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McDonnell vs Barbour: Slave Trail move puts Virginian ahead of Mississippian in 2012 sweepstakes


By Paul Goldman

Early this year, a big stumble by rookie Governor Bob McDonnell over the nation’s racial history cost him big time in terms of 2012, while Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, the savvy national GOP player for several generations, was gaining in national stature.

But that was then, this is now: today, it is Mr. Barbour trying to dig himself out of what he says was all a big misunderstanding, while Mr. McDonnell has made a very smart move that deserves support and, moreover, will play well nationally compared to his Mississippi counterpart. McDonnell is going to have the state buy property with great historic value and give a big boost to the goals of the Richmond Slave Trial Commission as it hopes preserve indeed recreate an important part of our heritage, both in terms of Richmond and Virginia.

Barbour’s gaffe shows that he isn’t ready for prime time quite yet as a VP choice, much less as a presidential candidate. On the other hand, Mr. McDonnell, having been dropped from the list of VP possibilities earlier this year, must now be considered back on and moving up given the electoral politics of 2012. Virginia figures to be a must-win state for the GOP, so McDonnell, in my book, will continue to get play if he can continue to score points politically, which is after all what 2012 will be about in the end — winning 270 electoral votes. Ohio, Florida and North Carolina are bigger must-win states, but in terms of the presidential contest, the presidential nominee is going to have be able to carry Ohio and Florida on his/her own.

So, someone from Virginia like McDonnell is in play for the #2 spot if it looks like having him on the ticket puts a big bloc of key electoral votes off the table for the Democrats. A tall order, but who knows how 2012 will shake out?


History – the good, the bad, and the ugly – needs to be preserved. In the case of the Slave Trail Commission, the issue is more than remembering history, although that alone is not sufficient.

In the case of Mr. Barbour, he tried to re-write, or give his own spin on, history, a mistake he was quick to realize needed to be “walked back” (as the expression goes) immediately. What Governor Barbour refuses to accept, though, is that some things are just plain wrong – morally and in every other way – and there is no other interpretation for someone in his position. This is not to suggest that there were those who, fearing to confront the beast, tried to lessen its cruelty. They played with real bullets when the KKK ran things in certain parts of the country, and it was easy for you, and your loved ones, to wind up “missing” as they would say. Here in Virginia, in 1985, the fear of running an African-American for statewide office made otherwise sensible people lose their way.  

So I get what Barbour was apparently trying to say. It is not dissimilar to the reasoning that got Mr. McDonnell into his mess earlier this year. But as Governor McDonnell acknowledged in the end, the reasoning doesn’t hold together — there is right, there is wrong, and this has to be accepted especially by a Governor, if we are ever to stop being ruled from the grave.

Barbour would do well to call McDonnell and ask for some guidance. Governor McDonnell deserves the support of the people of Richmond in his effort to address an important part of our city’s and nation’s history. Specifically, the goal is to make sure this history is given the consideration it needs by both current and future generations.

There is no perfect solution in that regard, but there are better and worse options. Moreover, in these tough budget times, the $3 million in state money needed to buy the property is not a trivial amount. But, McDonnell has chosen the right priority, and hopefully the General Assembly will agree.

Bottom line: McDonnell up, Barbour down, and LG Bill Bolling, his political future hostage to the whims of AG Ken Cuccinelli, once again has a glimmer hope of lucking into the Governorship no matter the intra-party power of his 2013 rival. The President will have something to say about that later on. But for now, the better McDonnell does, the more Bolling can dream.