The latest example is Gov. Haley Barbour, unbelievably whispered about as a potential vice presidential candidate. This specimen of hate-your-neighbor politics is a former used car salesman, a founder of the modern Republican party in Mississippi, a slick self-dealing Washington lobbyist, former head of the National Republican Committee and –like Rudy Giuliani – an exploiter of disaster.
Contrasted with the bumbling Democratic governor in Louisiana, Barbour became the Yahoo-in-Chief's poster child for strong state action after Hurricane Katrina. Yet the very first thing this pork-bellied racist said when the winds died down was that his first priority was to shoot looters. Well, actually, he said he would instruct his jackbooted troopers to treat looters “ruthlessly.” We know from history what “Mississippi ruthless” means. At least he didn’t publicly call for lynching. But he did call looters “subhuman.” You think he was talking about white people?
His next major concern in the Katrina aftermath was ramming through special provisions of state law to allow the destroyed floating casinos to relocate on dry land – a boon to the international gambling industry that was already bilking Mississippians of their low incomes.
And, in the day-to-day business of running the state, he also wants his people to be poor and/or dead.
Today’s New York Times reports that this profile in sleaze is going to veto a bill supported by almost everyone in the state that would reduce the astronomical 7 percent tax on groceries and replace the income by raising the tax on cigarettes. Mississippi has the nation’s third lowest cigarette tax, the fourth worst rate of smoking-related deaths and the worst rate of cardiovascular disease.
He claims it is because he promised never to raise any tax. The reality is that he is still the lackey of the tobacco industry that gave him millions as a lobbyist with which to buy Congressmen before coming home to be this decade’s Huey Long.
He will get away with it because Barbour has amassed power based on fear, race and money. And because the people of Mississippi, while they may not lynch black people anymore, still vote – against their best interest – for scoundrels.
I met Haley Barbour in 1976 when he had his first – and I hoped only – 15 minutes of fame, as head of the Ford caucus in the split Mississippi delegation to the contested Republican National Convention. He narrowly held the state for Ford, and had he not, Ronald Reagan would have been nominated. Which would have aborted two Bush presidencies.
Barbour was as slick as owl shit on slate back then but that was only practice for the true rapacity that was his fate – running the most backward state in the union into the ground.
As the late folksinger Phil Ochs toasted:
Here's to the land you've torn out the heart of
Mississippi find yourself another country to be part of