I had lunch with Jason Hill this week. Jason is a candidate for chairman of the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners and a connoisseur of good Southern food, as evidenced by the fact that he has chosen the Sweet and Savory Cafe as his ex facto campaign headquarters. I always knew Jason was a man of the people and he proved it by ordering the fried chicken livers, collard greens and black-eyed peas.
During our conversation, Jason revealed that despite exercising three times a week, he has packed on plenty of pounds during the current campaign cycle. I understand his problem. Politicking and eating has always gone well together in the American South. We can probably blame Andrew Jackson.
"Old Hickory" as he was called by his supporters, was the first American politician to declare himself the "man of the people." Back in his day, of course, only men could vote and Jackson knew that most of the men in the rural South, which made up his primary constituency, liked two things -- barbecue and whiskey -- and he made sure there was plenty of both at his political rallies. Candidates for office have been serving food as a way to draw a crowd ever since.
When I was a small child we were headed to the mountains for a weekend getaway. As we passed through Gainesville we stopped at a filling station across from a local park where Marvin Griffin, a candidate for governor, was holding a chicken barbeque. The place was packed. My daddy, Homer Huckaby, who never met a stranger, asked the attendant how he thought the race would turn out. "Griffin will go in by a three-to-one margin," the man assured my father.
When the Democratic primary votes had been counted, however, Carl Sanders won by a large majority. We were back through Gainesville a few weeks after the election and Daddy asked the filling station guy what happened. The unhappy Griffin supporter lamented that people had been "eating one way and voting another."
I love politics -- and I love eating, so I guess it's just natural that I have been a fan of both over the years. I never knew Gene Talmadge but his political rallies were legendary. Talmadge was elected governor of Georgia four times and once declared that he didn't ever want to receive a vote from a district that had street car tracks running through it. This was back in the day of the old county unit system, where the one-man, one-vote principal was not a factor, of course.
Talmadge was known to drive to the edge of a town in a Cadillac and then climb onto a mule-drawn wagon to make his grand appearance. There he would mount the stump, his hair askew, his tie blowing in the wind and his red suspenders shining. I happen to know where a set of his red suspenders happens to reside, but that's another story for another day.
Talmadge would assure the audience that "the poor Georgia dirt farmer has only three friends they can trust; God, Sears-Roebuck and 'Ol Gene.'"
Ol' Gene would lambast the federal government and the socialists and the communists and then a plant in the crowd would shout, "Tell 'em about Ralph McGill" -- or one of Talmadge's other local adversaries, to which Gene would promise, "I'm a-comin' to that!"
I bet it was great theater.
I don't know how many politicians still garner votes by offering barbecue or fried fish and hushpuppies these days, but I'm all for it. I like meeting with the candidates up close and personal and hearing what they have to say, man to man, when they are not "reading the teleprompter" so to speak. I wish there were more opportunities to hear candidates for local as well as statewide and national offices speak off the cuff and to get a feel for what kind of people they really are.
I have been to a few of the local forums but most of them have been fairly tame. Oh, well. Another sign of the times. We are getting too sophisticated for our own good. Life just isn't as much fun as it used to be and neither is politics. There just don't seem to be folks around like the "tree-climbing Haggards" of Danielsville.
Never heard of them? They were Madison County brothers who seemed to have nothing better to do than follow Gene Talmadge around and listen to his campaign speeches, over and over and over. For some reason they preferred climbing trees and watching the proceedings from an overhanging branch than the benches or folding chairs that were provided for such occasions.
Yogi Berra once said "You can observe a lot by watching." I have watched a lot of politics over the years and I have observed that you shouldn't trust a man who eats too high in the hog. I will never cast a vote for a person who orders French crepes or steak tartare or sushi or any of those fancy dishes that I cannot pronounce. A feller that sits down and unapologetically orders fried chicken livers, however? Well that dog will hunt, if you ask me, and I would trust that man with my money and my county -- any day of the week -- and twice on Election Day.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.