Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour would like rewrite a little history and make it sound like it was the Republicans who brought peace and racial harmony to the South in the 1960’s.
I’m a few years younger than Mr. Barbour and I grew up in Northwest Ohio, so I can’t speak to his experiences of brotherhood and comity growing up in Mississippi and going to schools and universities where they didn’t think twice about integration. I can say that some of my first memories of watching the news when I was a kid was the coverage of the Freedom Marchers in Selma, Alabama, Sheriff Bull Connor, and Alabama Gov. George Wallace proclaiming “Segregation forever!” So either Mr. Barbour was completely blind to what was going on in or he’s just making stuff up.
No one denies that the Southern Democrats were the party of the segregationists back at the time of Reconstruction. And no one denies that they started to abandon the party starting in 1948 with Strom Thurmond and the Dixiecrats and culminating with the Nixonian Southern Strategy in 1968, taking advantage of the passage of the Voting Rights Act and the civil rights movement. Yes, a lot of Republicans supported racial equality back then. And today, those moderate to liberal Republicans are about as welcome in the GOP as a wet dog at a wedding. (And as Eugene Robinson noted, how many black people in the South are Republicans?)
Steve Kornacki at Salon sums it up:
It’s understandable why Barbour doesn’t like to talk about this — and why most national Republicans would rather ignore it. The South is critical to them, and their support in that region comes almost exclusively from white voters. But to be a national party — and to win the White House — requires votes from educated suburbanites outside the South who have a strong distaste for racial politics. Thus, the party takes pains every four years to showcase as many black Republicans as it can at its national convention — a message not so much to black voters but to white suburbanites who want reassurance that they’re not voting for a Goldwater party.
This balancing act is especially critical to Barbour, who knows the suspicions he’ll face from those suburban swing voters if he ends up challenging Obama in ’12. If he can get them to believe his whitewashed version of history, it’ll be a lot easier to win them over.
To co-opt an old bumpersticker I used to see with a tattered Confederate flag: “Hell, no, I ain’t forgettin’!”