Cindy Hyde-Smith and the Left's Linguistic Quicksand
If you want to know how decadent our electoral system has become, a good measure can be obtained by examining the Mississippi Senate runoff election being held Tuesday.
At a time when the country is at a crossroads that may well determine our future for years to come, the issue at the fulcrum of this vote isn’t border security; it isn’t tax policy or the national debt; it isn’t health care or the economy. Nope, the driving issue (at least according to our beloved national media) is an off-the-cuff joke made by one of the candidates that had absolutely nothing to do with the election.
If you follow the news, you already know the joke made by Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith about her host at a campaign event: “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.”
You could certainly understand if opponents of capital punishment took offense at Hyde-Smith’s light-hearted remark -- she said it laughingly -- about a “public hanging,” but that’s not who was offended. Rather the entire Democratic Party provided its own private interpretation of the term and determined with zero evidence that she was referring not to a lawful public execution but to a lynching -- and not just any lynching but the lynching of a black man. Again, I emphasize, with no evidence. If there were any evidence in her history that Cindy Hyde-Smith is a racist, she would have been disowned long ago.
But Mike Espy, her Democratic opponent in the runoff, is a black man, and for whatever reason in our aspirationally color-blind society, that has invited the worst possible interpretation of Hyde-Smith’s remarks. Mississippi certainly has a right to be sensitive about its ugly history of slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow and more. No one can tolerate a return to that despicable race hatred. In the interest of fairness, however, let’s not jump to conclusions about the character of the woman appointed in April to the seat of Thad Cochran, who resigned for health reasons. Let’s not just accept the attack on her moral authority without making an allowance for the possibility that her words were innocent. Face it, the left has its own language and its own set of rules for using it, and Republicans tread on linguistic quicksand whenever they step beyond the bounds of progressive orthodoxy.
Consider how in recent weeks, for instance, the left has co-opted the word “nationalist” and deemed it to have as an invisible but requisite modifier the word “white.” According to the left you cannot be a nationalist without being a white nationalist. Tell that to black nationalists like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael. It turns out that adjectives do matter after all, but not to Democratic Party strategists hunting out any reason to paint Republicans as racists.
Which brings us back to Cindy Hyde-Smith and her maladroit reference to receiving an invitation to a public hanging. I don’t presume to know where that phrase came from in her consciousness, but I feel pretty comfortable asserting that because she is a politician — with a politician’s typical survival instinct — she would not have said it if, in her mind, it conveyed any reference to lynching or to race. Instead it seems quite likely to represent exactly what she said it did: “an exaggerated expression of regard” for the person who had invited her to the speaking engagement.
I suspect the colloquialism may have reflected the timidity expected of women of earlier generations when confronted with the harsh realities of public life — including a public execution. In other words, a genteel woman would prefer to be any place but a public execution, but if the invitation came from someone held in high regard, then the lady would put aside her daintiness and stomach the unpleasantness of violent death. This interpretation seems to make much more sense of Hyde-Smith’s casual remark than veiled racism.
Of course, you can certainly make the case that it was a foolish thing for a candidate to say, but that does not make it racist. “Public hanging” generally refers to a lawful execution, not to lynching, and there is ample evidence that public hangings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were indeed attended by those who had received a written invitation.
A well-researched essay on the topic appears on the Atlas Obscura website, with many examples of such invitations provided, and author Allison Meier notes that “the extreme refinement of the invitations seemed to be trying to take some of the barbarism out of death.” Now if we could only take the barbarism out of partisan politics, maybe we could start to put the civil back into civilization as well.