Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Haley Barbour steps in it again

Forward-thinking Mississippians (yes, there are some) must cringe everytime their obnoxioua governor steps before a camera or submits to an interview. Even as a former Mississippian who hasn't lived in the state in more than thirty-five years, I know that I cringe.

He is, in fact, one of the truly cringe-worthy governors in the country, right up there with Jan Brewer of Arizona and Texas' own Rick Perry. And now he's gone and done it again.

In an interview with The Weekly Standard, he opined that he didn't remember the Civil Rights struggle in Mississippi, or specifically in his home town of Yazoo City, as being all that bad. He recollected the transistion from segregation to integration as being rather peaceful! This will, of course, be news to the families of Mississippi martyrs to that cause like Medgar Evers and James Chaney, not to mention all the people who were beaten and brutalized by police and by the Ku Klux Klan in that era. But all that passed right over Barbour's head. He was oblivious. The only things he was interested in were football and girls. For anyone with an interest in national public office, which apparently Barbour has, this was a remarkably obtuse statement.

As soon as the interview was published and his words hit the fan, spreading the stink far and wide, Barbour and his spokesmen started trying to walk his ignorant statements back. He's still issuing clarifications saying that he didn't really mean that the White Citizens Council was a worthy organization that helped to keep the peace in Mississippi. He now says that the organization is indefensible, "just like segregation."

This is standard operational procedure for politicians caught with their feet in their mouths. The usual line is, "My statement was taken out of context" or "I was misunderstood," sometimes followed shortly thereafter by "I want to spend more time with my family."

Barbour, though, was not taken out of context. Indeed, he has made similar jar-dropping (to anyone who lived through those years in Mississippi) statements in the past. I believe his statement to the Standard represents his true feelings about the subject and is indicative of his very selective memory.

Selective memory seems to be an epidemic in the South these days. For example, we have several southern states, perhaps most notably South Carolina, celebrating the anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War without any reference to the prime cause of that war, which was the southern states' refusal to give up their "way of life", i.e. slavery.

The philosopher George Santayana famously said that those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it. We need to look at history with clear eyes and to demand the truth from those in power who speak about it. A good place to start would be for journalists who interview such people to do their due diligence and to hold their interviewees accountable. To, in short, not let them get away with lies. I know that I am being naive in even suggesting such a thing and I fear that our country will, in fact, be doomed to repeat its repressive history, as it descends ever farther to the status of a banana republic.

(Update: For a more in-depth discussion of this subject, read "What Haley Barbour's amnesia tells us" in Salon.com.)

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