VOICES: Why Mississippi governor's sudden show of mercy is no 'shining example'
By Earl Ofari Hutchinson, New America Media
Last week, NAACP President Ben Jealous called Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour "a shining example"
of how governors should use their clemency powers, following Barbour's
release of Jamie and Gladys Scott. The two sisters had been serving life
sentences since 1994 for an $11 armed robbery they insist they did not
commit. Three other teens who did admit participating in the robbery -- and
who claimed they were coerced to implicate the sisters -- were sentenced
to just two years.
Jealous's praise of Barbour as a "shining
example" was stunning, given Barbour's years of resistance in the face
of a national campaign for the sisters' release and the conditions he
imposed on the two women when he finally did show mercy.
Thirty-six-year-old Gladys must donate a kidney to 38-year-old Jamie,
who is seriously ill. Meanwhile, four convicted killers whom Barbour earlier pardoned
and another whose life sentence he suspended had no conditions placed
on them in return for clemency, despite the brutality of their crimes.
has Barbour been a "shining example" of racial tolerance and
sensitivity in general. In recent months, he's made a series of
foot-in-mouth gaffes, praising Confederate History Month, defending the
racist white Citizens Council as good red-blooded patriots who did the
right thing to aid integration, and playing down racial conflict in
Mississippi during the turbulent 1960s.
Haley was forced to
back-pedal on all these comments, blasting the Citizens Council for
their support of segregation, clamming up on Confederate History Month,
and praising Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement for
their efforts to integrate his state. Now, the release of the Scott
sisters fits in with the new script that Barbour is obviously rewriting
for himself and the GOP.
The reason for this series of
about-faces is obvious: Barbour sniffs the presidency. The GOP field for
2012 is wide open, and the candidate with the name, position, money,
and -- most importantly -- political base will have an enormous advantage
against the rest of the GOP pack. As one-time Republican National
Committee chairman and current chairman of the Republican Governors
Association, Barbour has raised tens of millions of dollars for GOP
candidates. He has name identification and is a force in regional
politics in the South -- the white GOP South, that is. The region is still a
trump card for any GOP aspirant to the White House, as the 2008
presidential vote proved. While Democrat Barack Obama made a major
breakthrough in winning a significant percentage of votes from white
independents and young white voters, contrary to popular perception, in
the end it was Republican John McCain, and not Obama, who carried white
voters by a slim majority. Overall, Obama won just slightly more than 40
percent of the white male vote. Among white men in the South and
Heartland America, Obama made almost no impact.
Still, the GOP's
overreliance on Southern voters is fraught with political peril.
Barbour's string of recent gaffes has found plenty of echoes among
politicians around the region -- for example, in Kentucky Senator-elect
Rand Paul's views on the nation's civil rights laws and in Virginia
Governor Bob McDonnell's unrepentant support for Confederate History
Month. During the past decade, a parade of Republican state and local
officials, conservative talk-show jocks and GOP party leaders have made
remarks that typecast the South as a region that remains friendly to
unreconstructed racists and religious and social bigots. When called on
the carpet, these racists invariably respond the same way: They duck,
dodge, and deny, claiming that they were misquoted and, when this proves
to be untrue, issuing a halfhearted apology. Time after time, GOP
leaders also have the same reaction: silence, or, if the firestorm is
large enough, a much-delayed and mild verbal hand-slap.
history isn't just a problem for a Barbour presidential candidacy. It
also seriously threatens the GOP's chances of winning back the White
House. A near-solid GOP South is not enough to tip the White House to
the party any longer. Obama's 50-state strategy (masterminded by Howard
Dean) and the enthusiasm he generated among black, Hispanic, Asian, and
young voters more than offset the white, male, conservative vote for the
GOP in 2008.
Barbour's release of the Scott sisters must be seen
in the light of his presidential ambitions. A perfect storm of
hot-button issues -- race, gender, politics, medical compassion, and a
criminal justice system skewered against minorities -- forced him to make
some redress. Barbour deserves credit for taking the step to right a
colossal legal wrong. But this burst of compassion doesn't absolve
Barbour, the GOP or the white South of their ugly racial history -- a
history that is certainly no shining example of justice and fairness.
Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts
nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and
KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson and on thehutchinsonreportnews.com and view The Hutchinson Report on http://www.ustream.tv/channel/hutchinson-report-tv
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