The story was to set the table for Haley’s announcement early in the new year that he would be a candidate for president in 2012. He has been everywhere across the South this year helping Republicans and burnishing his name.
After the glowing Weekly Standard article about the rich Mississippian, we can say this about his presidential prospects: Haley Barbour is no Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee has been stricken with foot-in-mouth disease more than almost any major politician around, but it usually came about when he tried to be funny or clever. He would never have committed the faux pas that Barbour did in his Weekly Standard interview.
Huckabee grew up in the South in the same era as Barbour, when the walls of segregation were crumbling under judicial and congressional mandates. Hope, Ark., by all accounts, was not as bad as Yazoo City, Miss., but Huckabee has never defended white supremacy or the political leadership of that era.
Not Haley Barbour. He told his interviewer that things were not nearly as bleak for blacks in Mississippi back in the ‘50s and ‘60s as people made it seem, and he had special praise for the White Citizens Councils, the white-supremacy organization that sprang up in Mississippi in the 1950s to resist the integration of schools, business and other institutions. He said the business leaders of his community came together as the Citizens Council and headed off a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.
That much was true. The White Citizens Councils were to be a country club KKK. They would eschew violence by using economic and political reprisals to save segregation. They didn’t wear robes and identified themselves openly. But the Citizens Council’s organizing manifesto stated its aims rather clearly: The Southern institution of segregation was to be protected at all costs short of violence, and if that did not work the Council could not be blamed if people then had to resort to violence.
Many will remember the Citizens Councils in Arkansas, led by Jim Johnson, Amis Guthridge, Rev. Wesley Pruden and Dr. Malcolm Taylor.
We remember the halcyon moments of the Capital Citizens Council, which was the Pulaski County branch headed by Guthridge, a Little Rock lawyer. When the “freedom riders” from eastern colleges were arriving in Mississippi in the summer of 1962 to conduct freedom schools and to get blacks registered to vote, the Citizens Council started its “Reverse Freedom Rides.”
Whatever his faults, Mike Huckabee was never an apologist for apartheid. He is still the GOP’s Southern hope for 2012—if it has one.