Mississippi Gov. Haley "Boss Hogg" Barbour is a funny guy, and he should run for president. The former Washington mega-lobbyist gives great interviews. What was it like, for example, when he saw Martin Luther King Jr. as a teenager?
Haley Barbour is a Good Ol' Boy in exaggerated cartoon form. He talks with a slow drawl and rarely gets worked up, except maybe to express incredulity at big-city Yankee culture every now and then. Barbour, of course, knows all about this big-city Yankee culture from all the years he spent raising money and being a top lobbyist in Washington for such beloved industries as health insurance, tobacco, liquor, defense and pharmaceuticals. These lobbyists are eager for their ol' pal Haley to become president. And Washington reporters love the guy, too, because they "get" his deal — a guy who knows and loves the workings of insider Washington, but presents himself as a farmhand when addressing the laymen. This makes him "savvy," the best quality of all, and he can make a political reporter's day just by sharing a knowing, post-gala wink.
And according to a delightful new Weekly Standard profile/interview, if he ran for president, he'd embrace his lobbying background. Here's how he describes it. He doesn't really see the distinction between "being persuasive" and "throwing money around at politicians to get what your corporate clients want" (not that all lobbying is that cynical — much is necessary! — but it actually is that cynical when your clients represent the aforementioned industries):
"The first thing a president's going to have to do when he takes his hand off the Bible is start lobbying. He's going to need to lobby Congress. He's going to need to lobby the bureaucracy. He's going to need to lobby the governors. He's going to need to lobby our allies and our international competitors.
"And I'm a pretty good lobbyist."
He also says "You bet I was a lobbyist" in the interview, while beaming with pride. That should be enough to cover an entire election cycle's worth of attack ads.
Barbour will also have to contend with racial issues if he runs. Much of that will be unfair, if it's just based on him being a wealthy white male from Mississippi. Then again, he has a solid record of questionable statements, including a funny joke about watermelon. And many bloggers are pointing out his strange defense of the "Citizens Councils" of Civil-Rights era southern towns, which he claims protected them from those awful KKK white supremacists. But these were frequently called "White Citizens Councils," and any ass-kicking they did of Klansmen was more likely to stem from turf disputes than social justice.
Lastly, this has got to be the best "When I Met Dr. King" anecdote of them all:
In interviews Barbour doesn't have much to say about growing up in the midst of the civil rights revolution. "I just don't remember it as being that bad," he said. "I remember Martin Luther King came to town, in '62. He spoke out at the old fairground and it was full of people, black and white."
Did you go? I asked.
"Sure, I was there with some of my friends."
I asked him why he went out.
"We wanted to hear him speak."
I asked what King had said that day.
"I don't really remember. The truth is, we couldn't hear very well. We were sort of out there on the periphery. We just sat on our cars, watching the girls, talking, doing what boys do. We paid more attention to the girls than to King."
[Image via AP]