Thursday, November 02, 2006

Rural World Politics

Today's New York Times contains a insight-less op-ed written by Brian Mann, who it appears is a reporter for North Country Public Radio and has written a book about conservative rural voters which I guess makes him an expert on these things. Mann's piece is interesting for the mere fact that it is so uninteresting and provides no original analysis except to hint that old Karl Rove's 2006 trick-up-his-sleeve is an easily manipulated group of "heartland" voters that will head to the polls and crown their GOP standard bearers as kings for two more years. The problem is that Mr. Mann doesn't seem to want to invest any time into discussing why these traditionally conservative voters are actually starting to turn their backs on the GOP—perhaps it is because in times like these, cultural wedge issues that simply do not impact the day-to-day governance of America seem less worrisome but issues like prolonged war, healthcare and wage levels seem intensely important—and thus Mann would rather pass along historical rhetoric (he has the gall to call all-white, rural conservatives "often-overlooked" and a "minority" group) and regurgitate demonstrably false themes.

For example, Mann notes that, "a growing number of Democrats have awakened to the fact that small town voters matter." Does this make any empirical sense? Does anyone truly believe that Democrats have been ignoring small towns throughout the past several decades of national and local elections? No way. (And if you want to talk about ignoring people, let's have the GOP justify the way George W. Bush ignores real Americans who can't get tickets to his love-me-or-leave-me public events.) This "Democrats don't recognize you folks" line of argument is a giant myth that conservatives love to throw around in order to make rural voters feel victimized by the left and more sympathetic to their Far Right suitors. Sadly, it sometimes works. But the truth is that Democrats haven't ignored rural voters at all. John Kerry's pick of John Edwards as his running mate in 2004 was a significant step in the rural direction for Democrats—Edwards nearly won the Iowa caucuses with his plain language and genuine empathy that struck a deep chord with conservative, rural Iowans.

National and local democratic candidates have been trying to speak directly to rural America about common sense issues for years. The problem is that those issues don't get much play in elections anymore. We can hope that 2006 is changing that reality, but the GOP has tried extremely hard to change the subject. Democrats have simply been inept at employing an effective way to blunt cultural wedge issues and start illuminating their own solutions to issues that government can do something about.

One way to do this would be to stop providing such thick oxygen to these wedge issues in too-clever-by-half ways (i.e., Kerry's Mary Cheney debate moment or even Kerry’s recent “get stuck in Iraq” routine) and start asking the GOP to confront the consequences of their faith-fueled desires. Any Democrat could easily stand up to a Republican and ask:

What happens when we amend the constitution to prevent gay marriage? Homosexual Americans will still exist, and will need legal protections to visit one another in the hospital or will one another property. You cannot legislate people away. They are Americans. This isn't the answer, it creates more problems, and makes homosexuals vulnerable. What happens when we ban all abortions in America? Unwanted pregnancies will still exist, and these women will need legal protections to ensure their safety and health. You cannot legislate people away. They are Americans. This isn't the answer, it creates more problems, and makes women everywhere more vulnerable. What happens when no embryonic stem cell research is allowed in this country? Individuals with diseases and insufferable injuries will still exist, and these individuals deserve the pursuit of a cure to what ails them. You cannot legislate people away. They are Americans. This isn't the answer, creates more burdens, and makes the ill even more vulnerable.

At some point in time, once the plumes of the Bush administration’s fear and untruths dry up into minor drops of deceit, then the Democrats might be able to speak to our better instincts in such a way. Until then, they must shift the debate as much as possible and fight to get words of reason in edgewise. Democrats like Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Jon Tester in Montana, Amy Kobluchar in Minnesota, and even Harold Ford in Tennessee are doing what Democrats have always done when it comes to approaching voters in America’s small towns. They are speaking about real solutions to real problems that will bring all Americans to a higher ground. In 2006, their messages are breaking through, not because they have never been made before, as Mr. Mann claims, but because all voters are finally beginning to see the Republican party and it’s war President for what they are—diviners of a smokescreen of cultural and physical fears fully intended to hide cronyism, hypocrisy and failure.

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