Maybe it all boiled down to race, after all.
You may recall my reaction to the announcement by Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) that he would not seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. It was one of disappointment. A Barbour candidacy would have forced the good old boy to give a speech on race to rival then-Sen. Barack Obama’s masterful oration during the 2008 Democratic primaries.
In my post, I said that no matter what Barbour said it would have been fascinating. And then I asked, “[W]hat if this speech were part of Barbour’s problem going forward? What if he were unable to write and/or give an honest speech on race from his perspective that sought to explain and heal?” To be honest, I thought I was out on a limb with those queries. But a piece by Jason Zengerle on GQ.com raises the distinct possibility that I hit the nail on the head.
Zengerle casts doubt on Barbour’s no “fire in the belly” excuse or the backup rationale that his wife vetoed the idea. Clarke Reed, the governor’s political mentor, told the writer, “I’ve known her as long as I’ve known Haley. . . . She’s very frank, she’s very independent, but she’s going to back Haley.” No, Zengerle posits that the reason Barbour bowed out was because “he realized he couldn’t win.”
Over the past few months he appeared to have developed satisfying responses to the inevitable attacks he would face on those issues. But what Barbour was never able to do, as he must have eventually realized, was find a persuasive way to talk about race and civil rights—and Yazoo City.
But here is the key quote from Bubba Mott, the former owner of the Yazoo Herald, a longtime Barbour friend and around whom Zengerle’s piece on Barbour and the sticky thicket of race rests.
I asked Mott if, given all that, he thought there was some way that Barbour could talk about race and civil rights and Yazoo City that wouldn't make him seem so insensitive — that wouldn’t feed the perception that Barbour, 40 years later, was still on the wrong side of history.
“I wish I knew, I wish I knew,” Mott replied. “I don't know. He’s smart enough to know, and if there’s a way to figure it out he will.” He paused to think a little more. “But if he hasn’t figured out how you overcome it, or pretty well minimize it, in my opinion he won’t run.”
Like I said earlier this week, if this is the reason Barbour sidelined his presidential ambitions, then he’s done himself and the nation a favor. Down the road, though, I really would like to hear how much race played in his decision not to run. Maybe I’ll give him a call. It wouldn’t be an easy conversation for either of us. But it would be one well worth having.