As I write this Tuesday, I have no idea who will be the Democratic nominee for mayor when you read this. As always happens in Jackson and Mississippi, it's been a tough campaign that has wallowed in the mud and brought out the worst in many of our neighbors. The Jackson Free Press started reporting the issues of this campaign and interviewing candidates months ago—putting substance before politics.
But the last couple of weeks, we have been trying to clean up mud, and expose who is flinging it. This is what campaigns often devolve into: dirty tricks. Since the JFP started, we've watched Republicans play the tired, disgusting Southern Strategy to the hilt to get whites to vote against people they are told won't help them.
In recent years, we've also seen Democrats pretend to be Republicans, and Republicans pretend to be Democrats. We watched a gubernatorial candidate line up against Haley Barbour as a pretend-elephant, presumably so he could throw the dirt at him, instead of the Democratic hopeful. We've seen lowdown people drop flyers pushing disgusting rumors about Crisler before the primary, and we've heard people we like say that Sen. John Horhn voted against the Mississippi Adequate Education Program. Then just last weekend, we saw Marshand Crisler supporters put out flyers on cars parked outside church accusing Horhn of trying to sell his endorsement.
Both Horhn and Crisler later denied this last claim, but the harm was done when someone lowered themselves to the point that they would pull such a trick.
And just today, three hours before the polls closed, we learned that Two Lakes supporters were the largest donors to a secretive political action committee that had not followed state law and disclosed members and donors (and finally did under intense pressure from us and Othor Cain to be transparent). That money was used to run fear-mongering ads about crime—so people would vote for Crisler—who has pledged undying support for the controversial, and exorbitant, Two Lakes development project.
Something's got to change. And it's about more than calling on people to be honest. It's about lifting the standard that we expect Jacksonians and Mississippians to reach. We've got to stop thinking we are second rate; that opens us up to being second rate and to being gullible to lies such as those hurled during campaign seasons. It's how we get mayors who make big promises to "pull the trigger" and "solve crime in 90 days," and it's how taxpayers get left paying the bill when boondoggle projects don't work.
We have to aspire to excellence, and we have to hold each other to those standards. We must reject what the Buddhists call "idiot compassion"—basically allowing our friends, families and co-workers to get away with idiot behavior because that's "the way it's done."
Changing this culture starts with each of us individually. We have to hold ourselves and our businesses to high standards, even when people dog us for it. For years now, the Jackson Free Press has not allowed "trolling" on our Web site—blatant lies and personal attacks posted by anonymous readers with an agenda or just to pick a fight. As a result, the dialogue there is held to a higher standard, and people know it's intelligent conversation even if they disagree with it. It is worth it even when people say we "censor"—nope, we're not the government—in order to have a high-quality, popular Web site with insightful discussions. Not to mention diversity.
This issue of the JFP is our annual "Young Influentials" tribute. We chose Jacksonians under age 40 who display that ability and willingness to hold themselves and others to high standards. They are willing to work hard and aspire to greatness. They are an example for us all for the very reason that they don't want to settle for what too many people think Mississippians are: second-rate. They are top-rate.
Each of us can be, too. Recently, I went to my niece's graduation from the Ole Miss business school, and I was inspired by the excellence pushed by the speakers. I was pleased to see that they were not pushing wealth as the only goal for the graduates; they were urging them to have well-rounded lives and work toward excellence on all fronts.
One of the student speeches was my favorite—with twinges of Eckhart Tolle and Buddha and Jesus, whether he meant to or not. He called for the graduates to "act now" and go out and conquer their fears. Or, as Eleanor Roosevelt said, you must do the thing you think you cannot do.
Persist, he said. Don't worry about the prizes—they may or may not come later. But the journey matters. And on that journey, do things right. And be honest.
Along the way, you must laugh at the world. Allow things to be reduced to their proper size. Over the last few weeks, I've watched grown men and women obsess over whether or not my editors chose a good picture of their candidate and whether or not their "afro" would scare North Jackson voters. This is not perspective. Back up; lighten up. Fight for what is right, but don't get lost in maniacal nonsense.
And, finally, the student said we should live each day as if it's our last. That means treating people well, not spreading lies about others to feed your own ego, reaching out to others, doing something that matters to the world. Be bigger than yourself. It's not all about you.
Don't think about tomorrow. It never comes. Think about today and what you can do that matters.
Sometimes what matters makes other people uncomfortable, and that's OK. Do the right thing and wait. Here at the JFP, we push for honesty and accountability in a city where politics just don't work that way. But we believe that we can change that climate today. Right now.
To that end, we want to work with others in the community to raise the standard of truth in elections, local government, media, even local blogs. We ask others to join us to figure out ways that people throughout Jackson can pledge to sign on to what we're calling the Jackson Truth and Transparency Initiative. This idea grew out of all the negative campaigning of late, and we believe the city is ready for it.
Please go to http://www.jacksontruth.org and lend your ideas on our community blog.
Folks, today is a new day in Jackson. We have a chance to make a new start. All we have to do is decide that we can be the best, and then make it happen.