RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Barbour, like mentor Reagan, steers happily toward the White House

By Rheta Grimsley Johnson

Haley Barbour has figured out how to be president of these United States. He learned at the feet of a master.
Oil spill? What oil spill? Who ya gonna believe, me or your greasy feet?
Accentuate the positive, pray away the negative, blame the messenger for the doom-and-gloom messages, ignore the poor who don’t have a lobby anyhow, do a little sidestep, call on your rich allies, cozy up to those with means, hire a public-relations firm that specializes in aw-shucks candidates and go for it, Haley.
At least Mississippi will have a little relief.
Whether he’s dismissing the national shame of slavery, shoveling Katrina relief funds to insurance companies instead of victims, posturing for a national audience that cares not how little he’s done for most Mississippians, Haley keeps a broad smile on his face. He seems like a favorite uncle, the one who made silver dollars come out of his ears.
Only Haley’s silver dollars don’t go to the children. They go elsewhere, to corporations and foreign countries, at least if you judge by per-capita income of my state’s citizens – still the nation’s lowest.
When Haley Barbour was running Reagan’s Mississippi presidential campaign, he must have noticed that sometimes the truth got in the way of a good story. And that Ronald Reagan instinctively knew that whiners were never winners.
Reagan had that way of being relentlessly chipper about any set of circumstances, playing such a good fiddle tune that it didn’t much matter what was burning. Swing your partners, do-si-do.
Haley can do that Pollyanna thing well, too. He can ignore abject poverty, statistics, children without insurance, the history of slavery, criticism, whatever you got. He ignores it, poo-poos it, gladhands it.
The Blob of oil that may or may not be headed for Mississippi, according to the governor, is just a very, very, very thin layer of oil residue,” nothing more than a teenage rock-and-roll idol from Haley’s halcyon, “Happy Days” youth would have combed through his duck tail.
Haley’s laid-back reaction to the oil spill and its potential devastation for his own state has not gone unnoticed. Some incredulous wags have suggested, with irony, that the jolly Haley and the angry Sarah Palin, not necessarily in that order, would make a good presidential ticket for the Republicans – at least from the viewpoint of Democrats.
Not so fast.
I remember hoping against hope the Republicans would be rash and foolish enough to nominate fringe candidate Ronald Reagan for their presidential candidate. I remember being delighted when they did. I remember not staying happy for long.
So let’s not get overcome with joy and confidence that the unbelievable Haley would be an easy man to beat. His is just the kind of phony reassuring manner that many Americans crave when times are hard. When you don’t have to pay attention to scientists, the hoi polloi, naysayers, your own record or hard facts, you save your energy for winning.
A storm brewing offshore? Just let a smile be your umbrella.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson is a syndicated columnist. She lives in the Iuka vicinity. Contact her at Iuka, MS 38852.