In Defense of the Arkansas Legislature
In its July 12th edition, the news magazine the Economist denigrated the people of Arkansas.
Attempting to surmise why 34 legislators had chosen not to vote on a bill to create a “Thomas Paine Day” in Arkansas, the magazine’s normally well-informed and contemplative writers took the low road. They decided that it was “probably because (the lawmakers) had no idea who Paine was.” The editors even added a caption to a picture of Paine reading, “Not too well known in Arkansas.”
Like the Economist, I have no idea why 20 members of the Arkansas legislature voted against the proposal or why 34 chose not to vote. But I doubt it had anything to do with their cerebral capacity.
Perhaps they suspected their constituents would look askance on a proposal from progressive Rep. Linsley Smith, who represents her left-of-center college town district well. Maybe they thought that maintaining the state’s triple-digit budget surpluses a more worthy use of their time than the dedication of state holidays.
The legislators may have been opposing the state holiday for simple political reasons. In a state where the overwhelming majority of voters hold religion in high regard, it might just be that the members of the Arkansas legislature knew Thomas Paine far too well. Honoring a man who described “institutions of churches” as “human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind” could offend the faithful who tend to show up on election day.
The Economist writes that “Arkansas already honors a clutch of people with eyebrow-raising beliefs: Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army, Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, Thomas Jefferson, who slept with his slaves—and Abraham Lincoln who, in his day, held opinions much less congenial to the South than Paine’s ever were.”
However, this list seems to have been manufactured and at least has some significant omissions. According to the Arkansas Secretary of State’s office, our state observes official holidays for only four individuals: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., George Washington, Robert E. Lee and Daisy G. Bates. The editors of the Economist certainly know who Daisy Bates was. Might the Economist’s omission of her holiday—as well as Washington’s and King’s—have been a tactical contortion to portray Arkansans as backward?
It would be appropriate for there to be state recognitions of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln in Arkansas. They are worthy. They were at least significantly linked to the state’s history, as were Lee and Davis.
Jefferson, of course, brought the land of Arkansas into the United States with his Louisiana Purchase. Considering also that he did do the actual work to make Thomas Paine’s thoughts a declared reality here, the Economist should cut him a break.
Lincoln seems like a stand-up kind of guy, too. Perhaps his giving freedom to the ancestors of thousands of Arkansans can help him overcome the stain, as the Economist would have it, of having offered Robert E. Lee command of the Union Army in 1861.
The belittling of Arkansas and its people may draw giggles from many of the readers of the Economist, but falsifying facts for effect and assuming that Arkansans are ignorant of U.S. history should be beneath any reputable media source. It should be beneath the Economist.
Attorney Mac Campbell, a native of Harrison, Ark., is a former aide to U.S. Senator Blanche Lincoln and was a Democratic candidate for Arkansas treasurer in 2006. Nothing tries his soul like slights against Arkansas.