Makin' Their Way, the Only Way They Know How

You can argue that supposedly important cultural divisions like "Red America vs. Blue America" are not really rending our nation asunder. But one thing has always been clear: While it may not be easy to get a precise measure of who hates whom more, there is a significant difference in who's doing the complaining.

Here's what I mean: Folks in the "heartland" are convinced that when coastal elitists get together at their swanky Upper West Side soirées, there is much talk of the provincialism of the rubes in flyover country. And maybe there is. Southerners are sure (and have been sure since about, oh, 1750) that Northerners think they're a bunch of inbred hicks wearing overalls with no shirts. And maybe they do. But here's what you almost never see: Politicians from the North or the coasts, their voices dripping with contempt, telling their constituents that people who live in a different area of the country are worthy of scorn.

In 2004, George W. Bush routinely mocked Massachusetts, the home of his opponent John Kerry; but Kerry was never dumb enough to make fun of Texas (imagine the reaction if he had). Sarah Palin talks a lot about how people in the heartland and people who live in small towns are the "real Americans," which of course means the rest of us are not. Southern politicians are far more likely to claim that they, and not their opponents, have "South Carolina values" or "Alabama values" or "Kentucky values," which are presumably superior to those values in evidence elsewhere. Every once in a while you'll catch a candidate claiming to have, say, "Connecticut values," but when they do it sounds kind of silly.

Which is why this ad that Jonathan Chait points us to, from Massachusetts governor candidate Tim Cahill, is so unusual. Cahill strikes back against ads run against him by the Republican Governors Association by going after the head of that group, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. And he does it in a fashion that a Southerner would appreciate: He mocks Barbour not just for being a former tobacco lobbyist who's buddies with George W. Bush but also for where he's from. The ad even uses the theme from the Dukes of Hazzard as a soundtrack.

How effective will it be? Massachusetts voters are probably unfavorably inclined toward a walking caricature like Barbour, a portly, cigar-chomping, Confederacy-pining Mississippi tobacco lobbyist with a drawl thicker than molasses. On the other hand, resentment of people from other parts of the country isn't quite the cultural identity definer up there that it is back where Barbour comes from. Certainly an interesting development, though.

-- Paul Waldman

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