With news that Ole Miss has footage of President Reagan endorsing Haley Barbour for U.S. Senate in 1982, I reckon reporters are burning up the phone lines to the archives. Expect that tape to spring loose from there any minute now. Mr. Barbour would go on to work for the Reagan Administration as its political director. Mr. Reagan would go on to be the president whose mantle future Republican candidates would most like to claim.
Ronald Reagan the candidate understood the power of symbolism, certainly the powerful symbolism of Mississippi. Mr. Reagan opened the post-primary campaign with a speech about states' rights at the Neshoba County Fair, in Mississippi. From the local Neshoba Democrat:
I believe in states' rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we've distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I'm looking for, I'm going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.
Whatever Mr. Reagan meant that day at the Neshoba County Fair, if you're a white Mississippian listening to that speech in 1980, you're only 10 years removed from the integration of your schools -- the federal government telling your state what to do. Remember, too, that in 1964 three Freedom Riders were killed in Neshoba County and buried in a local dam. It's history, and it happened well before Ronald Reagan showed up. But the last time I saw James Chaney's grave, his tombstone was propped up with heavy iron bracing lest anyone come along and knock it down. So it's history, but it's not over.