Saturday, 30 September 2017

'Last night I saw Lester Maddox...'

Born on this day in 1915 was Lester Maddox, the segregationist Governor of Georgia. Little cause for celebration there, but I'm not one to turn down an opportunity to play a Randy Newman song. You'll recall that Rednecks begins with the lines

'Last night I saw Lester Maddox on a TV show
With some smart-ass New York Jew*
And the Jew laughed at Lester Maddox
And the audience laughed at Lester Maddox too.
Well, he may be a fool, but he's our fool
And if they think they're better than him, they're wrong
So I went to the park and I took some paper along
And that's where I made this song...

* Dick Cavett, not a Jew.

It's also interesting to note that Maddox – along with George Wallace and most of the segregationist Southern political leaders – was a Democrat. How did the party get from there to the right-on moral high ground in so few decades?


  1. Perhaps they got there by beginning to take their cue from the New York sophisticates (sure, not Jews) in the song having noticed that they seemed to occupy the moral high ground so comfortably? They thought they'd like some of that too.

  2. Sardonicism in human form; what a wonder he was and is. Try his latest 'Dark Matter' and, with a hankie handy, look out for 'She Chose Me'.

  3. I know, I know... He's still got it, that's for sure.

  4. A lot of the Democratic Party in the south was quite conservative in most ways. Starting in about 1964, much of it found that the minimalist program of the Goldwater wing of the Republican Party was congenial enough that they could forgive the Republicans for Lincoln. In any case, neither party had then attained anything like the degree of ideological consistency its zealots aim for now. A Democrat from the Midwest or New England or California was not particularly similar to one from Mississippi. The Republicans had Goldwater and Reagan, but also Rockefeller and (earlier) Warren.

    Lester Maddox, by the way, did not run as a hard-line segregationist in the Democratic primary that in effect first made him governor. His opponent later said rather sourly that "Lester hit the jackpot on my nickel."

  5. Thanks George - very interesting. Rather a shame, isn't it, that the parties have hardened into such rigid ideological postures. By chance, Andrew Sullivan was on Radio 4 this morning talking about the alarmingly 'tribal' nature of US politics and the broader culture now. A sad development...

  6. Great interview with Newman by the Library of Congress here