Southern Comforting

Howard Dean was obviously born north of the Mason-Dixon Line. He proved it with the well-meaning but badly-stated desire to "want to be the candidate for guys with Confederate flags in their pickup trucks." Howard, if you were a southerner, you would never call your future constituents rednecks! You would win them over by descriptions of your grandma's fried apple turnovers, or recalling a moment in which you begged Jesus Christ to help you, or by confessing your love for a Johnny Cash song. See, that's how I haven't gotten run out of my southern town yet for my liberal views. I bury that horse pill of Democratic leanings in a sweet potato soufflé of my genuine southern life. I refuse to believe that the South really belongs to the Republicans. I just tend to think that the conservatives mix the stuff that concerns the citizenry with a heaping spoonful of Dixie Crystal sugar. They sweeten that iced tea while a candidate from Vermont sticks a glass of Lipton Instant in our faces with two cubes of ice and a packet of Sweet and Low and tells us to drink it. It's just not the same, Howard.

Of course you want to be the candidate of the trailer park as well as of Hilton Head's Sun City. However, it's pretty obvious to me that you haven't read your Molly Ivins or even your Jeff Foxworthy. No matter how I feel about you, Mr. Dean, I have doubts that we're gonna be able to work this out. Wesley Clark did not tickle my innards when he announced his intention to court me and the others; still, the man has lived in Arkansas enough to be technically southern, even if he spent most of those years in the army. What's more, military life has a similarity to southern life -- you can't always say exactly what you think without a little obfuscation in order not to get folks all upset. My spiritual teacher Jill Conner Browne, head of the Sweet Potato Queens of Jackson, MS, said that if you really think that so-and-so is a complete psychobitch, you just say "that so-and-so, bless her little heart," since we southerners can't actually say what we think in polite society. All the women will know what we really mean, and all the men will still think we're nice proper ladies.

I have a great friend from Cairo, GA who often winces at the plainspoken and often harsh words of his girlfriend toward others. One time he just smiled at me sadly and said, "She's from Michigan, you know." We both knew what he meant. I might agree with her eight times out of ten, but she needs some tutoring. The south might be a hotbed of Baptist fundamentalism, but we strive to be silver-tongued devils.

Bill Clinton, love him or hate him or have those conflicted feelings like I do, knew how to talk to people. It's partly due to his manipulative politician scoundrel ways, but he was a southern boy, through and through. Whenever I hear Jimmy Carter speak on the radio I drop everything I'm doing, partly because he's trying to be a latter-day Gandhi-type and partly because I just love to hear his soft southwest Georgia accent.

One problem with George W. Bush is that he was raised by Yankees in Texas. No wonder he doesn't talk right. We have to feel a little sorry for a man who mixes up his metaphors, makes incomplete confusing sentences and, when he does get it right, must be looking at Bob Hope-sized cue cards and taking cleansing breaths in between each line. Still, he's our president. Bless his little heart.

Candidate Dean, you said what you did about those rebel flag pickups because you said that those people "ought to be voting with us because their kids don't have health insurance either, and their kids need better schools too." Now, no one's arguing that we need health insurance and good schools. While Bush is sending our grandchildren's future tax dollars to Vietnam, uh, I mean Iraq, teachers are teaching for free some days in order to keep schools running. None of my friends have health insurance except for those who work for corporations or the government, and the benefits of most have been cut during the Bush administration.

Howard, I suggest that you hush up about rebel flags this week and tell us some stories. When I have a waitress friend who begs her doctor for amoxicillin instead of the stronger zithromax because it costs one tenth the price even though she needs to get well fast, my trucking buddies are going to understand that as quickly as my great aunt. When I see a decades-old factory close, leaving hundreds of workers unemployed, because they can move the thing to China and employ slave labor so that Wal-Mart's profits are assured, the common man and woman can understand that something is wrong. When the richest of the rich prosper through tax cuts in a period of recession while the poorest parents skip meals, people will question the direction our country is heading. Tell anecdotes; don't preach about constituencies, Howard. The truth is, politics in itself is pretty boring, a bean counter's concern. Breathe a little life into it with some storytelling. Go Faulkner on us, and don't forget a little Flannery, because weirdness is what America is all about.

Otherwise, I'm going to be looking for a new dance partner at this political ball. I need a man who can not only lead me across the dance floor, but charm me at the same time.

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