On Friday, Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post proclaimed Mississippi Governor and former RNC chairman Haley Barbour "the most influential Republican in the country." If so, that dubious title is a reflection of the sad state of the GOP and the nation. After all, just days after Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's Confederate History Month proclamation highlighted his party's nostalgia for the antebellum South, Barbour on Sunday insisted its omission of slavery "doesn't matter for diddly." And as it turns out, Haley Barbour is just the latest neo-Confederate face of the GOP.
Just four days after proudly proclaiming that he is a "fat redneck" with "an accent," Barbour defended the slavery-free commemorations of the Confederacy in Virginia, Georgia and Mississippi. As he suggested to CNN's Candy Crowley, for people outside of Dixie the old times there should be forgotten. Asked if McConnell's omission was a mistake, Barbour responded:
"Well, I don't think so...I don't know what you would say about slavery, but anyone who thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing -- I think it goes without saying...
To me it's a sort of feeling that it's just a nit. That it is not significant. It's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly."
A nit, that is, to Haley Barbour and the long list of Mississippi Republicans who traffic in neo-Confederate glorification with the likes of the Council of Conservative Citizens.
Like his fellow rebel yeller and Strom Thurmond hagiographer Trent Lott, Barbour has been associated with the CCC, the kinder and gentler update to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. As the Southern Poverty Law Center documented, "Of the 38 current office-holders who've attended CCC events, 26 are state lawmakers -- most of them, 23, from Lott's home state of Mississippi." And among them, as the ADL noted in 2004, was Haley Barbour:
During the 2003 election, the CCC was at the center of another controversy involving the endorsement of a major politician. In July, Mississippi Republican gubernatorial nominee Haley Barbour, who served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997, attended a CCC-sponsored barbecue. Though the attendance of local Republican and Democratic office-seekers at political events partly sponsored by the CCC usually evokes little controversy, this year the group posted on its Web site a photo of Barbour at the barbecue (l. to r.: Mississippi GOP aide Chip Reynolds, State Senator Bucky Huggins, Ray Martin, Barbour, John Thompson, and CCC Field Director Bill Lord.).
Barbour's CSA cheerleading doesn't end there. When Mississippi contemplated changing its flag, Barbour proudly wore it on his lapel. As the Washington Times reported in "Southern Pride Rallies 'Round the Flag," he rode that retrograde wave into the state house:
In Mississippi, where the Confederate battle emblem has been part of the state flag since 1894, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, promoted a proposal to change the flag. Voters rejected the new design supported by Mr. Musgrove, voting 2-to-1 in an April 2001 referendum to keep the Confederate-themed flag. In November 2002, Mr. Musgrove lost his race for re-election to Republican Haley Barbour, who campaigned with a state-flag pin in his lapel.
To be sure, heading into this weekend's redundantly titled Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Haley Barbour has emerged as a force within his party. Impressed by his connections and fundraising prowess as the head of the Republican Governors Association, Chris Cillizza wondered:
Will Barbour run for president in 2012? Who knows. But, he is, at present, making sure he has that option open to him while building himself into the most influential leader within the party.
The party, that is, of Bob McDonnell, George Allen, Trent Lott, Mike Huckabee, John Ashcroft, Paul Broun - and the Confederate battle flag.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)