Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour continues to ruin his chances for a GOP presidential run in 2012. The governor’s been the target of past criticism for saying that the civil rights era in Mississippi wasn’t that bad and for news that, more recently, uncovered his past as an immigrant rights crusader for the Mexican government. Now, Barbour refuses to denounce proposed license plates in his home state that honor KKK Founder Nathan Bedford Forrest.
“I don’t go around denouncing people,” Barbour told the Clarion-Ledger. “That’s not going to happen. I don’t even denounce the news media.” Later, he added, “I know there’s not a chance it’ll become law.”
We’d hope that at least that much would be obvious, but it’s beside the point, according to some observers. Even those within Barbour’s own party are saying that the governor won’t get far on a national platform if he steadfastly refuses to talk about race.
“Because Haley Barbour has one foot in the new south and one foot in the old south, it means he occasionally sticks his foot in his mouth,” Mark McKinnon, a strategist who worked with George W. Bush and John McCain, told Rachel Weiner at the Washington Post. “He has a reflex to try and understand and please both sides, but on racially-charged issues, there’s only one way to if you want to be President. And that’s to make a clean break from the past.”
The Washington Post’s conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin put it more succinctly: “No candidate can run successfully run or president if he doesn’t understand you should rebuke efforts to honor the man most identified with the KKK.”
But, to be sure, the Right’s colorblind approach to tackling race hasn’t exactly added much meaningful dialogue to the national conversation.
Weiner does point to some of Barbour’s less incendiary remarks on race, and even goes as far as saying that Barbour needs to give a “race” speech. But based on his most recent track record, it’s unlikely that he’d have anything truly useful to add.