Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Haley's Blind Spot, And Ours

In conversations with folks about the now-infamous "Citizens' Council" remark made by Gov. Barbour to Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard, many have been surprised that a consummate politician like Mr. Barbour could commit such an obvious gaffe.

But consider this: maybe the Governor just has a blind spot in this area. Doesn't anybody remember the "whorehouse" comment reported by The Commercial Appeal by then-candidate Barbour during the 2003 campaign:

Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Haley Barbour scored points in DeSoto County on Monday regarding support for The Med but raised eyebrows with a comment about Head Start during a tour of Sacred Heart School in Southaven.

"Head Start is a godsend for Mississippi," the Republican told Sacred Heart principal Laura Clark. "Some of those kids in it would be better off sitting up on a piano bench at a whorehouse than where they are now."

Clark said she understood the context of the remark, though she was surprised by his choice of words.

"I think he was trying to represent an extreme situation," she said. "I wasn't offended by it. I believe I know what he meant."

And just as is happening now, Mr. Barbour's damage control team went into high gear. Again, from the Commercial Appeal's 2003 story:

Later Monday, Barbour's communications director said the candidate - who's a deacon in his church and a Sunday school teacher - meant no disrespect.

"It was just a figure of speech," said Quinton Dickerson "Haley was making a point about why Head Start is so important, especially for children who are in a tough situation."
Oh, ok. "Just a figure of speech." Sorry, but the choices one makes in speech -- conscious or not -- prove one's character by circumstantial evidence. In both the "whorehouse" and the "Citizen's Council" remarks, our Governor has exposed the fact that his worldview is distorted by Mississippi's racist past.

Now, there is a difference between active racism, which acts to hurt or oppress an insular minority group because of their race or ethnicity -- and passive racism, which accepts stereotypes about that minority group(for example, that children of impovershed communities would be better off in a whorehouse). The latter isn't good; but it's not the former, either.

Most of us born into the majority race, or into the more empowered economic sector of our society, have the same blind spot as Governor Barbour. The Governor's positive remark about the Citizen's Council shouldn't be (dare I say it) whitewashed. But neither should we take pains to remove the speck in Gov. Barbour's eye to repair his blind spot, before we've removed the log that blinds our own perspective.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Gov. Barbour, the Avett Brothers have a message for you

Surely you've now heard about Haley Barbour's remarks concerning growing up in Yazoo City amongst the Citizen's Council. If you haven't, here's what he said:
"You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City."

I had some fun with this on Facebook, posting the following:
Governor Barbour as president after a trip to Afghanistan: "You ever heard of the Taliban? Back home they think it's like al Qaeda. Over here it's really like an organization of town leaders."

A good bit of back and forth ensued, so I thought it would be a good time to crank the blog back up to delve into this issue a bit more.

If you question whether or not Barbour's portrayal of the Citizen's Council might actually be accurate, go over to Tom Freeland's site and read his excellent work here and here. Then go over to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and search their Sovereignty Commission files on their website. (The general page is here, and the Yazoo County folder is here.) As a side note, MDAH never gets enough credit for putting this information online.

Now, what does all of this mean? Yeah, Barbour tried to backtrack from his statement by releasing another one. And the conservative blogosphere outside of Mississippi has decided his presidential campaign is over before it really began. But really, what's the larger lesson here? What's the takeaway?

In my humble opinion, it is this: Haley Barbour, current head of the Republican Governor's Association, has been widely regarded by GOP leaders across the nation as the next Republican president or vice-president. But until Barbour makes a decision about who he is, he's not going to be either of those things. Barbour's dilemma is, in a way, the dilemma of the Republican Party as a whole. The Republican Party since Nixon has had two types: those who go to the Citizens Council meetings to elicit votes and are genuinely ashamed of it, and those who go but aren't.

There's a line from the Avett Brothers' song "Head Full of Doubt" that applies here: "Decide what to be, and go be it."

The Republican Party, if it is to morph into something viable beyond the expiration date of Nixon's Southern Strategy, is going to have to quit playing footsie with racists. Any Mississippi politician who wishes to be taken seriously on the national level is going to have to display a commitment to understanding that what went on in this state was horrible, despicable, shameful and indefensible. They'll have to understand it and live it. Mississippi Republicans do neither, and it's past time they started.

In closing, I'm going to leave you with two things. First, an article from the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report from Fall 2004 in which they explore the links between politicians and the CCC. (Guess who's featured?) Second, a picture from the CCC's annual convention at Black Hawk, MS, in 2003:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Senior Judge Green, and some predictions

Last month, I wrote that I was mulling over the changes I thought Judge Green would make when she becomes Senior Circuit Judge in Hinds County. The Hinds Senior Circuit Judge, as I mentioned, has some rather interesting and unique powers. For example, she can split the circuit into two divisions of two judges each, one handling exclusively criminal cases and the other handling only civil. She also has appointment power over the Hinds County Public Defender. I've had some time to think on it, and to read some tea leaves. Here's what I think will (and won't) happen:

1. As for splitting the circuit into two divisions, that's not going to happen. Judge Green, contrary to what some might believe, enjoys trying criminal cases. She's tried 3 in the past month or so, which is a fairly high number for Hinds.

2. Bill LaBarre will remain the public defender. A lot of speculation surfaced shortly after the election that Judge Green would make a change upon taking the bench. That speculation was uninformed, as Bill LaBarre's term coincides with Robert Shuler Smith's, not Judge Yerger's. (Yerger appointed him to replace Tom Fortner back in 2006.) There's still another year in LaBarre's term. It's possible that later this year, LaBarre could have some competition for his job. But that's a year off, so we'll see.

3. Judge Green will move to the big courtroom and into Judge Yerger's office. The audio equipment, I'm almost positive, is coming with her. (That's some excellent news.)

4. Drug Court may see an overhaul. The enrollment numbers have dropped precipitously, and I've heard that funding may have recently been cut as a result. Judge Green is known to care quite a bit about the future of the criminal defendants and actually attempting to rehabilitate them rather than simply punishing them. The falling numbers in Drug Court are sure to get some attention from Judge Green.

5. What will become of the Jackson Enforcement Team (JET) Grant judge positions? Judge Green was opposed to the creation of the two special judge slots and the JET docket altogether. The current JET grant program runs out of money in October of 2011. Don't expect to see it extended.