is not like he is just some heroic southerner who fought for Dixie. He F***ing sold and bought humans. This was, as many northern folk pointed out at the time, found to be horribly immoral AT THE TIME. One trick that Barbour and others like to play is the " oh times were different back then" bs .....

Oh, and there is the "historically ambigous" Fort Pillow battle, wherein some good historical accounts indicate that Bedford's men slaughtered Black union soliders.

And then there is the KKK ...

Posted by: bigtuna on February 16, 2011 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

I'm really looking forward to him running. He's a terrific fund raiser, and he'll help to suck money away from other candidates. He'll come in 4th or worse in New Hampshire, but he could run away with South Carolina. Then he starts to lose steadily, especially on Super Tuesday, because Boss Hogg ain't winning the nomination.

Once he's bloodied, then we switch to the other Washington game where reporters ask other candidates if they will denounce Gov. Barbour.

Posted by: Rathskeller on February 16, 2011 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

It would perhaps also be worth mentioning that the good Mr. Forrest continued his slaving ways after the war. He just figured out a new way to do it. Prison work camps with cops rounding up any old black person they could find, trumping up charges, and locking em away. Lucrative.

http://www.balloon-juice.com/2011/02/11/opps-i-slighted-nathan-bedford-forrest/

Posted by: wvng on February 16, 2011 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Caligula was a historical figure, too.

Posted by: SaintZak on February 16, 2011 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, but, in the eyes of today's Republican base, what Barbour did *passed* the easy test. If he'd condemned the Forrest license plate, *that* would have failed the test in the eyes of the GOP base.

Sigh again,
-Z

Posted by: Zorro on February 16, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Bedford Forrest was a better man than Haley Barbour any day of the week.

I don't quite know where the "murderer" comes from -- if from Fort Pillow, that's at least contestable. The Klan stuff is undeniable, but it's also the case that Forrest's last public appearance was as a guest speaker at a black fraternal organization, and that he apparently came to advocate higher education and admission to the professions for blacks. Not that those are the reasons they want to honor him!

Posted by: Gene O'Grady on February 16, 2011 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and there is the "historically ambigous" Fort Pillow battle, wherein some good historical accounts indicate that Bedford's men slaughtered Black union soliders.

And then there is the KKK ...
Posted by: bigtuna

to be perfectly fair, nathan bedford forrest was a pretty good general, perhaps the most able cavalry commander of the war, either side.

but honoring him with a license plate would be akin to the japanese doing the same to the general who oversaw the bataan death. he was a pretty good general too.

Posted by: mudwall jackson on February 16, 2011 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Barbour is simply learning how politics works at the national level. If you're a Republican, you don't gain anything by apologizing. That just generates negative sound bites. If you ignore the press, they'll get bored and go find something else to gossip about.

Only losers and Democrats apologize to the MSM. It makes them look weak and you get to watch Rush and Glen and Hannity make fun of them for looking week. Republicans don't have to apologise to the MSM. The MSM is the enemy, and you don't apologize to your enemies. You just wait them out.

Again, the only mistake Barbour made was mentioning in public that he would not denounce Forrest. If he had simply brushed off or ignored the questions, the reporters would get bored and go away and he would be back getting good interviews on Face the Nation, etc., in a few weeks.

Posted by: Midland on February 16, 2011 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure it's much more fun for you liberals to talk about the supposed racism of some no-name nobody has ever heard of than to address pressing issues like the deficit, the so-called "stimulus," infrastructure, terrorism, defense, healthcare, entitlement programs and jobs. God forbid that Steve Beenin should ever write about any of that.

Posted by: Mlke K on February 16, 2011 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, if you can't denounce the KKK, your political career is over -- outside of Mississippi.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on February 16, 2011 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Mlke K? Get off the site. If you READ Benen with any regularity you would see that he does write about real issues ALL THE TIME. Go back to the right wing. This General IS a real historical figure but it would take you READING to figure that out. The problem with his being honored is his KKK past. Evidently, he was a superior military man and learned the error of his ways in later life but...As far as Barbour goes, I saw the entire quote from him and to his credit he DID say 'it'll never happen'...He should have stuck with that part of the quote. He is still a right wing whack job but in this case, he knows that it's not worth alienating his voters for something that'll 'never happen'...

Posted by: SYSPROG on February 16, 2011 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

He's either a coward or a fool.

Posted by: the_dan on February 16, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

What always bothered me most about Barbour's defense of the Citizens' Councils of his boyhood home town: even leaving aside the similarity in the goals of the Councils and the Klan, he said (I don't have the quote handy, but the gist of it was) that anyone who supported the Klan was run out of town by the local civic leaders, through boycotts, economic intimidation and (I'm betting) downright thuggery. All this aimed at an organization that actually _shared the same goals_. That points to a viciously anti-democratic political worldview even absent the racism.

Posted by: WmDoor on February 16, 2011 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Why is anybody paying any attention to the governor of Mississippi as a presidential candidate? Am I missing something important about Mississippi - is it a leader in anything other than having the lowest educational test scores or highest number of obese citizens?

Posted by: lgoak on February 16, 2011 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Forrest was a complicated guy, and his role in founding the KKK is somewhat debatable. But that's the historical Forrest. The Forrest on the Mississippi license plate is not that complicated historical guy, but a symbol of racism--that's the whole point of putting him on a license plate. It's just like the Confederate flag, which in the 20th Century became a symbol of racism and accordingly ought to be shunned today, however you might feel about the Confederate soldiers, many of them worthy of respect, who fought under that flag a century and a half ago.

Posted by: rea on February 16, 2011 at 3:19 PM | PERMALINK

Rea pretty much hits the nail squarely on the head. There is Nathan Bedford Forrest - the historical figure, and then there is Nathan Bedford Forrest - the cultural symbol. Forrest may not have founded the Klan and he seems to have repented of his racism later in life for which he deserves credit, but that is not the figure invoked by the license plate. A seasoned politician like Barbour should know this would be a problem, he just doesn't care.

Posted by: Chesire11 on February 16, 2011 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Why is anybody paying any attention to the governor of Mississippi as a presidential candidate?

Well, I seem to remember the governor of Arkansas, and the governor of Georgia, getting elected to the presidency.

Posted by: rea on February 16, 2011 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

he seems to have repented of his racism later in life for which he deserves credit

it's also the case that Forrest's last public appearance was as a guest speaker at a black fraternal organization, and that he apparently came to advocate higher education and admission to the professions for blacks.

Stop with the "yes, but" crap. This man was vile scum for his entire existence. He cannot be redeemed.

Posted by: The original Frank on February 16, 2011 at 4:12 PM | PERMALINK

Looking at Haley Barbour, I get the impression he'd benefit greatly if he would jump on the campaign sponsored by our beloved FLOTUS.

Haley, you don't look so healthy! Could the physical misery you're suffering have an effect on your ability to think clearly? -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on February 16, 2011 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

I wasn't saying "Yes, but...", however much you might like to imagine I did. My comment was, "Yes, and..." It reflected the ability to acknowledge complexity and contradiction in a human being. Sadly, it doesn't make it quite so easy to pretend moral superiority over me.

I'll have to try to be more conveniently dispicable for you in the future.

Posted by: Chesire11 on February 16, 2011 at 6:58 PM | PERMALINK

Looking at Haley Barbour, I get the impression he'd benefit greatly if he would jump on the campaign sponsored by our beloved FLOTUS. -- Kevo, @17:38

He's way past the breast pump stage; he needs a sump pump or, at the very least, a fat pump.

Posted by: exlibra on February 16, 2011 at 8:17 PM | PERMALINK

Sadly, it doesn't make it quite so easy to pretend moral superiority over me.

I'll have to try to be more conveniently dispicable [sic] for you in the future.

What a very odd thing to say. You seem to be conflating harsh criticism of Nathan Bedford Forrest with harsh criticism of yourself. I wasn't tying up your morality/worldview with his.

The interesting question now is: why are you?

Posted by: The original Frank on February 16, 2011 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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