Will Haley Barbour Condemn Effort to Honor KKK Founder?

If Exhibit A for why it's hard to imagine the present governor of Mississippi as the next president of the United States was his (retracted) comment making light of civil rights struggles in his state, Exhibit B is today's story that Haley Barbour had no immediate response to an effort by the Sons of Confederate Veterans to recognize Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, a 19th century Ku Klux Klan founder, on a Mississippi specialty license plate.

There are some bright shiny lines in American political life at the national level. One of them is that it's an easy call to say negative things about the KKK when asked to do so, and that this does not require any particularly complex level of thought or strategy. If you're not ready to cross that line, you're not ready to be president. Period.

CNN reports:

The Mississippi NAACP has called on Gov. Haley Barbour to publicly denounce an attempt by a Confederacy group to honor a Ku Klux Klan leader, the organization said Monday.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans has launched the campaign to recognize Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest on a specialty license plate.

Forrest, a popular and controversial figure, is best known as a leader of the KKK, the white supremacist group known for terrorizing blacks in the South after the Civil War.

He is also praised and criticized for an 1864 raid at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, where hundreds of black Union Army members were killed during the war. The controversy over whether Forrest conducted or condoned the massacre is still a matter for heated debate.

Mississippi NAACP leaders feel a state-sanctioned license plate honoring a man with ties to the KKK sends the wrong message to people in the state and across the country.

"Any individual who was a traitor to our country and our constitution should be treated as such," said Derrick Johnson, president of the state NAACP chapter....

Barbour has not responded to the controversy since it began making headlines last week....

A call to the governor's office from CNN on Monday has not been returned.

Yes, the NAACP goes out of its way to make life difficult for some Republican leaders, and the tensions have also gone the other way -- who can forget the fraught relationship between the national group's leaders and George W. Bush? -- but this is the kind of thing that would be an easy call for the leader of a state with a less toxic racial history. And it's the kind of thing anyone with national political ambitions should have an easy answer to.

Barbour, uniquely among the potential 2012 presidential candidates, is poorly situated on questions of race in America thanks to not just the history of his state, but its present political realities.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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