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Come on down South, John Kerry!

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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?

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