HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. — If John Kerry wants to be president, he ought to come down South and ask us Southerners to vote for him. Say it nicely, and we might do it.
It makes us mad that Republican candidates for president have come to taking us for granted and Democrats have come to ignoring us. Give us a little credit. We don't put up forever with somebody blowing smoke and calling it incense.
Think about it. We in the South are ranked highest in areas we don't want (school dropout rates, illiteracy, malnutrition, infant mortality, poverty) and lowest on what we do want (educational achievement, access to healthcare, good incomes). It's clear as day that some things need to change. I've been building up a list.
Something's got to be done about the exploding cost of healthcare, and President Bush is not going to do it. You can tell by the new Medicare prescription-drug law - which prohibits negotiating prices with drug companies. That makes a lot of us mad.
The president came up with a clever name for his education initiative - "No Child Left Behind" - then didn't fund it fully. That, too, makes a lot of us mad. Water and air get dirty and wild places get ruined if nobody holds to sound environmental law. Mr. Bush cannot bring himself to make industry do anything that might cost money. That makes more of us mad. People can't pay their bills on the federal minimum wage, now $5.15 per hour, and we know the Republicans are not going to raise it. That makes many of us mad, too.
As for the famous religiosity of the South, we're not a bunch of snake handlers down here. A great many of us know silent prayer counts the same as spoken prayer and that nothing stops Americans from praying, or from obeying the Ten Commandments, anywhere they want. Many of us Southerners - Baptists, Catholics, Episcopalians, Muslims, Greek Orthodox, agnostics, and atheists alike - don't want the government meddling in our faith and don't want anybody's faith meddling in our government.
There's this, too: A lot of us have come to fear that Republicans either cannot or will not add and subtract. What is this about leaving the cost of the war in Iraq out of the 2005 budget? What is this about leaving our children and grandchildren a big fat deficit?
It's true what they say about us Southerners and our families. We love the kin. Many of us love the children enough to treasure family planning, even Planned Parenthood, which beats unplanned parenthood any day. Bush doesn't get that.
There are a lot of military bases in the South, and most of us love the military. We don't like seeing soldiers abused. Rural Southerners, especially, know what it means to "step in it," and we know Bush "stepped in it" when he invaded that country that had not attacked us. Some of us suspected last year he was barking up the wrong tree.
Now, to use another old Southern expression, "time has told." Not that we would cut and run at this point. A lot of us would, though, support a fellow running for president if we believed he intended to ask the United Nations and NATO, politely, to help us settle down that dangerous mess. A lot of Southerners grew up in small towns, catching on to the truth that sometimes you have to say you're sorry. We know that to keep, or make, the peace, sometimes you need to sit on the porch and make conversation - talking with folks, not at them.
Despite two decades of GOP power at the polls all over the South, if Mr. Kerry has the "common sense of a billy goat," to use another Southern expression, he'll consider this: Some Southerners might be ready to offer him not only a glass of iced tea, but a campaign contribution and an all-out effort come November.
Yep, we Southerners know all about the Electoral College and the "swing states." We understand the arithmetic of this election, but there are a few electoral votes down here. Kerry might pluck off enough to win. He ought to try telling us his story and asking us to help him get elected.
• Fran Marscher, born and raised in South Carolina, is retired editor of The Island Packet daily newspaper in Hilton Head Island, S.C. She is coauthor of the new book, 'The Great Sea Island Storm of 1893.'