I asked Barbour if he thought the Republicans could have it both ways -- black support and worship of the Confederacy -- at the same time. This is what he said, in full:
What I was asked, in a TV interview, was, "Did I think it would hurt McDonnell?" That's the way I took the question. What would the effect be on McDonnell? I said I didn't think there'd be any. And I don't. And I think today there hasn't been, and I don't think there will be. I don't think there's any political effect. In my state, having a Confederate Memorial Day is statutory. It was there long before Haley Barbour was governor. It was statutory. But what I am doing with the only black congressman from the state is, we're having the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders in May. And we're inviting all the living Freedom Riders that we can find - and we've found 170 of 'em, or something like that - and John Lewis is being an honorary chairman of it. And we're going to bring them to Jackson, Mississippi and let 'em see how Mississippi's changed in the 50 years since they came down there. And very interestingly, the place - they asked this on the questionnaire - and the place they asked to go the most was the state penitentiary. That didn't enter my mind, and then I realized, 'cause they all got sent there. You know, these were kids, and they came in, didn't do anything wrong, but they took 'em to the penitentiary. And what I think they're going to kind of get a kick out of, virtually none of the buildings are there anymore, where they were. They've all been torn down and rebuilt as we've had to, like everybody else, had to improve our corrections system. But we're also going to have 'em at the governor's mansion, for while they're there.
We think that is a very important holiday to celebrate. We think it's a very important time. I have proposed we build a Civil Rights Museum in Mississippi, which the legislature's working on right now, because, you know, those are very important times for people to understand, as we go forward. And I think Santayana was right: if you don't read and understand history, you're doomed to repeat it. And we're putting our past behind us, and we're very focused on future.
Endless noise, signifying nothing. So I tried again: "Let me come back to this question - this political question about African Americans. That's fine - celebrating the Freedom Riders is fine - but do you think it's possible to make huge inroads, or significant inroads in the African American population, so long as many southern states and their Republican-led governments are celebrating something called Confederate History Month? And venerating the flag?
Here's Barbour's second answer:
I would note to you that I have a Democratic legislature. And the Confederate Memorial Day is a holiday in Mississippi. It's done by the legislature. We never have had a Republican legislature. So I want you to have that fact. The fact of the matter is, I got about 20-22% of the black vote in my reelection, which is double or more what I got the first time. And it didn't have anything to do with Confederate Memorial Day, or the Civil Rights Museum, or any of that stuff. It's purely about performance. That people felt like I had helped them have a better life in Mississippi. And governors - it's easier for governors to do well among nontraditional Republican communities because governor's races tend to be so much about the record, about the economy, about the education system, than it is for senators and congressmen, whose records are much more partisan, just because Congress is much more partisan."
I gave up; I was banging my head against a stone wall (so to speak). The true, spin-free, answer, obviously, is that the Republican Party would rather not risk offending mythopoetic white Southerners by calling the Confederacy what it actually was -- a vast gulag of slavery, murder and rape. As an electoral strategy, it's a fine one -- an immoral one, but a practical one, something that has worked for the Republicans for more than 40 years (though the gains it has made in the South have been tempered by losses in the Northeast and elsewhere). But what I don't understand is why African-Americans, in the south as well as the north, don't simply rise up as a collective and say: No more. That's it. Stop the veneration of evil men.