Last week my wife and I and our extended brood took a vacation in an area isolated enough there was (horrors) no cell phone coverage and, for a time, no Internet. The deep breath was palpable as if it were a massage of the inner lungs. Partisan politics at every level was stiffed-armed out of sight. In their place, William Faulkner’s “Intruder in the Dust” would have to do. I gladly took the plunge into the pursuit of the salvation of the life of accused murderer Lucas Beauchamp.
If one is ever fortunate enough to have the solitude and the concentration to climb between the covers of a Faulkner novel he/she discovers people and landscapes that are all clearly and exclusively Mississippi. Dusty roads through forested and brambled and vine-covered countryside carry simple rural people who are fraught with entanglements of relationships that belie any notion of such simplicity.
In such an environment, 51 weeks of political correctness, dodging of partisan bullets, and frustration at the nature and quality of government decision-making, fade into the distance. Instead, those anxieties are replaced by the human struggles that have been passed down from one generation to the next. By Faulkner’s telling, kinfolk and almost kin and even questionable kin manage to live their lives upon a stage with old unpainted dogtrot houses only half visible behind clumps of unkempt vegetation.
Thankfully, I have the advantage of having ridden the back roads of my father’s and Faulkner’s birthplaces near the Tippah/Union County line north of New Albany. The hills and creeks and thick woods of rural Union County fit Faulkner’s descriptions of scenery just fine. The same may be said of the characters populating Faulkner’s stories. They scratch out their livings as saw millers, dirt farmers, country store owners and traveling “drummers” of various wares.
One can imagine most of them darkening the door fairly frequently of little Southern Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Associate Reform Presbyterian or occasional Methodist churches in the area. The ability of the reader to identify people and landmarks today, that also seemed so vivid at the time he was writing, certainly adds credence to Faulkner’s famous quote, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.”
Alas, the week passes all too quickly, even if it did include “the longest day of the year.” Lucas Beauchamp’s problems, as intractable as they were, pale alongside a return to the work-a-day grind and balancing the checkbook. Sure enough, as the reception returns to the cellphone one discovers the peculiarities of reality have mounted up in our absence.
Indeed, it may take Faulkner-like stream of consciousness sentences to explain some of the news. For instance, one quickly notes the Federal Farm Bill, once easily shepherded through the United States Senate and House by the likes of Sen. Thad Cochran and Congressman Jamie Whitten, has been stopped in its tracks in the House by House Republican conservatives who wanted more cuts and progressive Democrats who wanted less. Solomon himself could not easily explain the successful blocking efforts of these two enemy camps.
Then there is news the Medicaid debacle in Mississippi is apparently drawing to a close, spurred on by an Ethics Commission ruling that held that there was no conflict of interest on the part of six Republican House members voting on the question of Expanded Medicaid. In the case of one member he could not vote in the affirmative, but only against measures leading to Expanded Medicaid. Thus, the issue of health care for those potentially affected by Expanded Medicaid will apparently have to wait for another time.
Ironically, those conservatives largely responsible for killing the Farm Bill are advocating block-granting a reduced Food Stamp (SNAP) Program to the states in much the same way that was intended for Expanded Medicaid.
Perhaps a long Faulknerian lecture on the nuances of human nature could shed some light on the machinations of the “loathsome, left wing Democrats and the incorrigible right wing Republicans.” Then we may know more about why these polar opposite camps can express disdain for one another yet coalesce to block public policy for opposite and competing reasons.
Where are you William Faulkner when we need you?
(Daily Corinthian columnist Dr. W. Marty Wiseman is professor of political science and director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government, Mississippi State University. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)