Jewish World Review Dec. 29, 2003 / 4 Teves, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Southern discomfort


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | A few weeks ago at a ritzy fund-raiser for the Committee to Protect Journalists, my wife, Lisa, was introduced to a man named Steven Isenberg.

Isenberg was once Mayor John Lindsay's chief of staff. Later, he was the publisher of Newsday. Now he teaches literature at the University of Texas in Austin.

That gave them something in common: Lisa is a graduate of the University of Texas.

"Are you from Texas?" he asked.

"No. I'm a Louisianan."

And he said: "Well, you're the cleanest one I've ever met."

Reading Howard Dean's Christmas Eve interview in The Boston Globe reminded me of Isenberg. Both are New York liberals who now live among people they regard as their inferiors.

Isenberg thinks these people are too primitive to bathe. Dean imagines that they're too stupid to think.

The Dean we have come to know is the very model of the modern metro-secularist, a Christian so tepid that in the 1980s he quit his Episcopal church in a dispute over a bicycle path.

But on the eve of primary season in the Bible Belt, Dean has found religion. And not just any religion. That old-time religion.

He confided to The Globe that he prays every day, is a committed believer in Jesus Christ and plans to include his relationship with his Savior in his hitherto godless campaign speeches.

This will probably come as a surprise to Jesus. It will not, however, shock Southerners long accustomed to the Northern belief that they will swallow anything.

This assumption runs especially strong in what Dean likes to call "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party." These people don't believe in much, but they are fervent on the subject of their own superiority. To them, America's red states (as identified in TV maps on Election Night 2000) are populated by ignorant cowboys, unwashed swampies, hellfire preachers, beauty parlor bimbos, redneck sheriffs, Confederate flag wavers and retarded hillbilly kids sitting in trees playing the banjo.


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This picture of Southern inferiority, like all articles of faith, is immune to both empirical observation and personal experience. To guys like Dean, Dixie is and will forever remain a vast county fair where a slick Yaleman can sell 5-gallon jugs of snake oil in return for votes.

But that doesn't work, especially not in national politics.

There's a reason no Northern Democrat has been elected President since John Kennedy beat Richard Nixon in 1960 (in a contest at least as close and as fishy as the 2000 vote) or that only three have gone to the White House in the past century and one, Woodrow Wilson, was born and raised in the South.

You'd think that Ivy League Democrats would have figured out by now that they can't win the states south of the Mason-Dixon line or west of the Mississippi (or downscale from Zabar's) by transparent pandering. Howard Dean in the pulpit is like Michael Dukakis in a tank - at once ridiculous and insulting.

It's possible that Dean will do all right in the Southern primaries. If he does, it will be attributable not only to the weakness of the Democratic field, but also to the falsity of Dean's own caricature of the South. There are enough of his people down there - techies, yuppies, peaceniks, gays - for him to make a respectable primary showing.

But not enough for him to win any red states in November and certainly none of the Southern states.

If he goes down in flames, the Steven Isenbergs of the world will say, in their unguarded moments, that white Southerners were too dirty and dumb to vote for him. But that is wrong. A lot of them will vote against Dean because they are smart enough to spot a phony.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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