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Marty Wiseman: Is Mississippi becoming more like America, or vice versa?


Marty Wiseman



The annual rhetorical outburst that is fast becoming customary during the sweltering month of August has certainly served as the impetus for more than a few moments of reflection. Perhaps the highlight this year was conservative commentator Glenn Beck''s dusting off of the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King made his classic "I have a Dream Speech" to make a national religious call to arms. 


To be sure, the volume was turned up on other fronts as well, as Republicans can hardly contain their glee in anticipation of a potential takeover of both houses of Congress in November''s mid-term elections. While Democrats cannot seem to find their most convincing voice, the voice of Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour is being heard over almost everyone, and with greater frequency every day. Any longtime political observer with a sense of history can hardly help but surmise that this relationship of a Mississippian to national political possibilities is different.  


A scanning of the office bookshelves turned up two dust and cobweb-covered gems. The older of the two was former Ole Miss professor John W. Silver''s Mississippi: The Closed Society. This famous work contained a detailed case made by Silver of Mississippi''s social, cultural, economic, and religious isolation during the decades leading up to 1963 when the book was published. The other book, which is perhaps more intriguing for purposes of this column, is by then Nashville journalist John Egerton. It is titled The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America. Published as it was in 1974 by Harper''s Magazine Press, The Americanization of Dixie was Egerton''s way of taking a deep breath and claiming victory on behalf of moderate and liberal Southerners over the last holdouts of segregationists and guardians of the old "Southern way of life." In essence, his thesis was that the South including of course Mississippi was poised to become a part of mainstream America. This was indeed "news" in that day. 


Those of us who have graying hair or perhaps no hair at all remember an era when Mississippi preferred to go it alone with an "us against the world" attitude. Mississippi proudly walked out of the 1948 Democratic National Convention and reconvened, along with other Southern states, in Birmingham to form the short-lived Dixiecrat Party. While there, Mississippi delegates helped place Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright on Dixiecrat Presidential nominee Strom Thurmond''s ticket as the Vice-Presidential candidate. The failure of the Dixiecrat ticket did not quench our thirst for individualism. In 1960, Mississippi gave her precious electoral votes away to the "Unpledged Electors" rather than to Democrat John F. Kennedy, seeing as how going Republican was still totally out of the question. But all of that changed one election later when in 1964 Mississippi gave Republican Barry Goldwater 87% of the vote. Mississippi was one of only six states to do so, however.  


Mississippi''s 1964 headlong plunge into the Republican Party, combined with the passage of the Civil Rights Act that same year and the passage of the Voting Rights Act one year later, began in earnest the transformation of party loyalty in Mississippi. But author Egerton''s declaration of "mission accomplished" on the South''s absorption into the mainstream of national political culture behind the leadership of the South''s liberal leaders may have been premature.  


Indeed, Mississippi and surrounding Southern states may not have become more like the rest of America. Instead, recent evidence appears to indicate that America has become more like Mississippi. Furthermore, it is conservative Republicans lead by the likes of Mississippi Republican Governor Haley Barbour who are sealing the deal. Governor Barbour has been Chairman of the National Republican Party, and is now Chair of the Republican Governor''s Association. He has often repeated his intent to be involved in 37 gubernatorial campaigns between now and November.  


The widely-read and respected news organization Politico, on Aug. 19 labeled Barbour as the nation''s "most powerful Republican." In fact, Governor Barbour himself has raised over $40 million to be used in the fall elections, according to Politico. 


The South, with Mississippi''s conservative Republican Governor at the helm, is moving to the center of the stage of national Republican politics. How can this be so? First, since the days prior to the Civil War Mississippi and her neighboring states have been manifestly anti-Washington. This has been true in spite of the South''s voracious appetite for - and indeed survival - on dollars from Washington. Secondly, Mississippi has always embraced a "low tax" mentality mainly because there was always so little money to tax. Thus, it''s easy to convince Mississippians and other Southerners to be appalled at large amounts of debt.  


Finally, because of her position in the center of the "Bible Belt," Mississippi takes a back seat to no one when it comes to mixing religion and politics. As the anti-Washington and religious tone of Glenn Beck''s rally in front of 300,000 Americans would indicate, the rest of America is lining up in full agreement with Mississippi, and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is being mentioned as a potential Republican Presidential nominee, and nobody''s laughing anymore. 


Wiseman is director of the Stennis Institute at Mississippi State University. His e-mail address is [email protected]



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Reader Comments

Article Comment the must words commented at 9/7/2010 12:01:00 PM:

Haley Barbour has been a good, successful governor by simply doing his job. He handled Gulf Coast disaster relief and cleanup after Katrina expertly, without complaining or trying to get attention from the media. He has managed to keep our state within a reasonable budget and could have done an even better job with Mississippi's financial situation if some of our institutions had been willing to cut their budgets. He has brought industry to our state, providing a business-friendly atmosphere and lower taxes as compared to other states. He would be interesting to watch as a presidential candidate although most in the media would tear him to shreds over his conservatism, his weight issues and his accent. We have been fortunate to have him as governor for two terms and I wish him success in whatever is on the horizon.


Article Comment hope commented at 9/7/2010 12:55:00 PM:

My question to somebody is what taxes have been lowered under Barbour?
With MS. being on the bottom of everything, his opponents will cut him to pieces in debates if he runs for President.
As for Beck being a spiritual leader, they just seem to fall into the "gutter" when they get to D.C. With his salary surpassing 35 million dollars, I would say that he definitely has his mind on money.
As for as having a balanced budget, he's got no choice. It's the law!


Article Comment mr. jordan commented at 9/8/2010 10:08:00 AM:

Whoa, now!

Mr. Barbour recently tried to claim "his generation" led the South from segregation to integration. Yeah, sure they did, with the 101st Airborne from Ft. Campbell, KY restraining them from blocking the schoolhouse doors in Little Rock!

Mr. Barbour said: "The "old Democrats" fought integration tooth and nail, but by my time, people realized that was the past, it was indefensible, it wasn't gonna be that way anymore. And so the people who really changed the South from Democrat to Republican was a different generation from those who fought integration."

This is a total, stupendous, crock! Dixiecrats fled the Democratic party that was driving integration and became the Republican's white, male Southern strategy.

And if Mr. Barbour thinks "it wasn't going to be that way anymore," explain Heritage Academy for me.

Mr. Barbour is rewriting history to cover his society's tracks, tracks that are still visible today although great strides have been made.


Article Comment kj commented at 9/8/2010 11:34:00 AM:

"Mississippi takes a back seat to no one when it comes to mixing religion and politics." Yep...that's why we have a high divorce rate and the highest teen pregnancy rate.

It's easy to have "low taxes" when you're taking twice as much money from the feds as you pay in. What do you think that money subsidizes? Your lower tax rates. How non-socialist of us. You know what else it pays for? Low taxes/no taxes for new industry. But they aren't passing that savings on to our non-union low-skilled uneducated workforce (because our school system is the bottom of the barrel). Oh no, they're pocketing the difference. Hurray for industry!

We're moral and fiscal hypocrites here in Mississippi. We don't value education. We don't value equality, especially when it comes to equal rights for minorities (sorry homosexuals, sorry blacks, sorry latinos) -- we know that "those people" are second class. We certainly don't reflect the "land of opportunity" (I'm talking about you, illegals). We'd rather charge a child as an adult than do the hard work of dispensing justice.

If America is becoming more like Mississippi, it's because we're dragging it down to our low, low standards instead of meeting the challenge of rising up to the standards America was built on.


Article Comment walter commented at 10/15/2010 11:45:00 AM:

No need to say more! There is a nucleus of very conscious, articulate, outspoken and honest folks who either lives in my home and reads The CD or there are many folks who are watching and concerned about what is transpiring there and throughout the state.

If you want to give Rose to anyone, give several dozens to them, the somewhat anonymous and growing Real and Unshackled Mississippians!


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