BY: B. Keith Plunkett @Keithplunkett
Back in August I wrote a response to an article by Curtis Wilkie in the New York Times. Wilkie is an historian and author who grew up in Mississippi, leaving in the late 1960’s to work as a writer. The majority of his career was spent working for the Boston Globe. He returned to Mississippi in 2004 to teach journalism at Ole Miss, and serves as a professor and Fellow at the Overby Center of Journalism and Politics there.
It is apparent from his latest article in Politico that Wilkie placed his memory of Mississippi in a time capsule, and reopened it upon arrival 10 years ago. Should Mr. Wilkie decide to spend a little more time in the flyover country between his academic perch in Oxford and the cocktail parties in New Orleans, he would find we have, in fact, changed dramatically from his memory. He would find that we are diverse, and that communities are fighting for survival against the suffocation of policies from Washington.
In his New York Times article, Wilkie gathered all the “rebellious” conservatives under the heading “TEA Party.” His latest commentary once again hopes to tuck away the grassroots community movement in Mississippi into neatly organized categories.
This time Wilkie throws in Southern Baptists, too. He defines the pro-community crowd as a throw back to the fierce independence of Scots-Irish ancestors, then places us on the losing side of those who fought the Civil War and those who fought against the Civil Rights Movement. That allows him to dust his hands in conclusion: Mississippians hate Washington because of our history.
Mississippians don’t fit into Mr. Wilkie’s tidy little categories.
His commentary relies heavily on history, but not Mississippi history. He brings in the statements and motives of South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun, as well as Virginian Patrick Henry. Wilkie makes great leaps to condemn Mississippi’s populism by using the words of non-Mississippians. He uses the statements of people who have never set foot here, picked from historical perspectives that don’t align.
Cocktail parties in Oxford and New Orleans don’t count.
Mr. Wilkie, try joining me in small town Mississippi and I think you may be surprised. You may be surprised that on the front of race relations we have made great strides, that we are as diverse and neighborly to one another as any place I have ever been outside of our state, more than many.
You will also find that hard working people are under the pressure of intense regulation of central government, both from Washington and from Jackson. You will find that they have little way of changing this outside force from making demands on their livelihoods and of their families, given only despair in return.
You will find that as federal dollars and federal regulations have become a larger and larger force in our lives, many of our people grow more and more dependent and less responsible. You will find that as our social connections crumble our young people have effectively been warned off of marriage, which is the very foundation of healthy communities. You will find that as people begin angling for more government give-aways, both individual dishonesty and a lack of government transparency grows. You will find that as more regulation from on high makes its way down to we “commoners,” fewer parents take a role in the education or upbringing of their own children.
Generations of Mississippians have been trained to give up.
Yes, Mississippi gets far more back in terms of money from the federal government than it gives. But, that doesn’t translate into success. It has translated into failure. We here in Mississippi communities see it every single day.
We see everyday in communities across this state why Washington deserves our disdain. We see everyday how some with political connections are handed advantages while others are denied and discouraged from living off the fruits of their own labor.
Maybe that view isn’t as clear from where Mr. Wilkie resides in his comfortable academic existence at Ole Miss. The evidence is here for anyone willing to get out of their comfortable places and spend the time driving across the state, truly looking, talking and learning.
It’s a testament to the resiliency of Mississippians that we find ourselves in this difficult position, like so many times in our history before, and are ready to do something about it.
Yes. More and more Mississippians hate Washington, Mr. Wilkie. But, it’s not because of our past history. It’s because of our present circumstances.
About Keith: Keith Plunkett has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, government agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by going to HorizonMediaMarketing.com or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett