"It's embarrassing for me to talk to people in other parts of the country. I think it could hurt our image down here. We had an image of everybody here being barefoot and bucktoothed with cowlicks on both sides of their head. ... We came a long way [in recent years] to try to diminish some of that." - House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, on his astonishment that the conservative majority passed conservative bills in the General Assembly, and his distress that that may usher in a minimalist approach to footwear, dentistry and hair care.
"I love runnin' barefooted through the old cornfields, and I love that country ham." - Loretta Lynn, on the delights of rural life in "You're Lookin' at Country."
"Image and a buck-50 is the going price for a cup of decaf." - Me, on the remarkably stable buying power of image.
They can't help themselves. When Democrats in Tennessee are out of power and badly losing one policy debate after another, they just have to lunge for the bumpkin button. You know the button of which I speak: the one that says Tennesseans are harebrained hillbillies for not grasping the indisputable smartness of gun control, a state income tax, unfettered government unions, etc.
But it's not only Turner and other elites at the state level who default to rube bashing when reason waves bye-bye. You see it locally, too. Mention conservative members of the Hamilton County school board, for instance, and the hick-hating rhetoric starts to flow like fondue at a meeting of the Maureen Dowd Appreciation Society. Don't even get me started on the snide suggestions that board member Rhonda Thurman's work as a hairdresser disqualifies her to utter an opinion in the presence of her betters. Check out how many of the online comments about recent Times Free Press articles on education savage Thurman for her occupation.
Politically, snobbery of the sort that Turner and his local counterparts propagate is suicidal in Tennessee. It's a gut punch to bipartisan millions who never thought they needed to apologize for enjoying the feel of grass between their toes, for inheriting crooked teeth, and for doing honest work that actually requires them to meet customers' needs.
But the Bordeaux chuggers would sooner risk further losses in Congress, the General Assembly and on school boards and county commissions than forgo the joy of making fun of country folks, much less admit that the objects of their scorn just might be their intellectual equals.
The class of neuron that regulates the ability to distinguish between intelligence and its shallow stepchild, sophistication, is the one that seems reluctant to fire in the brains of those who take this tack in brushing off anybody who questions them. "Dumb redneck," they reflexively postulate when they spot a heavyset guy with a thick drawl and a shirt that's a tad snug. (Actually, they'd consider "dumb redneck" redundant.)
Whether his ideas make sense is secondary. It doesn't fit their notion of how the cosmos ought to work that somebody who can't tell a petit four from a canapé - or somebody who cuts hair for a living, or somebody who went to trade school instead of grad school - would have anything rational to contribute to policy discussions. When they think policy-maker, they think of someone nicely suited, heavily degreed, and prone to slipping fashionable gibberish such as "paradigm shift" into everyday conversation as often as humanly possible.
And so, the rest of us politely give them a wide berth when they spontaneously combust upon discovering that reality isn't what they imagined it was, and that good judgment can frequently be found in the unrefined people they desperately need to believe don't matter.
To reach Steve Barrett, call 423-757-6329 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.