Sunday, February 01, 2004

Will Dean's Rebel Yell Resonate in the South?

Dave Shiflett writes on Dean's Rebel Yell on National Review Online. Surprisingly, I think NRO may have published something insightful. Since Iowa, I have thought that Dean's Rebel Yell (as I, too, have consistently called it), while shocking to many, mostly due to the press play it got, will actually be a long-term asset among many of the demographics which Democrats want, but have been unable to crack with appeals to self-interest alone.

The Rebel Yell shows that Dean is as human as they come. He has a never-say-die attitude, and the soul of a born ass-kicker. There is nothing that appeals to a southern boy more. I speak as a the son of generations of Missouri Ozarks red-necks; I know what my Daddy considered to be admirable about a man's character, and share many of those values. The 'Fuck You Boys' and 'Fuck You Old Men' demographics may not all flock to the Dean standard - Dean's foreign policy promises restraint, not cans upon cans of whup-ass - but Dean's Rebel Yell will give them all something to think about when it comes time for Dean to butt heads with Bush.

Every Southern boy knows, just looking at Bush, that his Texan facade is only an inch deep. For all his brush cuttin', truck drivin', dressed down, quail huntin' pose, the man's blood is as blue as it comes. But at least he's representing Southern manhood, no matter how shallowly, in national life. Dean, on the other hand, may have an affinity for Southern voters which belies his Yankee Doc, South Hampton, Wall Street heritage. Dean's got some genuine Johnny Reb in his soul.

One can see a certain in-your-face cussedness that drives him, even in the face of a damaging loss, to throw a Rebel Yell at fate. In the face of a return to under-dog status, and sudden reversal of fortune in his fight against a host of overwhelmingly powerful foes, Dean thrives; indeed, he seems to derive a deep satisfaction from the chance to prove himself against the odds. Southerners often see themselves this way, too. The more Dean unleashes his Rebel Soul, the more Southerners will come to admire the man.

This is not some simplistic, looking-down-the-nose anthropology. People do vote on the basis of cultural affinity and cues. Bush is a master of throwing out the right superficial cues, with his talk, his dress, his manner, and his bluster. That is how an East Coast establishment, prep-school, Yale-Harvard grad has managed to reinvent himself as a Southerner. The trick for Dean will be to never affect anything overtly Southern, especially not his overly earnest and disasterously analytical approach to including a faith component into his profile, but instead to simply let his admirably Southern soul shine through.

If Dean can demonstrate the personal qualities which Southerners admire - resilience, spunk, faith, family, love of community, and a self-confident bravado (not bragadoccio) - without attempting to don any self-concious trappings, Southern voters will respond. If Dean can make Bush seem like a phony in comparison, by harping on Bush's similar background, his ridiculous unproductive movie set of a 'Ranch', his little cowpoke-soldier costumes, and blustering braggart outbursts such as "Bring it on!", then Dean can make inroads into the hearts of white Southern voters and prime them for appeals to self-interest.

Kerry's mistake is that he sees an outburst such as "Bring it on!" as just another political message to be re-spun to suit his purpose. It is quickly becoming his campaign slogan. Huge mistake. It seems even less genuine in his mouth than in Bush's. Bush's outburst is fundamentally unattractive to the Southern mindset because it is a taunt, not a statement of defiance. The U.S., being vastly militarily superior, issuing such a challenge to the nearly chrushed resistance to our invasion, hasn't any élan; it is a spiteful and boastful pronouncement of a Yankee conqueror. It is a slap in the face by carpetbagging foreigners, challenging the underdogs to try to do something about thier unjust subjugation.

I'll be the first to admit that this reaction may not be the first impulse of Southern Fuck You Boys and Old Men, but I submit it will be the lasting one. Kerry's absolute tin-ear for the Southern soul will be his downfall. In fact, it may be his use of the phrase which drives home it's essential nastiness to Southern voters, but not to his benefit.

It is the mark of a great general that he is able to exploit his mistakes as well as his successes on the battlefield. Only the next few weeks will tell, but I suspect that Dean will be able to use the Rebel Yell to his ultimate advantage among Southern voters.

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