Books, Pop Culture and Political Humor from J.D. Rhoades, best-selling author, attorney, and award-winning newspaper columnist.
"Like [Lee] Child, Rhoades dishes out one airtight action scene after another, mixing in just enough character-building moments and holding our interest in a full cast of nicely developed supporting players."-Booklist
Folks who know me know that one of my biggest pet peeves is a badly done Southern accent. For example, don't ever ask me about the movie "Steel Magnolias" unless you want to hear a rant about the travesty that is Olympia Dukakis' attempt at a Southern drawl.
"Fake Southern" gets to me like fingernails on a blackboard.
But I've got to tell you, Mitt Romney's latest attempts at being "down home" as he campaigned in the South drew more winces from me than annoyance. It was just painful to watch.
I mean, the dude's got enough going against him being from Massachusetts (or, as it's more commonly known down here, "Taxachusetts"). The Bay State, like California, is one of those parts of this great country that conservatives, especially Southern conservatives, love to hate.
Plus, there's that whole "moderate" thing, plus the other "M" word (Mormon) that's guaranteed to make Southern evangelicals suspicious. As a friend of mine pointed out, the Southern Baptist Convention once spent more than $600,000 to send teams of missionaries - to Salt Lake City.
Still, I'm sure there were some people willing to put that aside, because they think Romney can beat Barack Obama in the general election. Unfortunately, when Romney tries to act natural around people who make less than a gazillion dollars a year, he starts behaving like some sort of badly programmed android sent here by an alien race to observe our primitive customs.
You may remember John Kerry's "who among us does not love NASCAR?" quote from 2004. As it turns out, Kerry never said that; it was entirely made up by columnist Maureen Dowd to mock Kerry's stiff speaking style. Dowd, however, could not have made up a more ham-fisted response than the one Romney gave when asked at the Daytona 500 if he followed racing.
"Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans," Mitt said, "but I have some great friends who are NASCAR team owners." That sound like distant gunfire you heard immediately after that was the sound of thousands of palms being applied to thousands of foreheads in disbelief.
Later, in South Carolina, Romney told a restaurant owner who offered him some of the establishment's signature dish that he wasn't "a catfish man."
Matthews has not been heard from so far on Catfish-Gate, which would be all to the good, except that now Romney's flip-flopping even on that. Campaigning in Alabama, he claimed, "I had catfish for the second time. It was delicious, just like the first time." Guess somebody rebooted the MittBot and added some new fish-friendly programming.
Of course, no attempt at pandering would be complete here in the South without some reference to grits, and Romney's no exception. In Pascagoula, he began a campaign appearance with a "mornin', y'all" that was so fake it made Olympia Dukakis sound like Randy Travis. Then he followed up with the claim that he'd started his morning off right with a biscuit and some "cheesy grits." What, no fatback 'n' hog jowls?
It's not uncommon, of course, for politicians to engage in cultural pandering. It's not even uncommon for them to do it badly, as Romney has (see "Kerry, John," above). What is uncommon is for them to do well by it, and the MittBot is no exception. He lost Mississippi and Alabama to Rick Santorum, even as his delegate count grows, increasing the likelihood he'll be the nominee.
Which leaves the Republicans with a potential Southern problem they haven't had to face in decades. Elections are often decided by voter turnout. General elections, as opposed to primaries, are often decided by being able to persuade not just your hard-core believers, but independent and moderate voters, to get out and vote. Those voters often make their decisions on gut feelings about whom they trust.
Will the true believers turn out to vote for someone they so clearly don't like and don't trust? Will the independents turn out to vote for such a transparent phony? Will dislike for a charismatic president hang on in an improving economy long enough to carry the day for the MittBot?