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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What Happened to the Politics of Small Town America?

Maybe you can help me. As you may or may not know, I grew up in a relatively small town (just under 4,000 people) in Northern California. So I have always been somewhat attuned to the GOP's use of small town America in its political rhetoric (Democrats do this too, but not as much). Much to the chagrin of city folk, small town America has always been held up as an ideal:

why is it OK to disrespect big city values, even to suggest — as Bush has — that big-city dwellers aren’t part of the “real America”? ... The big-city immigrant experience is as much a part of what made America as the rural, small-town experience. It deserves the same degree of respect.

That always made me laugh since people in rural areas complain that cities have all the power and influence. Where I grew up Sacramento and LA steal all the water, etc., and to some extent the glorifying of small-towns is playing to this feeling of political powerlessness. The dog whistle here is, of course, that those immoral cities that are full of decadence and decay are stealing the tax money of hard-working, small town America to support social programs that mostly goes to urban areas (the reality of how money actually flows notwithstanding -- rural areas actually do quite well all things considered, but that is not generally known). And the feeling that they lack political power makes this a relatively easy sell.

But this year, this type of rhetoric seems to be largely absent from the presidential race, and I'm trying to understand what has changed (maybe I've just missed it?) A few ideas:

Is it because Romney is a city boy and can't credibly wear Bush-type cowboy boots to show his affinity with rural America (and does this help to explain the soft-support for Romney from small town tea party types)?

Did Palin kill harm the small-town brand?

Or is it something more fundamental?

I think it's something more fundamental, perhaps reflecting a shift of political power from rural to urban areas, but I don't know for sure. For example, what has replaced the small-town rhetoric? The dog-whistling about taxes flowing to the undeserving is still there, but the implied us against them is both a different us and a different them.

So here's the question. Have I simply missed that the same old rhetoric is actually being used, or is there something else going on? If it's something else, what is it? These are quick, unformed thoughts -- mostly what I'm looking for is perspectives on this issue.

    Posted by on Wednesday, April 25, 2012 at 09:34 AM in Economics, Politics | Permalink  Comments (36)


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