The Corner

West Virginia, 1960

There was an important West Virginia primary in 1960, when Hubert Humphrey tried vainly to beat JFK. It takes half a chapter in Theodore H. White’s The Making of the President 1960.

White was very tough on West Virginia’s political culture, which he called “squalid, corrupt and despicable…[belonging] to that Jukes family of American politics that includes Indiana, Massachusetts and Texas.” The reason was poverty. “Posts on local school boards are bitterly contested, from one end of the state to the other. ‘Hell,’ one local politician answered me, ‘curriculum? They don’t give a damn about curriculum, half of them don’t know what the word ‘curriculum’ means. School board means jobs….They’ll pass the curriculum in five minutes and spend two hours arguing about who’s gonna be bus driver on Peapot Route Number One.” White’s politician surely said Pisspot Route Number One, but the prudery of 1960, and of White, changed this, not even to Peepot, but to a pot for holding peas.

But then White goes on.

To this bleak picture of hunger and politics one should add, in all justice, a condition which most of us who reported West Virginia in the spring found little time to note: that these are…beyond doubt, the best mannered and most courteous [people] in the nation….their relations with their Negroes are the best of any state with any significant Negro population, north or south. The Negroes, being treated with respect and good manners, reciprocate with a bearing of good manners and respect….morever, these are brave people–no state of the union contributed more heavily to the armed forces of the United States in proportion to population that did this state of mountain men; nor did any state suffer more casualties in proportion to its population.

When I read the chatter of pundits about this primary, to say nothing of the snarls of commenters on political blogs, I think how liberals have changed, not for the better.

Richard Brookhiser — Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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