On November 2, 2010, the voters in the United States Congressional elections delivered a smashing victory to the Republican Party, augmented by the tea parties. It is now well documented that not only did the Republicans gain significant seats in the Senate, they also gained an outright majority in the House of Representatives, removed Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House, and reduced her to minority leader status. All in all, election day in November, 2010, was a great day for those who fervently believe that government is at its best when it governs least, thereby giving all citizens maximum freedom from the boot of government on their necks as they pursue the American dream for themselves and their families.
In 2010, Americans were clearly focused, like a laser beam, on rejecting Obama’s socialistic solutions to the 2010 economic recession, on cutting spending, and on reducing the size of government. They were disturbed and genuinely frightened by the massive bailouts and other spending initiatives of the Obama Administration, and they watched with horror as the federal government literally went into the automobile business through the takeover of General Motors, an authentic American icon (the nation’s Secretary of Defense once said “what is good for General Motors is good for the country”). They watched the government’s bailouts of quasi-federal financial institutions like the politically active Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, both of which openly supported Congressional candidates of their liking, even though their financial operations were backed by the federal government. Finally, they watched, with fear and trembling, what appeared to be the teetering of the nation’s financial system, with the demise of Lehman Brothers and billions of government dollars loaned to Morgan Stanley, Citibank and other investment banks and banking institutions across the country in an effort to avoid a financial crash similar to the l932 crash which resulted in the Great Depression.
The voice of the people was heard in 2010, but the 2010 elections are now in the rearview mirror, and the 2012 Presidential elections loom down the road. The single most important question now facing the American people is whether they can maintain their focus for the next two years on the issues they voted on in 2010; or will their thinking be diverted as President Obama attempts to “triangulate” his agenda and, all of a sudden, stresses “bipartisanship” and compromise with Republicans on the great issues of the day. His strategy, of course, is to regain the trust of independent voters that once supported him as he prepares to run for a second term as President in 2012.
Will the American people somehow become convinced once again that President Obama is fit to be the Commander in Chief and leader of the free world for four more years? Or will they conclude that the future well being of America depends upon electing someone who genuinely believes in the genius of the American free enterprise system; one who believes in American first; and, significantly, understands and embraces the concept that the most important job of the next President is to protect the homeland?
The answer to these questions depends in part, of course, on who the Republicans nominate to oppose President Obama in the 2012 Presidential election. If the Republicans field a well-meaning but weak candidate – one who is not a strong leader, has difficulty in communicating with the American people, or has difficulty in effectively presenting the Republican economic alternatives to Obamacare or the massive Democratic spending programs, then it is likely that Republicans will lose in 2012. On the other hand, if the Republicans field a candidate who is a strong, steady leader, one who can communicate his message, and one who is clearly capable of running the government and of stabilizing the ship of state in hazardous waters, then the GOP has a clear chance to defeat Obama, cut the massive deficit, and win the War on Terror.
If Republicans nationally do not tear themselves apart in the Presidential Primary season leading up to the 2012 elections, and if they decide that they want to field an opponent to Obama who is an accomplished leader with a record of achievement, who can effectively communicate the Republican message as an alternative to Obama and his socialistic agenda, then Haley Barbour clearly has a chance to gain the Republican nomination for President in 2010. His record of accomplishment as Governor of Mississippi, as Chairman of the Republican National Committee and as Chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association is well documented and his actions have been widely praised. His spectacular performance in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina clearly demonstrated that he knows how to lead in times of crisis. Still, as the Presidential election of 2012 is now entering its preliminary stages, Barbour has been criticized for remarks made by him that some local and national pundits, as well as backers of other potential candidates, have deemed to be racially insensitive.
There is no doubt, as stated in the December 22, 2010, edition of the Wall Street Journal and as acknowledged by Governor Barbour and his legion of supporters nationwide, that Mississippi’s civil rights history is sure to be a topic of wide discussion if he runs for President. Thus, he obviously must choose his words carefully on the topic of civil rights and be well-armed with the facts as he answers questions on that subject in the months ahead.
I think Haley Barbour, like his fellow Yazoo City resident and author, the late Willie Morris, is genuinely proud of the fact that Yazoo City integrated its schools without violence in the 1960s; and I also believe that Republicans nationally will not turn their backs on Haley in a Presidential contest because of events that occurred when he was a teenager. He knows, however, that there are many that suffered and lost their lives during the civil rights struggles of those years and that Republicans nationally will not grant him the Republican nomination for President if he appears insensitive to what occurred fifty to sixty years ago in Mississippi and elsewhere. I am betting that Governor Barbour, despite intensive efforts to deflect the thinking of Republicans nationally, will transcend the issue of race in the upcoming Presidential campaign, and that Republicans will focus on who can best present and communicate the Republican alternative to Obama in 2012.
In his brilliant work, “Master of the Senate”, the third volume of Robert A. Caro’s account of the years of Lyndon Johnson, the author spends considerable time writing about another famous and highly capable southerner who grew up on Georgia, Richard Brevard (Dick) Russell, whose family was plunged into poverty in the aftermath of the War Between the States. He became a member of the legislature at an early age and Speaker of the House of Representatives as his traits of integrity and independence became apparent. One Georgia legislator said, “Dick Russell is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to be an honest politician.” Not only would he “tell you it’s impossible to get what you want,” he would “tell you if he doesn’t think you should be asking for what you want.” “He also had the ability . . . to persuade men to cooperate and unite behind his aims. . . .” “He always gave credit to others”, and they came to “love him and trust him.” (Master of the Senate, pp. 170-171).
Dick Russell ran for Governor of Georgia in 1930 at age 32, and his brother, Robert E. Lee Russell, was his campaign’s public relations man. At age 33, in 1931, Russell became the youngest Governor of Georgia in the state’s history.
During his brief tenure as Governor, Russell read and re-read War and Peace and the works of Greek historians and Roman historians to learn how emperors and other government leaders handled issues. As Governor, Russell attacked Georgia’s woeful financial situation eroded by the Great Depression. The state at that time could not meet its obligations to public schools or public institutions, and he reduced the state’s debt by one-third. During his tenure as Governor, he reduced the number of public agencies in Georgia’s bloated government from 102 to 18, created the state’s first central purchasing agency, and required “sealed bids” for all state purchases.
After serving as Governor for only 18 months, Russell ran for and was elected United States Senator at age 35 and became the youngest Senator in the United States in 1933. He went on to become a powerful leader in the Senate (Chairman of the Armed Services Committee) exhibiting the same traits that endeared him to his fellow Georgians. “He told the truth” said Senator Sam Erwin of North Carolina – “what the contents of a bill were or what the effects of that bill would be.” (Master of the Senate, p. 178). The Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. was ultimately named after him.
Dick Russell’s influence in the Senate became so great (and the respect and affection for him by his fellow Senators so heart-felt) that he became the acknowledged Democratic leader in the United States Senate. He indignantly defended himself against implications of racism, and his biographer reported that Russell did not deliver racist diatribes on the Senate floor. “He aimed to educate and convince northern senators that the south should be left alone to handle racial problems.” (Master of the Senate, p. 185). And he did convince them, for a time.
1952 was the year Richard Russell ran for President. His opponents in the Democratic Primary were Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee (not well-liked in the Senate), Vice-President Alben Barkley (too old at 74); New York’s Governor Averill Harriman; and the reluctant Governor of Illinois, Adlai Stevenson (backed by retiring President Harry Truman).
At the 1952 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, it took 616 convention votes of the 1230 delegates to win the nomination. Russell had a solid base of 262 votes (every southern state except Tennessee) and he won the Florida Primary, to great fanfare. However, when he ventured north, he met the following reaction from New Jersey: “My God, Senator, we’d like to support you. You’re the best man around, but we can’t vote for a southerner.”
Russell received no support from Maine, Pennsylvania, or any other northern or western state to which he traveled. In the end, the diminutive and reluctant Adlai Stevenson was nominated and went on to be soundly defeated by the Republican, Dwight David Eisenhower. Russell got only 268 votes after the second ballot. (Master of the Senate, pp. 465-470)
The message of 1952 was clear. The candidate who had the leadership skills to run the country lost the Democratic nomination because a southern segregationist could not win during the civil rights struggles that were beginning in that era. The Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. Board of Education was rendered in 1954.
Today, integration is a reality, and the issue for Republicans to decide is whether they should select, as their candidate to face President Obama in 2012, that person who is best capable of solving the nation’s problems and who is best able to communicate the Republican message. Or should they be diverted by sectionalism or fear that their candidate might be criticized, justly or unjustly, for events that occurred fifty years ago?
Haley Barbour was spectacularly successful as Chairman of the Republican National Committee. He knows the Republican message and how to deliver it. He would be a spectacular Republican nominee for President as well; and an honorable representative of the Party of Lincoln.
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