WASHINGTON -- Southern writer Walker Percy liked to poke fun at Ohioans in his novels, just to even things out a bit.
"Usually Mississippians and Georgians are getting it from everybody, and Alabamians," he once explained to an interviewer. "So, what's wrong with making smart-aleck remarks about Ohio? Nobody puts Ohio down. Why shouldn't I put Ohio down?"
Percy, the genial genius, laughed at his own remark.
Now, apparently, it's the Buckeye State's turn to poke back. In a fusillade of pique, Ohio Sen. George Voinovich charged that Southerners are what's wrong with the Republican Party.
"We got too many Jim DeMints (South Carolina) and Tom Coburns (Oklahoma)," he told an interviewer with The Columbus Dispatch. "It's the Southerners. They get on TV and go 'errrr, errrrr.' People hear them and say, 'These people, they're Southerners. The party's being taken over by Southerners. What the hell they got to do with Ohio?"
Down South, people are trying to figure out what "errrr, errrrr" means. Jack Bass, author of eight books about social and political change in the South, speculated in an e-mail that Voinovich really meant grrrr, grrrrr, as in "growling canines whose bark scares more than do Obama's purrs, especially with the Dow at a nine-month high."
Whatever Voinovich's sound effects were intended to convey, his meaning was clear enough: Those ignorant, right-wing, Bible-thumping rednecks are ruining the party.
Alas, Voinovich was not entirely wrong.
Not all Southern Republicans are wing nuts. Nor does the GOP have a monopoly on ignorance or racism. And, the South, for all its sins, is also lush with beauty, grace and mystery. Nevertheless, it is true that the GOP is fast becoming regionalized below the Mason-Dixon, and becoming increasingly associated with some of the South's worst ideas.
It is not helpful (or surprising) that "birthers" -- conspiracy theorists who have convinced themselves that Barack Obama is not a native son -- have assumed kudzu qualities among Republicans in the South. In a poll commissioned by the liberal blog, Daily Kos, participants were asked: "Do you believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States of America or not?"
Hefty majorities in the Northeast, Midwest and West believe Obama was born in the U.S. But in the land of cotton, where old times are not by God forgotten, only 47 percent believe Obama was born in America and 30 percent aren't sure.