Columns » Warwick Sabin

Southern Man


Others have stricter requirements. Gov. Mike Huckabee, for instance, thinks that Southern bona fides are established by professing an affection for NASCAR and hunting. Last week, at a "Sportsmen for Bush" event, Huckabee said that Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards doesn't "understand the South" because he said in an interview that he did not care for farming, hunting, or NASCAR. Remember, Edwards was raised by blue-collar parents in a small North Carolina mill town. He went to public schools and was the first in his family to attend college. After receiving his law degree, Edwards remained in North Carolina until he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1998. And for the record, here is an excerpt from the interview Huckabee ostensibly quoted: Q. Would you call yourself a NASCAR fan? A. I would call myself somebody who's interested in NASCAR, yeah. Q. You don't follow the weekly races? A. No, but I don't follow anything except politicking. Q. Do you hunt? A. I used to hunt a lot. Haven't hunted in years. It looks like Edwards is guilty only of being too honest. He could have said that he keeps up with NASCAR in spite of the rigorous demands of a senator's life. He could have taken the occasional trip to the duck blind, decked out in camouflage, for a photo that would be useful in campaign literature. But then again, why would a native-born, lifelong North Carolinian think he would ever have to prove that he is a real Southerner? Which brings us back to the question about what it means to be Southern. It used to be easy to use blanket terms to describe the region: rural, agricultural, low-tech, uneducated. Now things are changing. In a recent New Republic article, John B. Judis writes, "In states like North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia, college-educated white professionals and low-wage Latino service workers flocked into metropolitan areas like Virginia's northern suburbs, Florida's Orange County, and North Carolina's Research Triangle, where the primary products are services and ideas rather than industrial goods. These fast-growing, post-industrial metropolitan areas . . . have nourished a cosmopolitan, secular culture and socially liberal, fiscally moderate politics." Judis also might have mentioned Austin, Atlanta, Nashville, and some other Southern cities experiencing the same phenomenon. Not to mention what is happening here in Arkansas. The influx of "college-educated white professionals and low-wage Latino service workers" might sound familiar to residents of Northwest Arkansas, where Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods have a global outlook and reach; and Central Arkansas, where Alltel, Acxiom, and Stephens, Inc. anchor a growing high-tech sector. This is the new South, and Huckabee probably already knows that. After all, he has been leading the charge to consolidate public schools in rural areas, which has not exactly made him the darling of the NASCAR set. As the rural schools consolidate and the economy continues to change, more Southerners will continue to move to cities and suburban bedroom communities. Certain cultural touchstones will remain intact, and we'll continue to display our Southern pride by hunting, fishing, and watching NASCAR. But we'll do it on the weekends, in between business trips, soccer games and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. With this in mind, John Edwards is perfectly Southern. And our slimmed-down, salad-eating, school-consolidating governor is, too.

Add a comment