A Frivolous Attack Against Haley Barbour

Posted: Feb 07, 2011 1:50 PM
It's no secret that Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour is considering a presidential run in 2012, a notion that was reinforced last week when a Barbour aide told reporters to work off the premise that his boss is "running until he says he's not."  Still, like every rumored GOP candidate except Herman Cain, Barbour's actual intentions remain undeclared.  That hasn't stopped political commentators from engaging in the speculation and horserace scoring system for which we're known, paid, and in some cases, despised.  That said, there are responsible an irresponsible ways to handicap potential candidates, particularly in the absence of real news.  Debating how Jon Huntsman's qualified support for the "stimulus" bill might affect his electoral fate is reasonable.  Mulling whether the ongoing legal challenges to Obamacare could toss a lifeline to Mitt Romney as he confronts his own individual mandate baggage is a topic worthy of legitimate discussion.  Haley Barbour's southern drawl is not. 

Some of the thinnest "analytical" gruel we've seen so far in this nascent cycle surrounds the silly narrative about whether a governor with a distinctly southern accent has a chance to win over Yankee primary voters and caucus-goers in states like New Hampshire and Iowa.  RealClearPolitics' Scott Conroy has a smart piece out today defusing the meme:

Though his Deep South persona and good ol' boy reputation are often cited as significant drawbacks for Barbour in the first voting states, Republican operatives and officials in Iowa and New Hampshire point to a bevy of historical and anecdotal evidence which suggests that he could do just fine navigating the snowy fields surrounding Sioux City or shaking hands with voters at a Dunkin' Donuts in Bedford, New Hampshire.
Iowa State Senator Bill Dix, who remains one of the more coveted endorsements in the State Capitol among 2012 GOP hopefuls, said that the vast majority of Iowa voters are more concerned about leadership qualities than regional traits.
One need only look at former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's victory in the most recent caucuses to find the latest evidence that a Southern politician can be successful in Iowa. Southern presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush also saw their paths to the White House run through Iowa.

Provincial preferences and regional intricacies undoubtedly play some role in American politics, but it's insulting (and, as described above, incorrect) to suggest that the citizens of Iowa or New Hampshire are allergic to candidates who don't sound like them.  The vast majority of voters in all states cast ballots based on issue positions, leadership qualities, and electability.  The media's obsession with ancillary factors and shallow story lines is often an enormous waste of time.  The gold standard for this brand of vacuous political commentary may have been established by the Washington Post's Monica Hesse, who in 2007 wrote a numbingly inane piece about the supposedly unpresidential nature of Fred Thompson's name.  This is an actual passage from that column:

Say it out loud. Do it. Fred. Fred. In the South, Fray-ud.


It has the tonal quality of something being dropped on the floor, something heavy and damp-ish.

Waterlogged paper towel.


Fred Thompson didn't sniff the GOP nomination in 2008 for myriad reasons.  His first name was not among them.  Haley Barbour may, indeed, run for president, and may, indeed, fall short of winning the nomination.  If he does, his vocal tone and cadence would -- and should -- be a non-factor.  Let's move on.