How Is Cindy Hyde-Smith Embarrassing Mississippi Today?
This is most likely the last time I'll write about Mississippi Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. She faces Democrat Mike Espy in a runoff election Tuesday, which she's favored to win because it's Mississippi. If tradition holds, Hyde-Smith will continue representing the poorest state in the union and voting in line with Donald Trump 100 percent of the time. She offers no suspense in the Senate so no one really cares what she does. She voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, but in fairness to her, she didn't tease us about it like Maine's Susan Collins, who required several "Meet the Press" interviews and a big, flashy speech on the Senate floor to make up her mind.
Now, if by some seasonally appropriate miracle, Espy does prevail tomorrow and, most importantly, doesn't vanish before the next session of Congress, Hyde-Smith will probably wander the state of her birth in perpetual shame. She'll become the political equivalent of the attorney who somehow lost the Daily Mirror's case against Liberace when he sued them for claiming he was gay. She certainly won't get invited to any of the good public hangings.
Either way, I plan to erase Hyde-Smith from my memory effective Wednesday, but while we wait, let's take a look at what the senator's been up to during the run-up to the runoff.
Friday, Hyde-Smith's campaign was rocked by the revelation that she attended a private school in Mississippi. The Jackson Free Press called it a "segregation academy," as though it's a segregation trade school, a sort of racist DeVry, but this is dumb. It's a private school. Yes, private schools mostly exist as a way for white families to keep their kids away from black people, but it's not suddenly a "segregation academy" because the school has a southern accent. It's not even just private schools, because public school assignment is based on your zip code. Outside the south, segregation was more subtle, but it still existed. There were usually "good neighborhoods" and "bad neighborhoods" with "good" schools and "bad" schools. No need to guess here how "good" and "bad" were often defined. Liberals in the northwest will often use this terminology without giving a second thought to what it actually means.
There are photos of teenage Hyde-Smith posing near the school mascot, who is dressed as a Confederate general and hoisting a large rebel flag. This is supposed to be shocking, I guess, like she was in some secret Eyes Wide Shut society, but this is Mississippi. That's what they do. It's like thinking you could derail the campaign of an Oregon senator by exposing their home brewing hobby.
Photos also emerged last week of an adult Hyde-Smith posing with Confederate artifacts (no, they weren't selfies). Her record is also as crazy racist as you'd expect. As a state senator, she promoted a measure honoring a Confederate soldier who she claimed fought to "defend his homeland." This is revisionist "lost cause" bullshit, but White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has dropped a few loads of the same crap. Confederate sympathizer Kelly is from Boston, where the Civil War is actually over. Down in Mississippi, it still drags on like whatever is happening in Afghanistan.
Republicans rely on the political might from Southern states with regressive racial politics. Hyde-Smith's initial gaffes drew undue attention to both the Senate runoff and also the state's messed-up history. It's embarrassing. House Rep. Ronnie Shows, who was Hyde-Smith's junior high basketball coach, is so embarrassed he can't even vote for her.
"I told [Hyde-Smith,] 'There's nothing I couldn't do for you, but I can't do this for you,'" Shows said.
Wow. I mean, I'd vote for my flakiest friend before I'd help them move, so this is really harsh. Hyde-Smith hasn't just lost the support of her friends. She's also lost the support of the friends who matter most to a politician, her corporate donors. A half dozen companies, including Walmart, have asked Hyde-Smith to return their contributions to her campaign. The most recent was Major League Baseball, which was also shamed into asking Hyde-Smith to return its $5000 donation. Mississippi, by the way, does not have a professional baseball team. Democrats get knocked a lot for receiving funds from "out-of-state liberals," but San Francisco Giants owner Charles B. Johnson and his wife, Ann, also donated $2,700 each to the campaign. We're starting to see how important it is to major companies like AT&T and Boston Scientific that the Senate remains in Republican control. When we're working to retire Sen. Collins in 2020, we won't let her spin our efforts as "out-of-state interests" trying to influence a local race.
The campaigner in chief arrives in Mississippi today to help "drag Hyde-Smith across the finish line." The New York-born Yankee is the darling of the former Confederacy because it was never about states' rights but white identity, and no one promotes that better than Trump.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.