Haley Barbour's Macaca Moment?

By Garance Franke-Ruta

Republican Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour hasn't even launched a campaign for the presidency, but his comments to The Weekly Standard in a profile published over the weekend serve as a reminder of why it seems so culturally improbable that the next leader of the United States after the first black president would be a Republican governor from the Old South.

Asked about the civil rights picture in Mississippi in the 1960s, Barbour told The Standard "I just don't remember it as being that bad."

He also defended the Citizens Councils in the state, which cropped up to, among other things, be "the South's answer to the mongrelizers."

That's not what they were in his home town of Yazoo City, he said:

You heard of the Citizens Councils? Up north they think it was like the KKK. Where I come from it was an organization of town leaders. In Yazoo City they passed a resolution that said anybody who started a chapter of the Klan would get their ass run out of town. If you had a job, you'd lose it. If you had a store, they'd see nobody shopped there. We didn't have a problem with the Klan in Yazoo City.

Barbour's comments set off a firestorm of controversy that seems likely to help define him in the year ahead as he potentially seeks to introduce himself to the broader Republican electorate.

And it's not something Democrats are likely to forget.

"He's not ready for prime time or not ready for the 21st century - either way it's disqualifying," Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan said in a tweet.

Barbour spokesman Dan Turner accused one media outlet, TPM, of smearing the governor with its coverage. "You're trying to paint the governor as a racist," he told Eric Kleefeld. "And nothing could be further from the truth."

Here's a round up of some of the other parts of this story:

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/12/haley-barbours-macaca-moment/68317/