What a joy it was to watch Sally Yates calmly counter the shrill Ted Cruz, his face all angry putty, with logic, reason and truth as she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee recently.
With kindergarten teacher levels of patience, Yates explained why Michael Flynn’s chummy relationship with Russian operatives made him susceptible to blackmail and thus a less than ideal choice to be national security adviser to the president.
Sally Yates, the attorney general who was canned by Trump just 10 days into his presidency to make way for elfin demagogue Jeff Sessions, gave a clinic in how to respond to abrasion without losing her cool or fumbling for answers.
That knowledgeable demeanor was important, but there was something else that made me want to write her a fan letter.
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Dear Sally Yates,
Thank you for being the smart Southern woman you are and for showing the world that a Southern accent, particularly from a woman, should never indicate a lack of intellect. Because, as you and I both know, a lot of people make that mistake.
Ms. Yates, I will never forget watching Holly Hunter in “Broadcast News” decades ago and being struck, as I left the theater, that this was the very first time in my adult life I had seen an actor with a Southern accent, a woman no less, play the smartest person in the room. It just didn’t happen. We were all Elly May Clampett to much of the world, great with critters and kind to the core but not particularly smart. That slow voice. Oh my Lord. Why can’t she just spit it out already?
Sally Yates — may I call you “sugar britches?” — each time you dropped that “g” at the end of a word, or let that syllable luxuriate on the tongue for just an extra half-beat or so, I couldn’t have been prouder.
Pop culture has done Southern women a disservice for years. There have been exceptions, of course. Sandra Bullock’s turn as the supremely Southern mama in “Blindside” was nobody’s fool although it was curious how her only women friends seemed to be straight out of the 1950s in their attitudes. Can’t have too many enlightened Southern women in one country club dining room, I suppose.
Last fall, I had the chance to talk to Louisiana-born Reese Witherspoon, who told me she yearns to develop movies and TV projects that, among other things, showcase smart Southern women. Women like you, Sally Yates.
The whole world was watching and you did us proud. I guess all that’s left to say is, “We ‘preciate it, y’all.”
Celia Rivenbark is an author and columnist who frequently writes about politics.