“The first thing you have to know is yourself. I man who knows himself can step out of himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.”—Adam Smith
Give or take a month or two, I have now been writing this column for almost exactly 40 years, which is a long time for anything, much less spouting off one’s opinions in writing.
Way back in the fall of 1977, I knew a lot less about everything, much less newspaper column writing, but I at least had enough sense (or luck) to properly name it—The Different Drummer. For those of you who don’t know, that comes from a poem by Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions…perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”
I named it that because I didn’t want it to be the sort of thing one normally reads in a newspaper. I wanted it to be different. And I named it that because even then I knew that the fellow who was writing it was.
I didn’t and don’t believe that my thoughts are better than other peoples’ but I did and do know that the process through which they are developed is a different one. I tend not to think about things the same way other folks do—a fact that has perplexed a slew of them over the years.
Readers have a tendency to pigeon-hole columnists, a trait that has only become more pronounced as the country has become more politically polarized over the past 20 years or so. In that time, I’ve been labeled as hopelessly conservative, wide-eyed liberal, pro-Republican, closet Demo-crat, and just plain crazy.
That’s because, to paraphrase Paul Simon’s brilliant lyric, “for a man (reads) what he wants to (read) and disregards the rest,” too.
But the truth is, I have been all of those things and none of those things. The prevailing sentiment today, based on calls and letters from my fellow Mississippians is that I am “just another liberal columnist.” But that, of course, is based on Mississippi standards and as such, may be true. But based on prevailing national standards, I am no such thing, and actually quite moderate.
Fact is, I am pretty much middle of the road in my political leanings—more liberal (but actually, even more libertarian) when it comes to social and cultural issues and more conservative on fiscal matters. I embrace common sense and despise stupidity—one of which appears to be vanishing while the other unquestionably increases exponentially.
As example, I don’t think that either the government or organized religion has any business sticking their noses in people’s bedrooms but neither do I believe in every social program that comes along and have long thought that (at least pre-Trump) ever-expanding deficit spending and its resulting national debt was the greatest single threat facing the nation’s sovereignty.
I love the Constitution and the rule of law and I hate hypocrisy and the self-servitude of politicians which so often embodies it.
And as far as the “crazy,” well, that can prove helpful from time in time to be at least perceived that way within the contemporary verbal civil war playing out almost continuously on television and computer screens in this country—as long as I know better, that is. As no less an expert on such than Sun Tzu so long ago observed: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”
And so it was while in the midst of considering all this that I received an email from a very nice lady on the Gulf Coast Saturday morning that made me first smile at what she said then laugh out loud at the idea of what so many other critics would think of it in reference to me.
Written to my newspaper, it said: “The (very fine weekly) Ocean Springs Gazette carries Mr. Mosby’s column. And my husband and I look forward to reading it. I am a little surprised but pleased that we get it in our paper. I think the column is sanely conservative. Actually, we are more the dreaded Progressives but his articles are more persuasive because they aren’t divisive or extreme.”
“Sanely conservative.” A self-described progressive (that would be “liberal” for the dim-witted) says she finds my columns to be “sanely conservative.”
And you know what? That suits me just as much as would a comment from a conservative calling me “sanely liberal” (not holding my breath as most around here think those terms mutually exclusive), because the key word is “sanely” and if there is one thing that both this state and this country needs, it is one big healthy dose of sanity.
I’ve tried to say that for 40 years. And like the Israelites, we’ve wandered in the wilderness long enough.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.