Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012...8:23 am


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The 1920 US Census marked a historic milestone in American social history: For the first time a majority of Americans lived in urban metropolitan areas rather than in rural or small-town regions. That was nearly 100 years ago, and in the interim the migration to cities and suburbs has continued undiminished.

So why are we still allowing a demographic anomaly — people in places like Iowa and New Hampshire — to kidnap and hold for ransom our political process? Most Americans are not employed in corn manufacturing or dairy production, so why do we allow those who are to set the economic agenda in presidential elections? Iowa and New Hampshire also are not representative of America’s complex racial, ethnic and cultural diversity, so why are we allowing their interests to create the grounds for our national debate?

Instead, as Frank Bruni pointed out recently in the New York Times (“Iowa’s Harvest”), the Iowas caucus serves as a distillery of extreme right wing activism, and the pandering politicians who love them:

AS the hour of actual caucusing drew closer, Ron Paul’s campaign trumpeted his endorsement by a pastor who, as it happens, has spoken of executing homosexuals. Rick Perry pledged to devote predator drones and thousands of troops to the protection of the Mexican border, making the mission to keep every last illegal immigrant from crossing sound as urgent as rooting out terrorists in Pakistan.

And Rick Santorum, bringing his “Faith, Family and Freedom” tour to this eastern Iowa town on Thursday, promised never to be cowed by all those craven secularists who believe that a stable, healthy household needn’t be headed by a God-fearing mom and dad.

None of these three men is likely to win the Republican nomination. But before they exit stage right — stage far right, that is — they and a few of their similarly quixotic, similarly strident competitors will do no small measure of damage to the Republican Party and no great favors to the country as a whole. What happens in Iowa doesn’t stay in Iowa: it befouls Republicans’ image nationally, becomes a millstone around the eventual nominee’s neck and legitimizes debate about some matters that shouldn’t be debatable.

The run-up to the Iowa caucuses, like the rest of the primary season thus far, has underscored just how much general nuttiness and moral extremism the party has come to accommodate, with Iowa serving as a theater of the conservative absurd. The state’s unrepresentative caucuses — in which a mere 100,000 or so of the most fervent voters, almost all of them white, are expected to participate — coax a Bible-thumping, border-militarizing harshness from candidates that’s a tonal turnoff to the swing voters who will probably decide the general election.

As Bruni observes, Americans generally and Democrats specifically would benefit from a reasonable, intelligent, and sane Republican party able to provide a healthy dialectic in our current moment. It’s too bad that our agrarian romanticism and small-town nostalgia, now almost a century out of touch with reality, continue to set the agenda for the national political campaign.


  • Tom, as one who has come from the east coast, I fully understand your point. But now I live in the heartland, and it is commentary like this that drive these people crazy. They take great pride in both their historic role as the breadbasket of America and in the current role they play in feeding the nation. It is a sense of being dismised by the urban “elites” that make them so ornery. Truthfully, the great industrial states like Michigan and Pennsylvania no longer respresent the average American either. Do we eliminate them from mix as well? And finally, out of love for my home state, I will argue that New Hampshire has grown much mor ethnically, economically and politically diverse in the last 30announcemet years.

  • The GOP have there own self to blame for this. They took in the Dixie-crats and gave into their racist and bigot ideology. Then came the constant hype from the Rush Limbaughs and sort. Fox news jumped in and stirred the pot further into an obnoxious brew of fear and hate. They give no news, just conjecture and hype, and a fear of the elite, a group, according to them, that read or listen to the mainstream news services.

    There is one good thing that comes from this. They have exposed themselves for what they are. When they get to the population centers, they will have to answer for the rants and rages they used to get the votes of Iowa’s pig farmers.

    Here in California, the GOP have slashed each other with who was more conservative, exposing far right views and in the end, cut their own throats. We are quite Blue and proud of it.

  • Regional pride is a charming virtue, but it is best reserved for state fairs and chambers of commerce. We are talking about setting the terms of debate for a national election. The billions of federal tax dollars spent subsidizing oil companies’ purchase of corn for ethanol is not my idea of a breadbasket.

    As Thomas Friedman noted this morning: ‘Right now, though, notes [Blair] Levin [of the Aspen Institute’s Gig.U project], America is focused too much on getting “average” bandwidth to the last 5 percent of the country in rural areas, rather than getting “ultra-high-speed” bandwidth to the top 5 percent, in university towns [like Ames, Iowa], who will invent the future. By the end of 2012, he adds, South Korea intends to connect every home in the country to the Internet at one gigabit per second. “That would be a tenfold increase from the already blazing national standard, and more than 200 times as fast as the average household setup in the United States,” The Times reported last February.’

    That’s what I mean by starting the national debate with parochial issues.

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