Sometimes it’s not just Mississippi in a general sense that’s embarrassing. Sometimes it’s very specific.

Oh, good lord:

Republican presidential frontrunner Ben Carson announced on Friday that he has named former federal judge Charles W. Pickering to serve as his Mississippi state chair.

You may recall that Pickering made the news in the previous administration when President Bush tried to appoint him to the Fifth Circuit in 2001. This put him under enough of a microscope that troublesome things he wrote in the 1960s — e.g., a brief on how to amend the state’s anti-miscegenation statute to withstand Constitutional challenge — came to light. Politics ensued, and much was made of a 1994 case that could be turned in such a way to make it look like Pickering was soft on cross-burning (which is not a completely fair representation of the case, but all that’s public record easily read; draw your own conclusions). He got filibustered — probably more because of his pro-life position (and well done Dems for doing so) than his supposed racism — but eventually made it to the bench as a recess appointment until 2004, when he retired.

Anyway: The point here is not that Pickering is a racist. He’s not.

I mean, I’m sure he’s got racist ideas — he’s a 78 year old white guy from rural Mississippi; that’s a cohort not known for its progressive opinions on race — but his resume also includes taking actual personal risk in opposing the Klan (he required FBI protection at one point), so the national picture of him as a guy two steps away from burning crosses himself is egregiously unfair, and that ought to be obvious to anyone who even bothers to read his Wikipedia article (linked supra), or any coverage of his career not written with an axe to grind.

Moreover, my lay understanding of his bench career (aided a little by certain other family lawyers) is that he was broadly respected by folks across the political spectrum, and generally considered to be a better than average judge. Had he been a pro-choice Republican, my guess is there would’ve been no filibuster; because he was a conservative lawyer in the 1960s who wrote some stupid things, though, there was the material there to manufacture outrage and make the filibuster easier to pull off.

However, I don’t have to resort to research to know that Charles Pickering isn’t a firebrand racist, and to therefore draw the reasonable conclusion that of all the nutty things Carson has done, this isn’t one of them.

I know this because I know Charles Pickering personally. Charles is my cousin.

Specifically, he’s my grandfather’s first cousin, though because my great-grandmother was one of many siblings spread over many years, he’s about the same age as my mother. (I think this makes him my first cousin twice removed, but nobody knows what that means.) I’ve been in his house a hundred times, most recently in March after my grandfather’s sister Ruth died and we had a wake of sorts for her there (pics, if you’re curious, here; this one is of him).

Despite what ThinkProgress and other organs have written, Charles Pickering is a decent man. He’s got terrible politics, though, that are filtered through an apparently severely right wing and somewhat fundamentalist lens — which is to say that he’s a GREAT hire for Carson. The baffling thing here, and the thing that’s frankly embarrassing, is that my bright, intelligent cousin has been taken in by the bumbling goofball Carson.

This isn’t new. At the wake I mentioned above, I was seated close enough to him at lunch to hear him extolling Carson’s virtues to one of Ruth’s sons-in-law, an accomplished businessman and French national who, I assume, is with us in the rational world shaking our heads at the freakshow that is the GOP primary. (I’ve never talked politics with Patrick, but my assumption is that he makes me look like a Republican.)

So the tl;dr here is that:

A. The progressive coverage of this is lazy and reductive about who Charles actually is, which is kind of darkly hilarious — think about it: if indeed my cousin were a lifelong bigot and segregationist, why on EARTH would he be working to put another black man in the White House?

B. How the hell does someone like Carson convince smart people to help him and vote for him? It’s fucking depressing.

C. I am, once again, in the position of being embarrassed by something in Mississippi. Sigh.

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