You may have seen a week and a half ago when Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank chided former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for beginning to sound like he comes from the South as he campaigns for president, dropping his g's and pronouncing "time" as "tahm," among other things. You might expect him to respond by saying that he really has no idea what you're talking about, and everyone drops a g now and then, but it's not like it was something that happened consciously. But nope. Minnesota public radio asked him about it, and he admitted it. Here's their story, which includes some rather vivid examples of Pawlenty getting down-home, along with some reaction from befuddled Minnesotans (via TPMDC):
In the interview, Pawlenty says, "Anybody who actually follows me closely or has looked at these speeches over the years knows that from time to time, I do that and it wasn't some sort of strategic decision for that group. I've done it in Minnesota, I've done it in other places, and so it's not some new phenomena."
So in other words, you put on this phony accent all over the place? OK.
The irony here is that what Pawlenty is trying to achieve by putting on an inauthentic accent is ... authenticity. We have this strange idea that being Southern makes you authentic and real, down-home, the kind of politician regular folks can relate to. Or at least Washington-based journalists who are not themselves from the South have that idea.
Though in truth, this usually applies more to Democrats than Republicans. There's a presumption of inauthenticity that Democrats are tagged with, that unless they come from the South, they have to prove that they can relate to the common man. Republicans usually get the benefit of the doubt, unless they demonstrate otherwise. It's assumed that the South and the things that are popular there -- NASCAR, country music, etc. -- are "real," while things popular in the Northeast or West are somehow not quite real. If you want to show voters how ordinary you are, you're supposed to stage some kind of event where you can nod to these cultural markers. Remember how the last Republican who had trouble relating, George H.W. Bush, made it known that he loved pork rinds?
As the NPR story says, Pawlenty "is from the South -- South St. Paul, that is." But did he really have a problem convincing GOP primary voters that he was enough of a reg'lar fella? I would have thought Mitt Romney had the inauthentic thing locked up, and everyone else looked real by comparison. But it looks like Pawlenty is going to give him a run for his money.