06 August 2009

The Voice of the South? "Errrr, errrrr..."

Senator Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican, worries that the GOP has grown too Southern. He raised eyebrows a week ago when he told the Columbus Dispatch: "It's the Southerners. They get on TV and go 'errr, errrrr.' People hear them and say, 'These people, they're Southerners. The party's being taken over by Southerners.'"

Commenting on Voinovich's remark, conservative-leaning columnist Kathleen Parker concedes that "Southern Republicans, it seems, have seceded from sanity." The proof of this is the large percentage of Southerners who question the President's place of birth and his eligibility to serve in office. The source of that percentage is the same Daily Kos poll that I tend to mistrust, but the Republicans have been turning into a Southern party long before that controversy arose. It may have been an inevitable outcome as soon as Richard Nixon adopted the "Southern Strategy" for the 1968 election. There are some Republicans (Mr. Right, for one) who still deny the existence of the Southern Strategy. There are others who try a more sophisticated argument, claiming that Republicans won southern votes by asserting law-and-order principles that had nothing, the apologists allege, to do with race. However it happened, the South, once "solid" for Democrats, followed the lead of the likes of Strom Thurmond into the Party of Lincoln, to the point where they seem to be driving others out.

As a critic of the American Bipolarchy, I see no reason why there can't be both a conservative party of some kind and a Southern party. The Founders expected politics to take the form of clashing regional interests, so the rise of a party dedicated to representing the interests of a particular region would, arguably, be less objectionable to them than the rise of the allegedly ideological parties that form the present-day Bipolarchy. It might also be a clarifying moment for self-styled conservatives to distinguish their fundamental principles and priorities from the prejudices of the old Confederacy. A conservative party purged of Southernism (though not closed to appropriately principled Southerners) might be less fanatical about faith, for instance. Southerners, from what I can tell, imagine themselves as the bearers of authentic American conservatism. The appearance of a conservative movement that repudiates the most obnoxious aspects of Southern heritage might make them rethink their assumptions.

But more likely the conservative media will backlash on poor old Voinovich and accuse him of prejudice against a geographical region. That "errr, errrrr" business may strike some as equivalent to white folks attempting to imitate the Ebonics of their own imagination. To be honest, when I attempt a Southern dialect, those aren't exactly the first syllables out of my mouth. In any event, neither a split nor a purge is likely, because both Southerners and those who resent their influence still want access to the Republican fund-raising machine. Each group most likely assumes that the Republican party belongs to them, but so long as people can't imagine alternatives to the two major parties, it's indisputably true that both these groups belong to the Republican party.


hobbyfan said...

Just a bunch of BS on a relatively slow news day. Many times when someone is interviewed on television, they punctuate their statements with "Uh". No one complains because when it's transcribed in the newspaper, "Uh" is usually edited out. To me, this is a non-issue.

Samuel Wilson said...

Given that there was no follow-up to "errr, errrrr," I think we can guess that Voinovich actually meant that to represent the way Southerners talk.

Actually, by the way, some people have made an issue out of "uh." Some Republicans want to rip the President for not being able to speak articulately without a teleprompter, and they cite how often he says "uh" when speaking extemporaneously. They feel this line of attack is fair because of the way the previous President was attacked for his illiteracies. Back in the 1960s, JFK's habit of saying "ah" (the Massachussetts alternative to "uh") was a godsend to impersonators and may have contributed to the idea that Nixon won the 1960 debates if you listened on the radio.

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