Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bob Herbert vs David Brooks + some facts you might not know:

David Brooks writing on 9 November 2007: (emp add)
Today, I’m going to write about a slur. It’s a distortion that’s been around for a while, but has spread like a weed over the past few months. It was concocted for partisan reasons: to flatter the prejudices of one side, to demonize the other and to simplify a complicated reality into a political nursery tale.

The distortion concerns a speech Ronald Reagan gave during the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., which is where three civil rights workers had been murdered 16 years earlier. An increasing number of left-wing commentators assert that Reagan kicked off his 1980 presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia to send a signal to white racists that he was on their side. The speech is taken as proof that the Republican majority was built on racism.

... there was [an] event going on that week, the Neshoba County Fair, seven miles southwest of Philadelphia. The Neshoba County Fair was a major political rallying spot in Mississippi (Michael Dukakis would campaign there in 1988). Mississippi was a state that Republican strategists hoped to pick up. They’d recently done well in the upper South, but they still lagged in the Deep South, where racial tensions had been strongest. Jimmy Carter had carried Mississippi in 1976 by 14,000 votes.

So the decision was made to go to Neshoba.
Bob Herbert writing on 13 November 2007: (emp add)
Let’s set the record straight on Ronald Reagan’s campaign kickoff in 1980. [...]

... [a civil rights activist] traveled to the town of Philadelphia in Neshoba County, Mississippi, a vicious white-supremacist stronghold. [...]

The murders [of 3 civil rights activists in Philadelphia, Miss.] were among the most notorious in American history. They constituted Neshoba County’s primary claim to fame when Reagan won the Republican Party’s nomination for president in 1980. The case was still a festering sore at that time. Some of the conspirators were still being protected by the local community. And white supremacy was still the order of the day.

That was the atmosphere and that was the place that Reagan chose as the first stop in his general election campaign. The campaign debuted at the Neshoba County Fair in front of a white and, at times, raucous crowd of perhaps 10,000, chanting: “We want Reagan! We want Reagan!”

Reagan was the first presidential candidate ever to appear at the fair, and he knew exactly what he was doing when he told that crowd, “I believe in states’ rights.”
Back to David Brooks' assertion that having Reagan kickoff a campaign in Philadelphia was a benign attempt to reach out to Mississippi voters. That would make sense if Philadelphia was of reasonable size. But it's not. Today:

The population of Philadelphia is 7,303.
The population of Neshoba County is 28,700.

That's an extremely small slice of the pie. Assuming population ratios haven't changed over the years and with a 2000 census figure of 2,900,000 for Mississippi, we have Reagan going to a Philadelphia, a town with a quarter of one percent of the state's population.Looking at possible cities Reagan could have kicked off the campaign in Mississippi, with their percentage-of-the-state's population (recent numbers), we see:
  • Jackson 6.13%
  • Gulfport 2.50%
  • Biloxi 1.73%
And compare those with Philadelphia's 0.25%.

The point is that Reagan visited a tiny out-of-the-way place, as evidenced by the small population, not for its political efficacy (reach the most people) but to send a message. Of course, most people don't know what the population of Philadelphia, Mississippi is. If anything, they're aware Philadelphia Pennsylvania is a big city, and subconsciously think that Reagan was going to a place moderately large in Mississippi. But that's not so. And Brooks isn't going to set you straight.

Bob Herbert does refer to "the town" of Phladelphia (in the single instance where he mentions it!), but nowhere in Brooks' essay does he write an adjective for Philadelphia:
  • "the 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss."
  • "speech in Philadelphia"
  • "southwest of Philadelphia"
  • "straight from the Urban League to Philadelphia, Miss.
  • "in Philadelphia."


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