Romney's Southern strategy: Admit he's a stranger
Mitt Romney is catching grief for describing himself as an "unofficial Southerner" during a Mississippi campaign swing. "I'm learning to say 'y'all'," he said. "I like grits. Strange things are happening to me." More proof of inauthenticity and phony outreach, his critics say.
The new comments are reminiscent in their awkwardness of his infamous "regular guy" gaffes, like his statement that he once had worried about receiving a pink slip.
But I'd cut Romney some slack on this one. To call yourself an unofficial Southerner is to admit that you're not a real one. He acknowledged that eating grits was a strange experience for him -- strange in the sense of foreign or unfamiliar, not strange in the sense of the banjo-playing boy in "Deliverance."
Even in the 21st century, Northerners visiting the South can feel like strangers in a strange land (and vice versa). Regional differences still exist -- in politics, religion and culture. One example: Southerners -- including teenagers -- are startlingly more polite than Northerners. Watch any TV report about a natural disaster below the Mason-Dixon line -- the victims usually address the correspondent as "sir" or "ma'am."
Romney's candor about his un-Southernness will strike some Southerners as endearing, perhaps prompting them to paraphrase Lyle Lovett: "That's right you're not from Mississippi, but Mississippi wants you anyway."
Or maybe not.
Photo: Mitt Romney waves to the crowd at the Port of Pascagoula while campaigning in Mississippi on March 8. Credit: Amanda McCoy / Sun Herald/Associated Press