Regional bigotry in bloom

Regionalism may be the last remaining prejudice that is “politically correct.” It’s perfectly acceptable to attack someone for being a Southerner. In describing the Senate hearings on Judge Sonia Sotomayor, for example, NPR titled its report “Sotomayor Grilled by Southern-Fried GOP.” The piece goes on to inform readers that “only one of the seven states represented by Republicans [on the Judiciary Committee] is a state that fought for Mr. Lincoln in the Civil War.” Not satisfied to leave their bigotry there, the package goes on to discuss certain senators’ “rich accents” that have “soft and expressive inflections of the South, even as they provided the toughest questioning.”

Now, I suspect that the typical NPR voice talent assigned to read this piece had no idea that his or her words reflected regional bigotry. If the broadcast copy had parodied Hispanic accents in this fashion, or reminded listeners that Sonia Sotomayor’s Puerto Rican people engaged in insurrections against the United States, he or she would have instinctively recognized silly as well as ugly bias. But when it comes to Southerners and Southern accents, there is no recognition of prejudice or restraint. Yes, South Carolina didn’t help Lincoln, so Lindsey Graham is a bad man with an even worse accent.

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I once spoke before a large civic gathering in Detroit on a Monday before Election Day, delivering an impassioned speech in my apparently Southern drawl for Bob Dole. The Democrat operative who followed me started, “Well, there you’ve heard it — the new voice of the Republican Party.” He didn’t have the guts to say the “accent” of the Republican Party, but that’s what he meant. Rather than dealing with the substance of what I said, or advocating for his ticket, he just tried to dismiss what I’d said with a big fat regional slur. The resulting murmur through the crowd indicated they’d caught his drift.

It’s not enough that the media and many Democrats are regionalists. Now it’s Republicans, too, with Sen. George Voinovich’s (R-Ohio) latest prejudicial rant. “We got too many Jim DeMints and Tom Coburns. It’s the Southerners. They get on TV and go, ‘Errrr, errrrr.’ People hear them and say, ‘These people, they’re Southerners. The party’s being taken over by Southerners. What they hell they got to do with Ohio?’ ”

The attempt to dismiss Republicans as nothing more than an irrelevant regional party has reached new highs. I read one report that was describing the Southern origins of Republican leadership in Congress that seemed delighted to point out that Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was born in Alabama. It was not enough for him to be from Kentucky, a half-breed border state. They had to plant him much farther south of the Mason-Dixon Line than Kentucky to make their case for Republican depravity.

The Daily Kos is even providing the faithful social scientific proof of the unworthiness of the South. Its recent pseudo-poll of those nutty people challenging President Barack Obama’s birth certificate finds that 69 percent of “Birthers” live in the South, 12 percent each in the Midwest and West, and 6 percent in the Northeast. Some Daily Kos-ers have leapt from this finding to open ruminations over whether we should allow jury trials in Southern states. “Nope, we shouldn’t let people like that constitute a jury of your peers.”

I wonder what Southern Democrats make of all this. Are they, too, tired of their party’s leaders bashing their homeland? Realize that Democrats hold majorities in both legislative houses of Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina. There are more than 500 Democrat legislators in other “Confederate states.” They must be the luckiest winners on Earth to have been elected by the Birther voters who didn’t even support Lincoln, or the unluckiest victims for being constantly bashed by their own partisan brethren.



Hill is a member of the research faculty at Auburn University and has been a Republican pollster since 1984.