Monday, July 30, 2012

Putting Rubel Phillips and the modern Mississippi Republican Party into proper perspective

The week before last, James Hendrix over at Jackson Jambalaya published a piece about Rubel Phillips, the man who made the first serious runs for statewide elective office in Mississippi as a Republican. Phillips is regarded by many as the founder of the modern Mississippi Republican Party. (The modern Mississippi Republican Party is much different than the Mississippi Republican Party that last held sway during Reconstruction. The current Mississippi Republican Party, the one who claims Rubel Phillips for a founder, is lily white.)

Hendrix's piece is mostly a republication of a speech by Ambassador John Palmer. Ambassador Palmer knew Mr. Phillips for a long time, and grew to be a close friend of his. The speech was given at a function (presumably Republican in nature) honoring Phillips as a pioneer of the modern Mississippi Republican Party. It is a glowing endorsement of the man, and should be, considering the nature of the event and Palmer's status as Phillips' longtime friend.

But there's much more to the picture of Rubel Phillips than what Ambassador Palmer painted. Most importantly, Mr. Phillips wasn't exactly a racial moderate in his first run for governor, and the stances he took in his second race probably wouldn't be endorsed by a majority of modern Mississippi Republicans. This is worth a much closer look.
For example, here's a Rubel Phillips quote from his first run for governor in 1963:
"I was born a segregationist, I am for segregation now, and I will be for segregation when I die."
His campaign song that year had the following lyrics:
"Rubel, Rubel, We're all rebels, Fighting for our native land, Against the Kennedy carpetbaggers, Bobby, Jack, and all the clan."
He also backed Gov. Ross Barnett in 1962 when Barnett attempted to block James Meredith's admission to Ole Miss, said claims that he was a closet integrationist were the farthest thing from the truth, and used as his slogan "K.O. the Kennedys". Not exactly a racial moderate in 1963.

Phillips changed his tune in 1967, however, and ran as a racial moderate. He even gained the support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that year.  Good on him for that.

Now let's look at something Ambassador Palmer said in praise of Phillips for the 1967 campaign:
I remember seeing him on television saying that ‘Congressman Williams is telling you we’re never going to integrate schools. I’m not going to tell you that, because we ARE going to integrate schools.’ Rubel said, and I’m paraphrasing this, that, ‘You know, when you reach down and help someone – you help the poor and underprivileged– when you do that, you help yourself. And that is what we must do to give a fair and equal education, to create an equal opportunity to work and make a living, to ensure justice and respect in the courts of law. That helps everyone, but it starts with those of us who can lend a hand to help out those who need a hand.'
A Republican running for statewide office today who kicked off his or her campaign with a quote like "You know, when you reach down and help someone – you help the poor and underprivileged– when you do that, you help yourself" or used the campaign theme of "Equal Education, Equal Pay, and Equal Justice" would be branded a socialist and beaten in a primary by a ratio of around 75-1. But that's OK, because the second incarnation of Rubel Phillips isn't really the father of the modern Mississippi Republican Party. His opponent that year, John Bell Williams, was the conservative in that race and would be much more comfortable in today's Mississippi Republican Party. Just ask Rep. Bobby Shows (R - Ellisville).

But you know what? Maybe the Mississippi Republican Party is right to claim Mr. Phillips as its founder. After all, he was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy for lying to the SEC in connection with a $40M stock deal, and inflating numbers on earnings reports is a very Republican thing to do. So that makes sense. There's more than a touch of irony here, though. You see, Mr. Phillips was a lawyer and was disbarred by the Mississippi Supreme Court for a period of two years as a result of his conviction and prison sentence. That makes me think of some other lawyers who have gotten in trouble lately, the modern Mississippi Republican Party, and glass houses.

1 comment:

Stog said...

If you're going to dredge up Rubel's stock issue, why not do a full story on what it was and who else was involved?