Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Bart Hinkle on the Sandbox Campaign

Bart Hinkle, a libertarian-leaning columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in a piece he published yesterday, picks up on a theme I addressed in an earlier post.

Hinkle is concerned about the juvenile atmosphere being promulgated by two of the candidates for governor, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican JerryKilgore. The title of Hinkle's article sums it up: "Kid Stuff: Gubernatorial Race Resembles a Sandbox Spat."

Looking at Tim Kaine's not-so-subtle but indirect criticism of Kilgore's voice, Hinkle notes that one way of reading it might be that rural, Southern accents are off-putting to sophisticated voters in urban Northern Virginia and even Tidewater.

He adds, however, that there is a more insidious interpretation, one that until now had been most widely discussed among bloggers and only rarely in the mainstream press:

[T]he question of Kilgore's accent is a freighted one. Regarding it most political players know, but few say, the obvious. Here's how one Virginia blogger stated it: "He sounds . . . well . . . gay. Perhaps a less controversial word to use would be 'effeminate.' His speech pattern is stereotypically that of an effeminate gay man, and there's really no getting around it"

WHEN PEOPLE talk about Kilgore's accent, they mean more than the Southwest Virginia twang. Plenty of successful politicians have had a good-ol'-boy accent: Fred Thompson, Fritz Hollings, and -- oh, Ann Richards -- come to mind. But none of them sounds like "Ned Flanders meets Mr. Rogers," as the Staunton Daily News Leader characterized Kilgore in December. Kilgore's accent wouldn't be an issue at all if he sounded more baritone.

This is not exactly groundbreaking, either. Last year both John Kerry and his running-mate, John Edwards, made a point of calling attention to the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney's daughter is a lesbian. It was a calculated, cynical tip-off to the religious right, about as subtle as waving raw meat in front of a hungry dog. (And no, it cannot be justified on the grounds that Republicans who bash homosexuals have it coming; the perceived wrongfulness of the other side does not give those who claim to support homosexual rights a license to employ gay-baiting when it might serve them.) The Kaine camp isn't trying to impugn Kilgore's sexuality, merely his manliness -- perhaps part and parcel of Kaine's strategy to make Kilgore look weak and incapable of leading.
Juvenilia may be a hallmark of this campaign. As I commented elsewhere, by the end of the campaign, all we have to remember "is that Jerry Kilgore is 'weak' and Tim Kaine is 'desperate.' I guess that makes Russ Potts 'desperately weak.'"

It's the job of politicians to reduce their opponents to a single word: flip-flopper, lazy, liberal, theocrat. Ah, for the days when candidates spoke in complete paragraphs and made an effort to persuade, not bulldoze, the voters! Nostalgia, alas, does not win elections, any more than maturity and civility do.

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