Wednesday, December 22

Tapdancing

Justin Miller, "Why Barbour's Civil Rights Remarks May Not Kill a White House Run". December 21

MY Poor Wife must've had the controls last night. I wasn't really paying attention. All I know's that we were suddenly watching John King on CNN, and I got to hear Ed Rollins tell all seven viewers that Robert Byrd was a Klansman.

I'm sure I realized this before, but it was last night which codified it for me: you know the news packagers really believe an issue is about race when the African-American guy on the panel looks less like Lester Holt and more like he used to be with De La Soul.

That would be Obama pollster Cornell Belcher, who I guess did a good job under the circumstances, the circumstances being that you can't go on national teevee, or even CNN, and say that it's entirely possible that racist things keep coming out of Haley Barbour's mouth because he's a racist.

Read the transcript if you want to see how such matters are dealt with, or in case you'd like to be reminded that a country which once built iron steeds and tamed wild rivers now specializes in periodic packaging redesign. Rollins "brought Haley Barbour to Washington, and knows there's not an insensitive bone in his body". King "has known him a long time", which makes Barbour's remarks a puzzlement (though this is in reply to Rollins saying "there's no better politician in America than Haley Barbour", which is either the worst compliment or the most subtle insult anyone's ever been paid, as well as the most succinct debunking of American Exceptionalism I've ever read, so we're left wondering whether King was puzzled by the racist content or by Barbour's ham-fistedness in having let it drop in print). Belcher waited on him at table as a young man, and presumably was satisfied with the tip. Maybe you should have recused yourselves. The real puzzlement is why Barbour declined the invitation to be guest of honor at this High Tea. If it's going to be out of bounds to speculate on Barbour's personal "racial insensitivity" then personal testimonials are irrelevant. The standard disclaimers mean about as much as those "Not responsible for damaged windshields" signs on the backs of gravel trucks. They're meaningless. They're patently meaningless. They're intended to fool enough of the terminally credulous to help keep expenses down.

(Rollins, by the way, goes 32 whole words between bringing up Byrd's Klan membership and the declaration that "I wouldn't want to be held accountable for everything I did in 1982", the date of Barbour's youthful indiscretion with a watermelon. Y'know, back when we didn't understand that racism was wrong. "We" here, of course, meaning "the Reagan administration".)

It ain't a question of Haley Barbour's inner life, nor the rosy tint of his nostalgia goggles. The point is that a man born into the Jim Crow South on the eve of the the brave struggle and the brutal repression of the Civil Rights movement can reach political prominence, and summit seven decades, without it making much of an impact on his thinking. And that's the nice way to put it, avoiding speculation on just what he imagined his Presidential campaign stood to gain by another round of racist code words.

But yes, by all means, What does this mean for his Presidential aspirations, Mr. Miller?
What the Mississippi governor said is damaging, but it's not disqualifying for a potential presidential bid.

The scandal is missing four elements that help kill political careers.

How 'bout it's missing one? It didn't occur in a party that really objects to this sort of thing?
First, there's no audio or video of Barbour's remark.

See Lott, Chester Trent.
Second, the scandal isn't timely. Simply put: Barbour made his gaffe before possibly announcing he'll run for president, well before the GOP primary season, and literally years before the general election. Time will help voters forget about this ugly event and let Barbour reintroduce himself.

Yes, and voters have particularly short memories when it comes to issues the mass-market media starts discounting the minute they happen.
In addition, Barbour was talking about his opinion of civil rights as a young man more than 40 years ago. Should he choose to ask the country to vote for him, Barbour can tell a story of redemption: Admit the error of his youth (the sin), apologize (repent), and demonstrate how he's a different, better man that he was (reach salvation).

Or the youthful indiscretions of, what? nine months ago, when he said slavery didn't amount to diddly?
Third, the story doesn't have legs -- yet. The remarks have set off a fishing expedition by journalists and political hacks to find more damaging history about Barbour and race. Until and unless more dirt is found, this will be a stain on Barbour's reputation but he may escape being characterized as a racist. (That looks less likely now that we've discovered a racist joke he made in 1982 and see that he has a fuzzy memory of his history with blacks.)

Jeez, never let wholly contradictory information brought to light by anyone who could use Google spoil a perfectly good bullet point.
Fourth, there's no offended GOP primary voting constituency. Would Barbour lose the support of all those black Republicans or veteran civil-rights marchers? Some cultural moderates may be turned off by him, but it's hard to argue that lay Republicans would never consider voting for him now. Beltway derision certainly doesn't hurt a Republican running for his party's nomination -- in fact, it almost always helps among the base that loves candidates who are hated by the media, e.g. Sarah Palin.

Y'know, it's one thing to accept this as a truism; it's quite another to behave as though it were Truth.
We don't know if Barbour will run for president. It may turn out this gaffe hurts the GOP more than Barbour in a way: Republicans across the board will now be asked what they think of Barbour's remarks, and then Rand Paul's about the Civil Rights Act, and then Bob McDonnell's "Confederate History Month" proclamation that left out slavery, and so on. Each time a Republican steps in it over race, the GOP's stereotype hardens as an old, white, insensitive -- even intolerant -- party that looks and sounds less like the generation of Americans who'll vote more and more in decades to come.
Ah, so you did remember the Confederate History Month deal while you were typing up #3.

Y'know, that's what we said about Reagan thirty years ago. I sincerely doubt that racism is the exclusive province of the elderly, though I'm handicapped in my assessment by not being invited to power lunches featuring that incredibly diverse stable of Atlantic columnists. Regardless, I don't think Barbour even has to be "the best politician in America" to've tumbled onto the idea that racist dog whistles will connect with the intended audience while our nation's political pundits do another "Hey, did anybody hear anything unpleasant? I didn't" routine.

6 comments:

StringonaStick said...

Gee, how did such erudite discussion of potential racial ickiness not include a matching exposition on The Southern Strategy in particular and general prognostication on the various regional differences in voting patterns with regard to skin tone? Oh, right; polite company and all that.

M. Krebs said...

Belcher waited on him at table as a young man, and presumably was satisfied with the tip.

Wait. What?

R. Porrofatto said...

Republicans across the board will now be asked what they think of Barbour's remarks

Sure they will. Across the board no less. I'd look forward to Michael Steele's response but my breath isn't all that bated.

KWillow said...

I suspect the racist/repugs are thinking "America voted for a Black Man! for president, so obviously they'll be willing to vote for a Southern Good Ol'Boy Racist for president!

If Americans will vote for someone exotic looking & sounding once, why not twice?

Because It's all in the packaging.

Fiddlin' Bill said...

Congratulations for not throwing a brick through your teevee. The big thing that struck me about Barbour's "remarks" is that they exemplify the true fact that he has lived his whole life in the warmth and safety of white privilege, and has no clue that this fact is the truth. Sure the Citizens Council was a bunch of nice fellers down there in Yazoo City. They were his peers, his fellow church goers, the guy who ran the grocery store and the pharmacy, the police chief, etc. etc. He knew they were nice fellers because they were where he lived. And he still, today, does not get that. This isn't nostalgia. This is who he is. And in another, but related matter, how the hell does Ed Rollins manage to remain a teevee fixture?

squatlo said...

The fact that others of his ilk find no fault with the blatantly racist comments of Haley Barbour doesn't surprise me in the least.

Barbour speaks with the ease and comfort of a man who knows he can speak freely on the subject of hunger in America, because no one is hungry at his Country Club. And he can pontificate about race because he's not been subjected to a racist incident directed at his lily white ass in his lifetime.
I wouldn't be surprised if he holds forth on feminist issues with the same air of authority.
In short, he's a bigot with no clue because no one's around his inner circle to point out how bigoted and insensitive his remarks are. When your vast personal experience with black folks was "dealing" with the "help", you probably won't relate too well to what they might find offensive.
Barbour's foot-in-mouth disease won't hurt his political chances back home (where they'll be read as yet another reason to vote for his ignorant ass) but on a national stage he'll have problems disproving the negative those remarks will suggest about his character.
For all of our sakes, let Boss Hog stay home. The last thing this country needs is a Haley Barbour candidacy.