I have come increasingly to believe that, although the Bush Administration certainly didn’t engineer ex-Majority Leader Trent Lott’s revealing 2002 "misspeaking," that debacle helped the GOP’s longer-term plan. One only has to look at the recent activities of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to see what is going on.
Some people get it, history professor Robert McElvaine of Millsaps College for one, as he writes in his editorial "Barbour’s Mississippi Myth Spins Faster than Katrina" (linked here in the Salt Lake Tribune, first sighted in the Columbus MS newspaper The Commercial Dispatch):
Barbour, moreover, fancies himself a contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. He plainly sees Katrina as an opportunity to build for himself a Rudy Giuliani-like reputation for crisis leadership.
Of course, it is not news that Barbour appears interested in the Republican nomination. In fact, people have theorized that his entire intention while running for governor in 2003 was to use the governorship as a stepping stone to a higher office. After the Lott incident, in which he was deposed and replaced by Bill Frist, many believed that Barbour’s — or perhaps the Republican Party’s — ultimate intent was to replace the damaged Lott in the Senate.We all know the story. Lott had little to no support from the White House, despite the Bushies’ well-established tendency to stand by their own no matter how despicable they are (*coughcough*ROVE*coughcough*). He was dropped like a hot skillet, and his successor was embraced by the Religious Right. That honeymoon, of course, ended with Frist’s declaration of support for stem cell research. With that public declaration came the immediate cries from the right wing that Frist was no longer a viable nominee for president. That remains to be seen, but it is glaringly obvious that because of his thoughtcrime, the GOP will not "anoint" Frist in the way that it anointed then-Governor Bush in late 1999.
As Albus Dumbledore says of Voldemort in the newest Harry Potter, neocons ultimately have no loyalties. They support people who are useful to them and drop them when that is no longer the case. Lott has recently criticized the disaster response in Mississippi, but there can be no doubt that he is a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. Frist has bucked the Administration on one issue, but he is still a Republican in virtually everything else. They both remain "loyal" and support the neocon agenda with their votes in the Senate. However, because of their comments — Lott’s, revealing the unpleasant truth about why Republicans gained control of the South, and Frist’s, revealing the Bushies to be the extremist anti-science nuts that they are — they are not as useful as they were before, so the GOP is willing to cast them aside for someone else. In chess this would be a strategic sacrifice of one’s own piece. The object of the game? To stay in power for as long as possible. The new chess piece of choice? Haley Barbour.
Now, after Hurricane Katrina, Barbour is doing precisely what McElvaine says he is doing: He is trying to make himself look like the Giuliani of the South for a 2008 bid for president. (Incidentally, I highly recommend the editorial; the professor destroys the idea that the bad response to Katrina was entirely Democratic Louisiana’s fault and implicates elements of the media in the creation of Barbour’s "Mississippi Myth." I would write a blog entry entirely about it, only it would basically consist of agreement on every point.) Although I believe firmly that the reported results of at least two states last year were highly questionable, to put it mildly, the 2004 election had very little to do with "moral values" or an "incompetent campaign," as certain bloggers with a grudge have alleged. It had to do with the mythos surrounding Republicans’ ability to cope with a national disaster. Hurricane Katrina showed them up; it revealed this to be the lie that it was, and that’s why the Administration was trying so diligently to blame Louisiana for it while singing the praises of one who is useful to the Party’s long-term strategy. Conveniently ignoring, of course, that Barbour’s priority apparently was to get the gambling casinos back in operation, while the coastal residents were having to sign on to a lawsuit headed by Mississippi’s (Democratic) Attorney General just to get insurance companies to pay them back for their insured losses. That’s the type of individual that Barbour is, callous, calculating, more concerned about his political career and the appearance of doing a good job than about his state’s own citizens.
I believe that unless some unexpected scandal occurs, either before or after the 2007 gubernatorial election (in which Barbour is up for reelection), he will be a strong contender for the GOP nomination. I used to think that the strongest contender would be Frist, but in recent weeks I’ve changed my mind on that. I don’t buy into the media wish/hype that it will be John McCain; I think he has an entirely different goal, but that’s another blog for another day. Anyway, if Barbour has the influence that I think he does, then disaster response once again will be an issue in a presidential election, and the Democrats will need a candidate who can call him out on his insensitivity to the tragedies of regular people and show the "Mississippi Myth" for what it is. But, again, further elaboration on that is yet another blog for another day.