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October 14, 2013 11:33 AM Template For Dem Aid to Republican Leaders

By Ed Kilgore

So if current appearances are correct, and John Boehner and Mitch McConnell need some discreet help from Democrats to execute a strategic retreat from their aggressive hostage-taking posture, where’s the script for how that is done?

I’m not sure who’s working on that, but there is one template available from a half-century ago:

Historian Bill Doyle, author of American Insurrection: The Battle of Oxford, Mississippi, 1962, says that [Mississippi Gov.] Ross Barnett knew integration was inevitable, but needed a way to let James Meredith into Ole Miss without losing face with his white, pro-segregation supporters. “Ross Barnett desperately wanted the Kennedys to flood Mississippi with combat troops because that’s the only way Ross Barnett could tell his white segregationist backers, ‘Hey I did everything I could, I fought them, but to prevent bloodshed in the end I made a deal,’” Doyle says.
On September 27, 1962 Bobby Kennedy and Ross Barnett agreed on an extraordinary plan: James Meredith would arrive at the Ole’ Miss campus in Oxford accompanied by at least 25 armed Federal Marshals (at the time, Marshals were Justice Department agents normally used to transport prisoners, not trained for combat). Ross Barnett would make a show of blocking Meredith, but be forced to step aside when the Marshals drew their guns. In this conversation, at 2:50 p.m., Kennedy and Barnett dicker over just how this play will unfold.
“Robert F. Kennedy: I will send the Marshals that I have available up there in Memphis and there will be about 25 or 30 of them and they will come with Mr. Meredith and they will arrive at wherever the gate is and I will have the head Marshal pull a gun and I will have the rest of them have their hands on their guns and their holsters. And then as I understand it, they will go through and get in and you will make sure that law and order is preserved and that no harm will be done to Mr. McShane and Mr. Meredith.”
“Ross Barnett: Oh, yes.”
“RFK: And then I think you will see that’s accomplished?”
“RB: Yes. Hold just a minute, will you? Hello, General, I was under the impression that they were all going to pull their guns. This could be very embarrassing. We got a big crowd here and if one pulls his gun and we all turn it would be very embarrassing. Isn’t it possible to have them all pull their guns?”
“RFK: I hate to have them all draw their guns, as I think it could create harsh feelings. Isn’t it sufficient if I have one man draw his gun and the others keep their hands on their holsters?”
“RB: They must all draw their guns. Then they should point their guns at us and then we could step aside. This could be very embarrassing down here for us. It is necessary.”

If Democrats can’t be talked into letting it appear Republicans actually won the fiscal fight, they could perhaps at least make it appear the GOP lost to superior and better-armed forces. It worked for Ross Barnett.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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