Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour refused Tuesday to denounce attempts to create a special license plate honoring a 19th-century Ku Klux Klan leader.
“I don’t go around denouncing people,” Barbour told reporters Tuesday in Jackson, MS.
Barbour went on to explain that he thought there was little chance approval for the plate would come from the state legislature.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “The Nathan Bedford Forrest tag is not going to happen.”
That may easily be, but as Steve Benen notes, it’s not really a tough call: “Barbour doesn’t have to deliver a lengthy historical analysis of Forrest’s crimes, he just as to say, ‘The push for a Forrest license plate is an awful mistake.'” True enough, but there’s something else going on here. Mr. Barbour probably does think it’s a bad idea (although given his rosy recollections of race relations in his home state, you never know). But if he said so, he’d be seen as agreeing with the NAACP and the rest of the people who think the idea of honoring a terrorist — albeit one who’s been dead for a hundred years — is repugnant. And he can’t do that; it would offend the hard-core base he needs when he runs for president.