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The Nation: The South A Show-Me Attitude

4 minute read

From Atlanta Bureau Chief Rudolph Ranch:

Gene Hudson’s 500-acre farm in Warm Springs was one of the few places in Georgia where most of the talk was not about Jimmy Carter. Roughly 125 men had gathered at the farm on a chilly night for the monthly meeting of the Chitlin’ Club, founded in 1936. Between liberal swigs of bourbon and peach moonshine, the hardy souls consumed 200 lbs. of boiled hog intestines, which smelled a lot like a thousand dirty socks, and talked mostly of their bygone feats of athletic prowess. Said Hudson: “Most folks come to the Chitlin’ Club to eat and forget their worries.” But the talk did momentarily veer to Carter’s brother Billy. Said a brawny club member: “That Billy is a candy ass if all he drinks is those sissy little 7-ounce beers. Get that grinnin’ gentleman over here eatin’ some chitlins with us, and we’ll find out right fast how tough he is.”

Southerners elsewhere could hardly contain their pride in the first President from the region since 1849. Said North Carolina State Senator Harold Hardison of his friends’ eagerness to attend the Inauguration: “They’ll be there just as sure as a cat’s got climbing gear.” Added Shelby Smith, a retired building contractor in Helen, Ga.: “It’s been a long dry spell for us, and we feel a little like farmers when they get that first whiff of needed rain.”

More than regional pride lies behind the enthusiasm. Most Southerners think Carter will find the right approach to unemployment and inflation, the two problems that head most lists of priorities. They also share his views on cutting Government waste and overhauling the tax system. Said Atlanta Artist Charles Mitchell, who carved the 5-ft.-wide mahogany presidential seal that will hang behind Carter as he watches the Inaugural parade: Carter’s hit on a lot of things that I’ve been fussing about for years, and now he’s trying to do something. The commentators all say it’s not practical but I’m for him trying.”

Something of the same spirit was in evidence when James B. Hunt Jr., 39, was sworn in as North Carolina’s new Governor at a celebration that said a good deal about the South today. There were vestiges of the Old South: the official organizers served nothing stronger than nonalcoholic Catawba grape juice, though they tolerated hip flasks of bourbon and Scotch. But there were also elements of the New South: many of the majorettes in the inaugural parade were black, and at the ball, after some foot-stomping folk dances by the Grandfather Mountain Cloggers, the North Carolina Dance Theater performed an excerpt from The Nutcracker. Said Hunt: ”We have to involve people, and we simply must be more creative in asking them to get involved.”

Many Southerners are fond of comparing Carter to Franklin Roosevelt. Said Pulmer Harden, 75, over a belt-busting dinner of fried chicken and corn bread at Ma Hull’s restaurant in Atlanta: “He’s taking over like Roosevelt did, when the country is down and whipped.” Vanderbilt University Chancellor Alexander Heard makes the same comparison-limited though it is since the situation today is quite different. He thinks Carter may have the tougher job. Said Heard: “F.D.R. faced a clear crisis; Carter faces something more difficult: a chronic crisis. In 1933 the fiscal resources of the Government were almost untapped; today they’re badly strained. Then, federal programs were a novel way of solving problems; today we have the sense that even elaborate, well-staffed federal programs aren’t the answer. Finally, there’s an added burden for leadership today of having to prove integrity and good intentions almost every day.”

Nonetheless, Heard believes that “Carter is tough enough to do the things needed. My hope is that he is imaginative enough.” Added Janice May, a political scientist at the Austin campus of the University of Texas: “This is change, and change is for the best. I’m looking forward to it because Carter has a combination of backgrounds that we haven’t had before.” Still, most people are not letting their enthusiasm for Carter outrun their native caution. A century of disappointments and a traditional “show-me” attitude toward newcomers in public office keep most Southerners from expecting too much of any new Administration, even if it is headed by one of their own.

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