Barbour Defends Comments on Race, But Is the Damage Done to His Potential 2012 Bid?

Holly Bailey, Yahoo News!, December 21, 2010

On Tuesday, the Mississippi governor sought to clarify his remarks to the Weekly Standard’s Andrew Ferguson about growing up at the height of the civil rights movement in Mississippi.

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The governor went on to credit the Citizens Council, a group that has been viewed as pro-segregationist, for helping to integrate his hometown more peacefully than other cities in the Deep South were integrated.

After a public outcry, Barbour clarified his remarks Tuesday, insisting he wasn’t endorsing the group’s views generally. “My point was my town rejected the Ku Klux Klan, but nobody should construe that to mean I think the town leadership were saints, either,” Barbour said in a statement. “Their vehicle, called the ‘Citizens Council,’ is totally indefensible, as is segregation.”

But that’s not likely to quiet Barbour’s critics. On Monday, Democrats seized on the governor’s comments, as well as his recollection of attending a Martin Luther King Jr. rally when he was a teenager. Barbour admitted that he spent more time “watching the girls” than listening to the civil rights icon.

“He’s not ready for prime time or not ready for the 21st century–either way it’s disqualifying,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan said in a message on Twitter.

To make matters worse, Politico’s Ben Smith dug up a quote from a Barbour profile in the New York Times from 1982 in which Barbour warned an aide about making racist remarks with a questionable statement of his own. According to the Times, Barbour “warned that if the aide persisted in racist remarks, he would be reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks.”

In an item Tuesday, the National Review’s Jim Geraghty argues that Barbour’s remarks to the Weekly Standard might not by themselves make him “unelectable” but that a pattern of insensitive comments along with the idea that he was “oblivious” to the suffering of others might.

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[An earlier story in which Barbour discusses the role of the Citizens Council can be read here.]

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