Southern Belle Goes Navy
Meet Nancy French. She's not.


You’ll enjoy Nancy French. Hers is a delightful story of a southern gal transplanted to the northeast — you can imagine how the red and blue clash. This young wife and mother tells her fun and insightful tales in Red State of Mind: How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle. The former cow-tipper recently talked to Chelsea, Manhattan native, NRO Editor Kathryn Lopez about the book and the clashing cultures.

Kathryn Jean Lopez: What’s the difference between a catfish queen and a liberty belle?

Nancy French: I was actually a “Catfish Queen Reject” — after trying unsuccessfully to win the crown at the World’s Biggest Fish Fry held annually in Paris, Tennessee. I grew up in the rural south, believing the most glorious honor a gal could achieve was being the princess that ruled over the catfish festivities — which included catfish frying, catfish races, and the ceremonial throwing out of the first hushpuppy. One day, I poufed my hair to gravity-defying heights, smeared blue eyeshadow on with a trowel, and tried to win the crown. Only a few years later, when I lived in New York and then Philadelphia, did I learn the Catfish Queen was not universally lauded.

The Liberty Belle, on the other hand, was a DC Comic Book character who mysteriously received supernatural power every time the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia was rung. A superhero by night, a columnist by day — she fought injustice both with her super powers and her rhetorical skills. Since I lived a few blocks from the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and wrote columns for the Philadelphia City Paper and Daily News, my publisher thought it’d be funny to call me “Liberty Belle.” (I didn’t hide my identity under spandex and mask, though it may’ve been a good idea — my conservative columns weren’t exactly embraced by the City of Brotherly Love.)

Lopez: Who is the audience for Red State of Mind?

French: Anyone who would appreciate the humorous misadventures of a rural southern conservative who found herself stuck in the navy blue northeast.

Lopez: But you also seem to have been too liberal for your Christian college (but too oppressed for NYU)? Are there actual degrees of redneck?

French: Yes. I originally thought rednecks were those other people, with the Confederate flag on the backs of their pickups and the deer carcasses on top. In fact, I thought I was very sophisticated. (Paris, Tennessee, after all, had its very own Eiffel Tower.) Only when I moved away from the south did I realize that not everyone has gone cow tipping or worn a mullet. Yes, a mullet, but we called them “bi-levels.”

Lopez: Is there anything surprisingly blue about red states? And red about blue states?

French: Surprising blue blip in a red area: I now live in rural Tennessee — so far out that I can’t even get a pizza delivered to my house. So, I was surprised when I was driving through town and saw a new Dunkin’ Donuts — which is, of course, a terrible Yankee imposter that deprives Americans of the Platonic form of donut: Krispy Kreme.

Surprising red blip in a blue area: One of the (accurate) stereotypes of red states is our focus on Christianity. However, I found some of the best, most wonderful churches in Manhattan (Times Square Church) and Philadelphia (Tenth Presbyterian).

Lopez: What’s the biggest difference between NYC and Paris, Tennessee?

French: Dolly Parton put it best. In the south, we sleep several to a bed because we ain’t got no money. In the north, they do it because they ain’t got no morals.

Lopez: What was it like being married to David Lee Roth?

French: There were perks. If I ever ran out of hairspray, David would have a can or two on hand, but it was hard to get mirror time in the bathroom.

Seriously, though. I married a David but mine didn’t have a mane of blonde hair and bounce around a stage singing “Jump!” He’s a constitutional lawyer with hair that was blonde before he lost most of it. When we first moved to New York, my David’s identity was somehow mixed up with David Lee Roth’s. But for that story, you’ll have to buy my book and look for the chapter, “My Husband, the Gigolo.”

Lopez: Did you even know who David Lee Roth was? Aren’t you a country-music girl, being from Tennessee?

French: Although Johnny Cash is my preference now, David Lee Roth’s flashy unitards really appealed to me as a kid. Remember, I was the girl with the, um, “bi-level.”

Lopez: Is Harold Ford going to be the next senator from Tennessee?

I hope not, but I will say that Harold Ford is a scary-good politician. This is a guy who is the liberal son of a corrupt, Memphis-machine leftist family who has successfully recast himself in the eyes of many Tennesseans as the “values candidate.” Ford’s been different enough from the Democratic mainstream to sell his message of independence. To give you an anecdotal sense of Ford’s appeal, I just had to spend a few hours trying persuade a rock-ribbed evangelical Republican not to vote for Ford. He may be the only Democratic politician in America who is elected in part because he has complimented President Bush many times. In other words, I’m worried.

Lopez: Are Christians going to bolt the GOP over Foley?

French: Contrary to the MSM’s popular belief, Christians aren’t a bunch of idiots who run shrieking into the night at the first hint of sexual wrongdoing. Of course, we’re deeply disgusted over Foley’s behavior, and thankful he used the one shred of decency he had left to resign. But the war looms too heavily in our hearts and minds to leave the Republican party for those who would have us “dialogue” ourselves into oblivion and have disdain for all things Christian.

Lopez: Folks in D.C. are forever pretending that all women think the same that there are women’s issues, that there can be a National Organization of Women that actually represents women. Does your experience suggest something very different?

French: You know, I’m a woman. And I find it quite annoying that people don’t classify high taxes and out-of-control government spending a “women’s issue.” I also am appalled at the infanticide and gender-selective abortions that occur in China — now, that’s a women’s issue. Not nation-wide availability of female condoms.

Lopez: Why did you want to be a feminist and why couldn’t you?

French: I had a bad attitude when I was a young kid attending a small Christian college. I fashioned myself a “feminist” because I was under the impression the “patriarchy” was responsible for our midnight curfew, our strict dress code, and daily chapel. When I threw in the towel and transferred to New York University, I expected to be embraced with open arms. I thought I’d finally find my true home — the NYU Women’s Studies Department. Instead, my new liberal classmates heard my accent and considered me their “project.” To be a feminist in their eyes, I had to hate men, feel oppressed in my marriage, refuse to do the dishes, and have fewer sexual restrictions than Paris Hilton.

Lopez: Why do “Conservatives living in blue cities have to blend in, be extremely kind, and have the wisdom to know when to keep their mouths shut”?

When we lived just a few blocks from the Liberty Bell, we sent our kids to public school, played at the park every afternoon, and had play dates with neighborhood kids. For many months, I kept my conservatism “in the closet,” lest I alienate all possible playmates for the kids. (When we lived in Ithaca, New York, parents asked if we were gun owners or allowed “pretend gun play” in the house. That eliminated quite a few pals right off the bat.) So, I tried to blend in — not wanting to fight the culture war every time some one criticized President Bush. Eventually I realized this wasn’t quite possible, the Left being more evangelistic than Billy Graham on speed. On the day of the 2004 election, someone with a Mothers Opposing Bush (“MOB”) button asked me if I’d voted. Then, she narrowed her eyes at me and asked, “Who are you voting for?” She must’ve detected something in my eyes — sanity, perhaps. Finally, I started writing for the City Paper, feeling that if was going to be defending myself, I might as well have a larger audience than just the moms and nannies at Three Bears Park.

Lopez: You and your husband are involved with a group called Evangelicals for Mitt. Why would evangelicals vote for a Mormon for president? Would you take your unscientific assumption to the bank?

French: They’ll vote for a Mormon, just as they supported him at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Memphis. There, a bunch of Evangelicals combined with a few Mormons to propel him over McCain, Guiliani, Allen, Huckabee, et al, in the Hotline Straw Poll. They’ll support him because there’s not a millimeter of difference between him and them politically.

Just a cursory glance at the possible GOP field is enough to narrow down the possible candidates to one Willard Mitt Romney. Although Rudy is a national hero, his social stances are enough to make Christians crawl back into bed on voting day. And who needs Democrats when McCain’s disdain for Christianity is as transparent as a pane of glass? Allen’s campaign has imploded into a big glob of incompetence. Huckabee’s a good man, but few believe he could be a good president. Frist is a good senator, but is as exciting as Al Gore used to be — back when he was merely the inventor of the Internet and not a celebrated movie star.

If Evangelicals always voted for the “most Christian” candidate, Alan Keyes would’ve been nominated. The reality is, we’re a politically sophisticated bunch who pick the right candidate for the right time. And we’ve never needed Mitt Romney more.

And yes, I’ll put my money where my mouth is. If Gov. Romney is not elected in ’08, free Krispy Kremes to the entire NRO staff — courtesy of the Catfish Queen Reject.

<title>Red State of Mind, by Nancy French</title>
<author>Nancy French</author>