Just watching the circus clowns performing in the GOP presidential debates made me realize what a mockery they made of the many serious issues the nation faces during the selection of a new leader. It brought back memories of what Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett had to say after the first televised presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon over 50 years ago.
When the historic debate took place I was in Hot Springs, Arkansas, covering the Southern Governors’ Conference along with some 50 other reporters from Southern states as well as some national reporters.
The Kennedy-Nixon debate has gone down in history as a key moment in Nixon’s defeat. He was older, and considered better versed in the ways of political debate. But Kennedy’s youth turned to great advantage as he came across on television as more energetic and sincere in seeking the office.
Everyone at the Governors’ Conference was so interested in the TV debate they were eager to watch it, and the next morning Barnett would be the first governor to be interviewed by the press. When asked what he thought of the debate, Barnett said, “I didn’t watch it – I went to bed.” That would rank among many of the bumbling episodes of “Rossisms” marking his career.
Remember, this was long before Barnett had his showdown with Kennedy over the enrollment of James Meredith, the first black student at the University of Mississippi. Significantly, Barnett, at a closed-door meeting at Jackson’s old Heidelberg Hotel, had in the 1960 presidential race mounted a know-nothing political force, seeking to get Southern states to give their electoral votes to “unpledged electors” rather than Kennedy in the Electoral College. The idea was to force the Democratic Party to turn back increasing opposition to segregation and other issues then seen as directed toward the South.
I recall having a 30-minute one-on-one interview with Hillary Clinton during the 1992 presidential election. She was making a campaign appearance for her husband in Mississippi, and we met in the library of Jackson’s Murrah High School. A subsequent column I wrote brought out the “Hillary haters” even then, who proceeded to send me angry letters.
During the visit, Eudora Welty hosted a garden reception for Mrs. Clinton attended by many of Mississippi’s literary figures, including Margaret Walker Alexander. Several Jackson policemen had been dispatched because the mayor feared an interracial gathering of this type would stir up trouble. But everything went down peacefully.
Just imagine some years later Hillary would become the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.
While the Republican candidates all want to debate military and foreign policy, none of them have actually fired a shot at any American enemy. That cannot be said for at least one former Democratic challenger, Jim Webb of Virginia, a former Marine who had been appointed Secretary of the Navy under former U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
Assuming that Hillary will win the Democratic nomination, she stands no chance of carrying Mississippi, but remains in an excellent position to become the first female U.S. president, having warded off her Republican hecklers in the recent Benghazi hearings.
As smart as she is, she is also a tough cookie.
Syndicated columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at email@example.com.