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Mary Pitt: What We Have Here........

What We Have Here........


by Mary Pitt

Who among us will ever forget the voice of Strother Martin as he stood before his prisoner, Paul Newman, and hissed the words, ''What we have here is a failure to communicate'', before sending him off to a sojourn in the ''hot box''? It has become a watchword in business, in government and in social intercourse of all types, but it is never more true than now, in the autopsy of the Democratic Party after the election.

The fact is that there is literally no basis for communication between the people who inhabit the "Red States" and the political leaders who live and work in, and communicate with the people of Washington, D.C, Los Angeles, and New York. They have no understanding of the concerns of those who are portrayed as "Rednecks" in the Jeff Foxworthy comedy routines. They jump to the erroneous conclusion that this group are as afraid of terrorist attacks as those in New York and that their economic interests are similar to those of the middle-class denizens of New Jersey or California.

This simply not true. Those "city folks" have no idea of the real concerns and the philosophy of life of those who live and work in the "Great Middle". This is not New England or even the Midwest, (a term given to that area which is neither in the middle of the nation nor even in the west.) Look at the electoral map. There is the "Old South" and the Sunbelt, but there is also that great red streak that runs right up through the middle of the United States, from Texas to the Canadian border. This section is not heavily populated, does not claim a lot of electoral votes, and is usually ignored by politicians in their campaigns.

It was a huge event when a thousand people turned out at the Lawrence, Kansas, railroad depot to watch the train carrying John Kerry and John Edwards on their way to Colorado, which was a "battleground state". They were not expected and so the order had not been given to slow the train down as they departed Missouri, (another "battleground state"), and began the long, boring ride through Kansas in the late hours of the night. When they learned of all those people who had stood in the rain some for hours, just to watch their train go by that Mr. and Mrs. Edwards returned the next day to speak to the people in Lawrence. The result? Thousands of people turned out to meet them and there is one little blue square on the electoral map where the majority of the people voted for Kerry/Edwards!

These are the very kind of people who made this nation what it is today, who work through feast and famine to keep bread on the tables of the nation, who suffer first and most from drought, depression, and disaster. Most will tell you that they are "religious" and they are. Who could not be when their very existence relies on the good will of a beneficent God who brings the rain when they need it and who blankets the winter wheat in comforting snow at just the right time? But they are not bigots. They do not hate "gays" or African Americans. They largely ignore that problem, since they have plenty of their own, though they are vaguely convinced that homosexuality is wrong somehow and "against nature", which is a cardinal sin in these parts.

While there are "corporate farms" that benefit from Federal farm subsidies as a major source of income, the family farmers feel that collecting from crop insurance means that they have failed in their work. Probably the greatest reason they continue to vote Republican is that they do not like to have to pay taxes! Income taxes are not the major problem, but the property taxes on their farm land and equipment that are levied by the state and county to operate the local governments and the schools are horrendous to them.

You see, these people lack only one thing, and that thing is "cash money". By the time they pay the bank for land purchase and crop loans, meet the payments and expenses for their equipment and vehicles, and pay their exhorbitant utility bills, there is barely enough left for property taxes. At the end of the year, they look at their books and see no profit. Now, these people are neither ignorant nor unconscious. Many, if not most, have degrees from the fine state colleges and watch the Chicago Commodities Market on their home computers. But they have a different mindset from those who dwell in the cities. They can sit at the supper table before a variety of fresh vegetables from the garden and prime steaks from the best beef in their herd, and envy those who actually earn a thousand dollars a week and do not understand why they have trouble surviving! It simply does not compute that those "city folks" have to buy all the things that they take for granted as a way of life.

In their political thinking, though they may be generations removed, they still carry a grudge against the domestic policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. While his reconstruction efforts and fiscal policies did get the country back on the "right track", he also took their sons and sent them to a war in Europe, which many still think was none of our business, anyway, though fighting the Japanese was necessary. They gripe about having to pay into Social Security while looking forward to a retirement when they can receive it. They appreciate the farm subsidies while bemoaning the necessity for them.

They will tell you that they oppose abortion but they are not militant about it. They will defend the traditional concept of marriage, but many have been divorced and re-married. Co-habitation without marriage is treated with a degree of nonchalance and the births of illegitimate children are announced in the local news with pictures of the proud, though unmarried, parents beaming mightily. Unwed mothers-to-be are given baby showers with all the fun and expectation that accompany such announcements from married ladies. Some young women do avail themselves of abortion without much condemnation and nothing is held against them for making that choice.

These are not "dyed-in-the-wool" Republicans. Many, if not most, find it easier to just "vote straight Republican" because THEY ALWAYS HAVE! They don't know who all those names represent because they rarely meet a Democrat and don't pay that much attention to politics anyway. They are much too busy minding their own business. They see no reason to care about Democrats because none of them bother to talk to them, to learn their concerns, and to give them the opportunity to be persuaded to change the habits of generations. Being in "The Great Middle", they are insulated from the concerns of the huge cities and see nothing in their simple lifestyles that would spur any "terrorist" to attack them. They vaguely disapprove of "welfare queens" but do appreciate the fact that there is a "safety net" for those who have fallen on hard times and condemn those who depend on this assistance for a long time when they could be working.

In short, this is the true "Heartland", the spawn of the hardy pioneers who broke the prairie and brought forth food for the world, primary to the health of the nation, ready to send their sons to war as a matter of course when their nation calls, swelling with pride when the flag is marched by in their small local celebrations, and ready, willing, and able to answer the call of need from anywhere. During disasters in any part of the country, donated truckloads of hay, animal feed, and necessary supplies are carried across the country in relief of those in need. National Guardsmen, firefighters, and other relief forces are sent to scenes of forest fires, floods, and other disasters without question. Many of them are very proud to have helped with the clean-up of the World Trade Center attack. When complimented for these efforts, they merely comment that they "believe in helping our neighbors".

Why are they not more effective politically? Why are they seldom visited by Presidential candidates? It's the "numbers game". Their sparse population brings few electoral votes to the table and they "always vote Republican". While currently a majority of them do precisely that, the margin is not very large, but the Democrats have never given them any reason, relative to their lives, to do otherwise. Until they do, the "Heart of America" will remain Republican red!

*************

Mary Pitt is a septuagenarian Kansan who is self-employed and active in the political arena. Her concerns are her four-generation family and the continuance of the United States as a democracy with a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people". Comments and criticism may be addressed to mpitt@cox.net .


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