Echoes From the Past

Commentary By Dr. Troy L. Kickler


A recent history column briefly described An Inch of Snow (1964), an out-of-print novel depicting a state legislative race in North Carolina.  It was more than entertainment depicting small-town North Carolina life.

“How so?”, the reader may be asking.   Well, a novel is a product of the times in which it was written. That means the author’s world and his or her society’s economic, cultural, political, or technological concerns are many times directly or indirectly stated in the work—even if it is one of science fiction. 

In An Inch of Snow, the novel’s fictitious speeches by Democratic and Republican candidates reflect the actual economic concerns of North Carolinians living in the 1960s.  The arguments offered are often repeated in print and on air and behind debate podiums and at dinner tables across the state.  They are echoes from the past. 

Below are a few noteworthy examples. 


On Campaigning:

“Bunker developed a special skill in the art of campaigning—listening to other people’s gripes.  Often as not their problems had nothing whatsoever to do with the candidacy under discussion but if a campaigner can listen with enough sympathy and act like he might be able to do something to solve the problem, he can win a vote.  A real good campaigner can listen to the problems brought about by a drought and leave the impression that, if he is elected, he will somehow bring rain.  The trouble with being a good listener is that it inspires the speaker so that he wants to go into infinite detail, which is not only boring but time-consuming”  (225).

“One of the big tricks of winning an election is to see as many people as possible, and Bunker certainly was doing this.  It was exactly the same thing every other candidate in the close contest was doing.  You don’t win elections with advertising, television, and radio.  What they do is remind the people who know you, or of you, that you are in a campaign and not to forget you on election day. What you have to do is get to the people so they will feel that they really know you” (226).


On Sales Tax:

“Friends, I’d like to talk about taxes a little bit and let you know that one of the reasons our people can’t have new cars, as they do up North, is because of the excessive tax load by which you are burdened.  You know, back in the thirties the Democrats passed the sales tax as a temporary tax, and today it is about as solidly entrenched as every other tax they’ve passed, and let me tell you, these taxes are numerous.  We advocate the repeal of the sales tax, which most hits the ordinary working man who has to buy shoes for his kids and tires for his automobiles.”

“And why are these taxes so high?  I ask you to go out and watch for half a day the number of state cars rolling down the highway, occupied by one state employee who is coming from nowhere and going to nowhere.  Those big new cars are expensive, and those employees are well paid.  That gasoline they’re burning doesn’t come free either, and that’s part of the place where your tax money goes.  If you ever go down to Tarvania City and wander through the various offices over in the Education Building, or in the Agriculture Building, or in the Justice Department, or in the Revenue Building, you’ll see for yourself the amount of work that you’re getting for your dollar.  I am not saying that all state employees are loafers, but I say that some of them who have been there forty years or longer aren’t real energetic and it is time that something was done about it” (262).


Candidates and Religion:

“I’ve often wondered if politicians as a group have any religion.  I know for a fact that they are generally bad about cursing, drinking, and violating the Seventh Commandment.  All this should make them the biggest hypocrites on earth, and yet I think they have some kind of religion of their own.  A man just can’t devote the major part of his life to public service without being inspired by something besides his immediate personal prestige.  The rewards just don’t equal the cost of time, money, and effort” (229).


On Licensure and Professional Occupations:

“Down in Tarvania City there are literally dozens of agencies authorized by the General Assembly for the so-called protection of the public. They way they work is to form a Board, appointed by the governor in most cases, and that Board decides who can practice air-condition, electrical work, veterinary medicine, or dentistry.

"I’m not going to say that it is bad to set high standards in medicine, law, or any service organization.  But I am going to say that these agencies are using their power to form monopolies in each profession."

"Oh, it’s good if professional standards are high. But unnecessarily high standards are a great deal more expensive to the consumer.  The way it is now, for example, you have to have six to eight years of college to practice dentistry.  That costs a lot of a man’s time and a lot of money and it greatly restricts the number of high school graduates who can seek to be dentists." 

"I don’t contend that the dentists we have are not of unusually high quality, but I say that the prices they charge are commensurate with their caliber."

"This leaves the average person with the choice of finding one of the scarce dentists and paying the price he asks, or having no dental work done at all.  And the same thing applies to electrical contracting and dozens of other fields of special skill.  About half the homes of Jefferson County are wired by rank amateurs because top-flight electrical contractors are beyond the pocketbook of the average working man in this country." 

"In setting high standards, these various professions have created a virtual monopoly in Tarvania, and it’s gotten beyond the point of doing more than the people than it’s taking away from them.”

"….What I would suggest to the General Assembly is that we allow varying degrees of licensing.  There is no reason a man should be prohibited from wiring your house just because he wouldn’t have enough know-how to wire a twenty-thousand volt electronic gluing machine.  There is also no reason why you shouldn’t have a dentist in your community with two years of training.  Oh, he might not be able to do major surgery, but he sure could patch the holes in your teeth and pull out one that ought to come out.  He could charge a price that you could afford to pay, and you wouldn’t have to travel half a day to get to him” (230-32).


On Community:

“Wonder what people enjoy who live far away from the place they were raised.  Who the hell wants to play shuffleboard with somebody who can’t remember when the Yawtaba flooded its banks in ’19 and again in ’34?  How can you enjoy a checker game with an opponent who has never fought you in a political battle?  I feel sorry for people who weren’t born and raised in Jeffersonville, and I’m glad I’m not one of ‘em.  How could some stranger appreciate Nell Coggins when he hadn’t seen her when she was the belle of Tarvania?  What colony of senior citizens, as they call ‘em in St. Petersburg, would ever get behind Judge Ponticorn and send him to the General Assembly?  They couldn’t know the years that he devoted to the service of his fellow citizens” (253).