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Dissapointments that follow groundbreaking victories

By D. G. Martin
Posted Monday, September 28, 2009

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Chapel Hill, NC - Thinking about that presidential election still sends chills of happiness through my brain.

It was 1976 and my country had, unbelievably, actually elected a real Southerner, Jimmy Carter, to the presidency.

Back when I was growing up, nobody thought that a Southerner could win a presidential election. We were different from the rest of the country--outsiders and only junior partners in the government and in the Democratic Party. Our people might be nominated to the vice presidency from time to time to hold together the Democratic coalition of southern conservatives and liberals from the rest of the country.

Lyndon Johnson did not count. Even though he talked like we did, he was a westerner, and his assumption of the presidency in tragedy did not change the “rule” against Southerners getting elected president.

It was the election of a Georgian from the Deep South that changed that rule.

Today, we have gotten accustomed to southern accents in the White House, thanks to Carter, Clinton, and George W. Bush.

But I still remember when that door first opened for people from our part of the country.

There is something else I remember about those times.

After the excitement of the election was over, there was the letdown. Jimmy Carter was not a perfect president, and it did not take long for critics and opponents to fight against him and his programs.

With that criticism, there was a tinge of mockery of Carter’s southern roots, his accent, and the cadre of Southerners in his group of advisors.

I remember my reaction. “They are snobs. They don’t like us. They can’t get over the fact that one of us actually won the presidency.”

Maybe you have forgotten the resentment we felt when the intellectuals and the Washington insiders looked down their noses at the new president—and his “southernness.”

When they opposed his policies and ridiculed the way he ran the government, I sometimes took it personally. I even resented the attempt of the late Senator Ted Kennedy to take away Carter’s re-nomination in 1980.

Today, it is easier to deal with the memory of that anti-Southerner thread in the criticism of the Carter administration. Clearly, looking back, it was only a part—a small part—of the whole thing. But it was real to me. And there were a lot of people who really did look down on us Southerners.

That anti-Southerner snobbishness that was a part of the opposition to Carter really got under my skin.

For me it was ironic that all those memories came rolling back when President Carter recently spoke about the racist link he saw in much of the bitter criticism of President Obama. “There is,” Carter said, “an inherent feeling among many in this country that an African-American should not be president.”

The anti-Southerner/anti-Carter phenomena was not nearly as serious a matter as the racism/anti-Obama one that Jimmy Carter alleged the other day. It is not the same at all. In fact, part of the anti-Southerner prejudice that I resented so much was well-earned by white Southerners by their adherence to a system of racial segregation, prejudice and exploitation that is part and parcel of the racism that still bedevils us.

Racism will probably always play some part in the opposition to Obama and his programs. But it is not and will not be the major reason. Most of the opposition will come from people who disagree with his proposals, just as most people who fought Jimmy Carter were not simply anti-Southerner.

Those who support President Obama would do better not to bring race into the discussion. It will not help anymore than my ranting about anti-Southerners did to help Jimmy Carter when he was president.


D.G. Martin is hosting his tenth and final season of UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. For more information or to view prior programs visit the webpage at

D.G. Martin is the author of “Interstate Eateries,” a guide to family owned homecooking restaurants near North Carolina’s interstate highways

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Dissapointments that follow groundbreaking victories

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