In a guest column in the Clarion Ledger, Congressman Bennie Thompson describes Gov. Barbour’s remarks about desegregation in Yazoo City and writes:
That response left many of us doubting his knowledge of our state’s bloody history and his commitment to overcoming the effects of that history. Gov. Barbour later offered up two symbolic gestures – building a civil rights museum and welcoming the 50th anniversary celebration of the Freedom Riders.
Consider this: the governor and I were born three months and 40 miles apart. For those of us who attended segregated schools – in my case, Bolton Colored School – we remember outdoor toilets, two or three classes per room, hand-me-down textbooks and the other trappings of grade school life in the segregated South.
With these vivid memories, the governor’s symbols would be met with less skepticism if they were accompanied by public policies that sought to transform the symbols into something more meaningful.
Here is one thing of which I am sure: if we were to take the hundreds of men and women who brought civil and voting rights to black Mississippians in the 1960s and transport them into the world of today, they would not be lobbying for a museum or a celebration. They would be lobbying for decent health care, full funding of education and safe and affordable housing.
Later, he brings up the health care bill:
While I will be the first to admit that health care legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama is not perfect, it surely offers this country the first comprehensive attempt at covering people who need health care insurance and controlling the increasing costs of health care. If our governor had said this, had acknowledged that Mississippi has several hundred thousand of its citizens (black and white) who would benefit from this legislation, and had offered to sit down with the President and members of Congress to work out any problems, then we would have gone to battle for him and with him. But no, he filed a lawsuit, claiming the legislation was unconstitutional. This is, of course, the same course of action that Gov. Paul Johnson took when Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Rather than acknowledge the moral rightness of allowing black Mississippians to vote, Gov. Johnson and his attorney general sued the federal government, claiming the legislation was unconstitutional, that it violated states’ rights (sound familiar).
As our governor is working as hard as he can to derail the federal health care legislation, he is simultaneously cutting Medicaid spending and creating obstacles that prevent qualified men, women and children from using the system. We would receive his offering of symbols with more sincerity if his pronouncements about Medicaid focused on the lives that are being improved by the program rather than the money that could be directed elsewhere. When we see Gov. Barbour behave in the same manner as his contemporaries did 45 years ago, we begin to believe The Weekly Standard article might be accurate.