The Washington Post

Haley Barbour ducks (the presidential) race

Of all the folks who talked about running for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour was the one who gave me shivers. His is a voice as thick and sweet as a yard filled with magnolias, and it could dull the edges off some hard-core conservative policy proposals. His fundraising prowess is legendary. And he would have run a campaign that would have made Barack Obama work very hard to keep the title of president of the united States. That all ended with Barbour’s announcement this afternoon that he would not run.

But as much as I’m happy that Barbour is not running, his departure robs us of what would have been one of the most interesting orations in political history. We all know he has a blind spot the size of the Confederate flag when it comes to race, the civil rights movement and his place during that turbulent time in the South and the United States. So much so that The Post’s Karen Tumulty reported last month that “Barbour . . . is is considering giving a major speech on the subject. The likely venue: a 50th anniversary reunion of the Freedom Riders, set for late May in Jackson.”

No matter what he said, Barbour’s speech would have been fascinating. How would he explain his past comments on white Citizens Councils and Confederate History Month? Would he be able to articulate the fear, frustration and anger filling the racial divide with as much eloquence and nuance as Obama did during the 2008 race for the Democratic Party nomination? But what if this speech were part of Barbour’s problem with 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?

If he did well, Barbour could have delivered an address as powerful and important in Jackson as Obama did in Philadelphia. But if he didn’t have enough fire in the belly to do even that then he’s just done himself and the nation a huge favor.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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