A dose of Southern hospitality
“The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibitionist boob-jumper, the information of a high school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid valentines, and the honor of a police station lawyer.” — H. L. Mencken
So, what do you say to 20-odd influential Danish journalists to travel all the way from that Scandinavian nation to this Mississippi Delta town to, at least in part, talk to you?
How do you explain the at-best complicated and at-worst downright occult subject of Southern politics in an hour-and-a-half?
Inadequately, no doubt, considering there are PhDs in political science at prestigious universities in this country, not to mention legions of talking heads at television networks, who don’t understand all the nuances and foibles of Southern politics — a fact that gets demonstrated with all too frequent regularity when both groups start pontificating.
One of the great unrecognized truths in this country is that one can be both learned in politics and ignorant of Southern politics at the same time.
If you would like to see an example of that, tune in to Chris Matthews on any given election night.
The first thing I noticed about my contemporaries from Denmark as they filed into the Fine Arts Room of the library is that they were quite predictably sizing me up just as I was doing the same to them. This, I told myself, is one smart bunch. Thankfully, they were to prove one very nice bunch, as well.
They listened attentively. They asked incisive questions. If they thought me an idiot, they hid it remarkably well.
I told them of having learned politics literally as a boy at my grandfather’s knee. I told them of accompanying him to the smoke and alcohol-filled great room of the Elks Club in Clarksdale where a handful of local power brokers decided who would and would not be elected to the various posts of government in Coahoma County, Mississippi, in the early 1960s.
I told them that it was after one such gathering that my grandfather was to kneel down, take me by the shoulders and impart the single most cogent piece of political wisdom that I have yet, to this very day ever heard: “Facts? Oh, Sonny Boy, in politics the facts doesn’t matter. In politics, what matters is the names you can manage to impose upon the facts.”
If you doubt that, you are simply not paying attention to what takes place in the country every day.
I shared with them a few of the entries in Mosby’s Rules of Politics, assembled primarily from the wisdoms of others compiled over the years:
• Don’t make news on a slow news day.
• Don’t get caught in bed with a pretty boy or an ugly woman.
• Should you encounter someone stirring a big, steaming cauldron of manure, do not let him hand you the paddle.
• Never lie to people whom, by profession, must become professional lie detectors.
• The race may not always go to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that remains a pretty good way to bet.
• Lots of folks have ulterior motives: Don’t ask the barber if you need a haircut.
• All losing politicians have one thing in common: They can’t count.
Mercifully, our latest group of visitors were treated to things other than the Hambone-quality wisdoms of the town’s newspaper editor, and it is those, I rather expect, which will make up the pleasant memories of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, they will take with them back home.
At the itself memorable home of the town’s unofficial Dolly Madison, the group was able to enjoy what its leader had told me it would most enjoy — a couple hours worth of Delta leisure, courtesy of the town’s more generous, talented and public-minded folks.
There was cold beer, good wine, fabulous barbecue with all the trimmings and world class Blues played live by no less than a descendant of Muddy himself.
To quote the mayor, “A good time was had by all.”
To quote Lennon and McCartney, “We get by with a little help from our friends.”
Were I a betting man, I’d wager there are going to be more mentions of Rolling Fork in Denmark in the days ahead than ever before. And you know, that can’t hurt a bit.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.
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