Saturday, September 18, 2010

Moving The Goalposts With Haley Barbour

Robert Reich looks at the far-right Republicans, citing Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Ken Buck in Colorado, and Sharron Angle in Nevada who have won state primaries. He argues

Some Democrats think all this is wonderful because it boosts the odds of Democratic wins, not only in the midterms but also in 2012 when the Republicans put up Palin, Gingrich, or someone equally bizarre. Even voters who are are unenthusiastic about Democrats will be motivated to turn out if they fear that crackpots will otherwise take over our government.

I’m not as sanguine about what’s happening. Political discourse in America is important. What candidates say can legitimize hateful or divisive views that would otherwise never see the light of day.

A further problem is that these are merely a few of the wingers who are outside of the political mainstream but which the GOP is attempting to foist (as U.S. Senators) on the country. Reich even omits Joe Miller (video, from Crooks and Liars, below) in Alaska, who believes unemployment compensation, Medicare, and Social Security are unconstitutional. (For good measure, he lies about the latter, claiming "its trust fund is empty.")

But there is an even bigger problem. These characters drag the conversation to the right, wherein viewpoints slightly to the left of theirs are considered the norm. Sometimes, opinions of the far right are considered the norm, if uttered by individuals who seem to be sane and sober.

Lamenting the takeover of the GOP by extremists, Samuel Jacobs in The Daily Beast writes

If Sarah Palin and Jim DeMint are the patron saints of hard-right anti-establishment types, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is their counterpart in the center. The wily head of the Republican Governors Association, a possible contender for president in 2012, preaches a big-tent philosophy that contrasts sharply with the ideological purification drive on the right.

To which Digby notes

Things have moved so far to the right that Haley Barbour is a centrist now.

It's true that he's a "Big Tent" Republican, at least to extent that he can get away with it. But it's not because he wants a bunch of lily-livered moderates in the party, but because he knows there aren't enough hardcore nuts in the country (yet) to sustain a far right majority. But that doesn't make someone a "centrist." It makes him a practical power broker.

Haley Barbour is hardcore conservative and a corporate whore. Unless you define Joe Lieberman as the far left, he most certainly is not a centrist.

This is the same Governor Barbour who, in a recent interview (video of part 1, here) with the conservative magazine and website Human Events, tried to lay the blame for Southern segregation on the Democratic Party and the credit for its elimination on "my generation," which led the South to embrace the Republican Party. His faulty recollection (oh, sure) was eviscerated by syndicated columnist Eugene Robinson, who explained

Not a word of this is true.

Barbour did not attend “integrated schools,” if he’s referring to his primary and secondary education. Mississippi ignored the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision that was meant to end separate-but-unequal school systems. Eventually, officials implemented a “freedom of choice” desegregation plan—but black parents who tried to send their children to white schools were threatened and intimidated, including by cross-burnings. Finally, in 1969, the Supreme Court ordered Mississippi to integrate its schools immediately. The long-stalled change took place in 1970.

That was long after Barbour had graduated from high school in Yazoo City and gone on to attend the University of Mississippi—the “integrated college” he mentioned in the interview. The federal government had forced Ole Miss to admit its first black student, James Meredith, in 1962; he had to be escorted onto the campus by U.S. marshals as white students rioted in protest.

The following year, a second black student was admitted. In the mid-1960s, when Barbour was attending Ole Miss, it’s no wonder that he “never thought twice” about integration. There were only a handful of black students, and by all accounts—except Barbour’s—they were isolated and ostracized by their white peers.

The governor’s assertion that segregation was a relic of the past “by my time” is ludicrous. He was 16, certainly old enough to pay attention, during the Freedom Summer of 1964, when civil rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan near Philadelphia, Miss. He was a young adult, on his way to becoming a lawyer, when the public schools were forced to integrate. I’ll bet Barbour could remember those days if he tried a little harder.

Equally wrong—and perhaps deliberately disingenuous—is his made-up narrative of how the South turned Republican. Let me correct the record.

As he signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act into law, Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said that the Democratic Party had “lost the South for a generation.” Among those who voted against the landmark legislation was Sen. Barry Goldwater, who became Johnson’s opponent in the presidential race that fall.

Johnson scored a landslide victory. Goldwater took his home state of Arizona and just five others: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. It was the first time those Deep South states had voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Reconstruction—and marked the moment when, for many Southern voters, the GOP became the party of white racial grievance. It wasn’t “a different generation from those who fought integration” that made the switch. Integration was the whole reason for the switch.

And then there is the case of Verna Ann Bailey, the first black female to attend the University of Mississippi and who sat next to Barbour, who describes having established a rapport with her. McClatchy picks up the story:

Bailey, reached by phone, reacted to Barbour's story with surprise that bordered on confusion.

"I don't remember him at all, no, because during that time that certainly wasn't a pleasant experience for me," she said. "My interactions with white people were very, very limited. Very, very few reached out at all."

Bailey is now the principal of an elementary school in Beaverton, Ore. While she may have seemed like just another student to Barbour, history hasn't viewed her that way. For her role in the civil rights movement, she was inducted into the Ole Miss Alumni Hall of Fame and has a scholarship named after her.

She's sometimes asked to speak to groups about her experience. Her recollections are filled with details of pain, humiliation, isolation and courage.

She left Mississippi at 24, following her brother to the more liberal Pacific Northwest. It seemed beautiful and welcoming. She worked in Seattle, and eventually was recruited to Oregon. She got a master's degree, began a doctoral program.

She'd go back to Mississippi to visit her parents. Her father was a prominent local civil rights leader who didn't share Barbour's view of Republicans as enlightened on the issue. Both her parents are deceased.

Barbour left Ole Miss before he finished his bachelor's degree to work for the Nixon campaign, then came back to earn his law degree. Bailey said she finished her undergraduate degree in three years, not because she was a great student, but because she wanted to get out of Oxford, Miss., as fast as she could.

She recalled dancing in Oxford Square once with another black student at a school celebration when a crowd of whites began pelting them with coins and beer. "It was just an awful experience. I just saw this mass of anger; anger and hostility. I thought my life was going to end."

A campus minister, one of the only whites she remembers showing her kindness, took her by the hand and led her to safety. She said the minister was ostracized.

During her undergraduate days, she was inundated with intimidating phone calls to her dorm from white men. "The calls were so constant," she said. "Vulgar, all sexual connotations, saying nigger bitches needed to go back to the cotton field and things of that nature." She'd complain, have the phone number changed. Then the calls would start again. Funeral wreaths with what appeared to be animal blood on them were found outside her dorm.

In one science class in a lecture hall, no one would sit near her. The only class in which she remembers alphabetized seating was a Spanish class where the teacher seemed empathetic to her. Bailey figured that was because the teacher was from South America, not Mississippi.

Barbour said they had a literature class together. Bailey remembers taking a literature class, but nothing about it. "It wouldn't surprise me if I allowed someone to copy my notes because that's just someone I am," she said. "I did that as an undergraduate student, as a graduate student."

Robinson believes Barbour is trying "to shake its image as hostile to African-Americans and other minorities. It would be consistent with this attempted makeover to pretend that the party never sought, and won, the votes of die-hard segregationists." Barbour's is a severely dishonest account, one intended to appeal to moderates and mainstream journalists, but merely putting a different package on the same product Palin, Angle, O'Donnell and the less discreet radicals are pushing.

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