A lot has already been written about Haley Barbour’s recollections of how the Civil Rights Era was not as bad as some folks make it out to be. Most comments have focused on the Old Nit Diddler’s praise of the very racist White Citizens’ Council of his home town. As the heat was turned up, Haley made a half-hearted effort to walk back of his statement–calling out the WCC as indefensible while still maintaining that the Yazoo, Mississippi of his youth wasn’t that bad.
And as Matthew Cooper points out today, that is the point. Haley Barbour is a smart political operator. He knows that any run he makes for the White House will be hampered by his long history as an old Southern White guy with a dubious–at best–record on race relations and his history of racist comments. If this issue is decided on facts that can be checked then Haley’s run for the White House is toast. Fortunately for Haley the modern so-called ‘Conservative’ movement has found a way to get around ‘facts’. You just change the narrative by replacing facts with freshly crafted memories designed to spin myths into partisan litmus tests.
We live in a Nation where to be a ‘good conservative’ now means that you take facts and reality as suspect until you get your talking points that give you the official
Republican Confederate Party line. This is how 40% of Americans believe that the Flintstones was a documentary, or think the massive scientific evidence supporting climate change is a hoax. Haley knows that the propaganda of the Wingnutopia Wurlitzer is strong enough to get their gullible followers to believe absolute bullshit as fact. Hell, they just had their “Government Takeover” talking point named “Lie of the Year” (an award Haley and his Wing-nut pals seem to win every year).
So as Cooper astutely notes, Barbour is bringing up his recovered memories of his white privileged upbringing as a way to change the narrative:
Those who had opposed the Civil Rights Act at the time—figures ranging from Democrats like the late Sen. Robert Byrd to Republicans such as former President George H.W. Bush—later recanted their previous positions and embraced the landmark statute.
Ironically, at a time when the country has its first African-American president, that consensus is showing some signs of cracking. [snip]
But whatever political damage Barbour has or hasn’t suffered, his comments are part of a larger reexamination of the period by Republicans who deviate from the traditional civil-rights consensus.
The goal here is to change the National memory of the Civil Rights struggle to have been about something other than a fight against white supremacy in America. The goal is to muddy the memory and replace it with a new narrative. In Haley’s retelling of history, all folks in the South–black and white–worked together against the KKK and Northern Agitators to prevent violence. And if it wasn’t for those two groups everything would have been fine.
Next, I imagine the idea that the Civil Right struggles were just about State’s Rights and that segregation and racism had nothing to do with it will become one of those Republican articles of faith that one must swear by to get elected to anything.
The Old Nit Diddler is leading the effort to mainstream this revisionist history. If the Wingnutopia Wurlitzer comes to his aid we can expect by next December that 40% of Americans will believe that Whites were the real victims of the Civil Rights Era, that things were better before Dr. King got all uppity and that the entire issue was really about States Rights. Hell, 20% or more already believe that crap, but Haley’s effort is to move this radical belief to a ‘Fair and Balanced’ mainstream idea that is open to reasonable debate and various interpretations of
This is an old Confederate play. This is how they changed the narrative of the Civil War and Reconstruction into the myth of the Lost Cause and the fable of States Rights. This is why slavery as the cause of the War is still questioned by the ignorant, the foolish and the cynical.
Barbour’s run for the White House isn’t toast and if he can succeed in making our memory of the Civil Rights Era into just another fantasy-based partisan shit fight, he might just rise to the top of the field as the last White Man standing.