Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Accentgate -- bigger than they say?

Yesterday the Roanoke Times opined on "Accentgate," predictably criticizing Jerry Kilgore, not the "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" campaign of Tim Kaine and his supporters. On the surface, "Accentgate" seems like small taters, so why would a newspaper which everyone knows will endorse Tim Kaine write such a long editorial on the issue? Hmmm. Salt Lick thinks the reason for the sudden attacks on Kilgore is that maybe the real issue isn't the accent, but a danger accent-uated to the Kaine campaign.

Anyone who reads blogs, not just the mainstream press, knows that the mocking of Kilgore's voice gained its nasty edge because of the Kaine people's hints that Kilgore's speech was not only that of a "hick," but unmanly, perhaps even gay. Kaine's website carried admonitions that Kilgore was "weak and ineffective." His supporters carried the water on mocking Kilgore as "effeminate." It was a clever campaign tactic, to be sure. Certainly, there are a few folks in Northern Virginia who'd be put off by a "hick" accent in a governor, but Salt Lick guesses that the real intention was most likely to shave off a small percentage of Kilgore's votes among anti-gay rural voters. It didn't have to be many, just enough to help Kaine win in a tight election. And it put Kilgore on the defensive every time he opened his mouth. How could Kilgore, whose genteel speech and manner do indeed bring to mind "gayness," meet such a charge? A defense of "I am not gay" would become the Virginia political equivalent of "I am not beating my wife."

But a funny thing happened to the clever campaign tactic. The Kilgore people helped bring it about, to be sure, by emphasizing the "hick" part of the message. But what else could they do? S0, the "hick" remarks and cute little wink, wink, nudge, nudge, "gay" hints, took a sudden and unforeseen turn. Kaine's people and the media, laughing at Kilgore's difficult position like a pack of naughty schoolboys, shut up when the bottle rocket they launched at a rival turned and streaked back toward themselves.

Like one of the human-hosts in "Aliens," the clever campaign tactic of Kaine's people bore something unseen, something that erupted and threatens to cost Kaine the governor's election.

The monster was traditional values, the 21st century nemesis of the Democratic Party in the South, and especially in Southwest Virginia.

It's a fact that today's hard-core Democratic Party views people with Southern accents with contempt, or at least suspicion, and the reason is they do not share the VALUES of most red-state Southerners. Sure, sure, (calm down Barnie) not all members of the Virginia Democratic Party would genuflect if George Soros or Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy came to Richmond, but it's the reason Zell Miller abandoned his party in 2004. He knows who controls that party today, who gives out the money and puts up campaign signs, and who does Tim Kaine not want to be associated with?

Look at Michael Moore's "Jesusland" map. Look at the location of the red states mocked as blighted by an overfervent belief in "Jesus." Think about the values of the Northern Blue-Staters vs. the values of Southern Red-Staters. Now ask youself which values Tim Kaine wants to disassociate himself from -- those of "Jesusland" or the ones his own supporters want him to show more support for? The values of John Kerry, Ted Kennedy, and present Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean, or those of conservative Virginia? Who thinks Tim Kaine is going to run as a liberal Democrat?

Salt Lick thinks the values problem is the reason Virginia's mainstream media is suddenly mocking and downplaying "Accentgate" so vigorously. It's a strategy that has backfired, and backfired so badly it could cost Tim Kaine the governor's election among Virginia's traditionally conservative electorate.

When Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean referred to "White folks in the South who drive pickup trucks with Confederate flag decals," he clumsily voiced a stereotype. Salt Lick thinks Dean, though condescending and goofy, was sincere, in his own arrogant way. What he was saying was, "These folks are ignorant and bigoted, sure, but they may be redeemed if we can reach out to them and show them the error of their ways." That doesn't go over too well where people speak with a drawl.

Salt Lick had his first experience with this kind of stereotyping in Nairobi, Kenya, in the late 70's, while sitting around a bar with a group of fellow Peace Corps volunteers. We'd not been in-country long and had just come out of a session where Lillian Carter, Jimmy Carter's mother and a former Peace Corps volunteer herself, gave us a "pep talk" via international speakerphone. Later at the bar, another volunteer turned to me and said, "You know, I used to think all you Southerners were ignorant bigots, but people like you and Miss Lillian, you're alright."

Gee, thanks. And some of my best friends are black.

The Roanoke Times ends its article on "Accentgate" by admonishing readers that "Resentment is cheap and easy." Naw. Second-rate journalism is cheap and easy. On the other hand, dirty campaigning can be awfully expensive.