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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Underestimating Southern Demeanor

John Wayne wasn't a Southerner, but he had a firm grasp on the mindset of BEING from the south in some cases. "Talk low, talk slow, and don't talk too much."

In the generations following the Civil War (I'll refrain from calling it the War of Northern Aggression for this piece, but make no mistake about my feelings on the matter as both a Southerner AND a historian) the South has endured the hateful punishment of the Reconstruction era, repressive industrial practices that deliberately left the South agrarian during the turning of the last century up until the middle of the century, depictions of Southerners as uneducated, unsophisticated, and unintelligent by Hollywood (The Beverly Hillbillies and the more recent modern version of The Dukes of Hazard come to mind).

From Wikipedia (I know it's generally not considered a refereed source, but for general information, sometimes it's a great place to look for things):

The Culture of the Southern United States or Southern Culture is a subculture of the United States that has resulted from the blending of a heavy amount of rural Scot-Irish culture, the culture of African slaves, Native American culture, and to a lesser degree that of French and Spanish colonists. Southerners have a unique shared history, which includes remembrance of difficult times such as the institution of slavery, the Civil War and Reconstruction, the Great Depression, segregation and the Civil Rights Movement, and more recent events or tragedies such as Hurricane Katrina.

The South also hosts a vibrant African American subculture, a sense of rural isolation, and a strong regional identity. It has also developed its own customs, literature, musical styles (such as country music, bluegrass, southern gospel, rock and roll, blues and jazz), and cuisine. This unique cultural and historical blend has caused many scholars such as sociologist John Shelton Reed to speculate that Southerners are a separate ethnic group.

The largest group of Southerners are primarily the descendants of the Celtic immigrants who moved to the South in the 17th and 18th centuries. According to an 1860 census, "three-quarters of white Southerners had surnames that were Scottish, Irish or Welsh in origin." 250,000 settled in the USA between 1717 and 1770 alone. They were often called "crackers" [2] by English neighbors. As one wrote, "I should explain… what is meant by Crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascals on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas, and Georgia, who often change their places of abode." Most had previously lived in Scotland, usually in the Lowlands and Scottish Border Country. The "Celtic Thesis" of Forrest McDonald and Grady McWhiney holds that they were basically Celtic (as opposed to Anglo-Saxon), and that all Celtic groups (Scots Irish, Scottish, Welsh and others) were warlike herdsmen, in contrast to the peaceful farmers who predominated in England. Author James Webb uses this thesis in his book Born Fighting to suggest that the character traits of the Scots-Irish, loyalty to kin, mistrust of governmental authority, and military readiness, "helped shape the American identity," and indeed, these features commonly seen in the South have long been woven into fabric of American society and policy.

The other primary population group in the South is made up of the African-American descendants of the slaves brought into the South. African-Americans comprise the United States' second-largest racial minority, accounting for 12.1 percent of the total population according to the 2000 census. Despite Jim Crow era outflow to the North (see Great Migration (African American)) the majority of the black population remains concentrated in the southern states, and have transmitted their foods, music (see "negro spirituals"), art, and charismatic brand of Christianity to white Southerners, and the rest of the nation.

There has been much criticism over the years by both Southerners and Northerners alike of the negative stereotypes of southerners (especially those of the Appalachian regions) depicted in the media and in the general attitudes of some people from other regions. Critics argue that in this age of "political correctness" and sensitivity (especially taught in American schools since the 1990's) that the people of the southern United States are today one of the few groups that can be openly and "safely" ridiculed and discriminated against[citation needed]. This is primarily due, critics point out, to other Americans' lack of knowledge of the region and because of hostile feelings and prejudices in response to the south's history of poor education (in some areas) and racial problems. Offensive terms such as "redneck" and "hillbilly" are often used to pervasively blanket the entire region.

It is this mindset that seems to have shrouded Fred Thompson during the first stages of what is likely to be his bid for the White House. Critics, especially Northern critics, have labeled him as "slow, unfocused, and gloomy." Is it gloomy to present the reality of things to the American people rather than doing the standard dance of rhetoric? I think not, and in Jonathan Martin's Fred: Sober and Serious, I find that I'm not alone in thinking so.

Fred: Sober and Serious

INDIANAPOLIS — Fred Thompson thinks the country faces a tough road ahead and he's not glossing over the problems we face. In fact, he's anxious to outline the daunting litany and appears to be basing his forthcoming campaign on the assumption that his party shares the same outlook.

In a 25-minute after-dinner speech to attendees of the Midwestern Republican Leadership Conference here, Thompson offered a stark assessment of what he described as America's perilous condition.

"I simply believe that on the present course that we're going to be a weaker, less prosperous, more divided nation than what we have been," Thompson told the crowd in a deep baritone that rarely strayed from an even tone. "I do not say that lightly, but I think it's the truth. And I think the American people are ready for the truth."

There are three major challenges, Thompson said, and none are being given appropriate attention or sufficient commitment. National security ("our country's in danger; it's going to be that way for a long time to come"), the economy ("we are doing steady damage to our economy, that if we don't do things better it's going to result in economic disaster for future generations") and the polarization, cynicism and incompetence gripping the capital ("in order to have leadership you got to have somebody who's going to follow; our people follow, but they don't have any confidence in what's being said or who's saying it").

And Thompson's tonic for these thorny matters?

Well, befitting his still not yet being a formal candidate he didn't have specific solutions. Instead he returned to what he calls "first principles."

"I don't think the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are outmoded documents," Thompson declared, finally giving the crowd something to clap about after the gloomy bill of particulars was laid out. Federalism or devolving power to the states would help, he said. Also, the rule of law, the market economy, respect for private property, free trade and competition came in for praise — hardly dangerous ground among conservative activists.

Perhaps recognizing that all his rhetoric was depressing a crowd that given him a loud and extended welcome, Thompson said it was very much possible for things to turn around. "We know how to do that, we've done it so many times before," he reminded.

We do know how, and yes, we have done it before.

In my mind, Fred Thompson's greatest opponent will not be Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama. The greatest challenge will be in fighting Southern stereotyping. Fortunately, there seem to be enough educated people stepping up to the plate from other sections of the country to help fight this.

And I think we can surpass it, and Fred Thompson can win the Presidency.

Just the thoughts of a modern Southerner (and fellow Tennessean) who also happens to be...

Once and Always, an American Fighting Man

(NOTE: Instead of leaving you with the advertisements I usually have at the bottom of each post, I will leave you with one of the videos from Freedoms Watch) [30 second video.]

Wife who has lost her husband: