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By now you may have heard of the outrage spawned by a proposed Mississippi license plate that honors Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. (For those searching for a pop culture reference, he was Forrest Gump's namesake).
As Tom Diemer noted earlier, Forrest "is regarded by admirers as a military genius who left the Klan because of its violent ways," but "critics point out he was a Klan grand wizard, and during the Civil War he led a massacre of African-American Union troops in the 1864 Battle of Fort Pillow in Tennessee."
While the license plate controversy is certainly an interesting local story, I can't help thinking the national media narrative -- which has cast Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour front and center in the debate -- is a bit forced.
A few points may put this in perspective . . .
First, in order for this measure to pass, it will have to first be approved by the state Legislature -- including passage by the Democratic-majority State House.
As Barbour said Tuesday, "I know there's not a chance it'll become law."
What is more, the plate idea was proposed by private citizens for the state Legislature's approval. Barbour did not come up with the idea, nor does he have the authority to stop or expedite the measure until it reaches his desk -- which, by the way, will never happen.
As the Mason County Daily News reported, "The design featuring Forrest is being proposed for release in 2014. A vote by the Mississippi Legislature would take place in 2013."
Barbour's term ends in 2012.
As a self-described "fat redneck," Barbour certainly faces challenges as he contemplates a presidential run. What is more, he has made gaffes which have reinforced the negative stereotype about him.
Barbour's biggest problem in this instance seems to be that he refused to denounce Forrest. When asked by a reporter, Barbour said: "I don't go around denouncing people. That's not going to happen. I don't even denounce the news media."
This conveniently fueled media headlines such as: "Barbour Won't Denounce KKK Leader." These are the same manufactured news stories conservatives have become accustomed to. Here's an example: "Matt Lewis Won't Say if Sarah Palin is Qualified to be President."
The problem with media narratives is that once they develop, reporters tend to see everything through that prism. In this regard, Haley Barbour has a big obstacle to overcome. He will be dragged into every controversy that takes place in the next two years. Will Haley Barbour denounce the burning of Korans? Will Haley Barbour denounce . . . fill in the blank.
Regardless, unless I see more evidence of Barbour's involvement in this issue, I'm inclined to say, "That dog won't hunt."
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