Friday, June 04, 2004Everyone should read this post by John Nichols. His comments on the importance of rural areas for Democrats cannot be overemphasized. While the suburbs remain the true swing districts in U.S. politics, agrarian areas retain their political importance. By conceding these areas, the Democrats have given the Republicans a tremendous advantage. This advantage is partly electoral. It allows the Republicans to enjoy a real advantage in the Senate, which is gerrymandered in favor of rural counties, and to a lesser extent in the electoral college.
The second advantage is more damaging, because it is symbolic. For better or worse, the democratic myth of the small farmer has extraordinary resonance in America, and there has always been some suspicion about cities. By abandoning the country, the left has allowed the right to portray itself as the champion of the heartland and of small-town values. They can underline their pseudo-populist message and easily portray Democrats as (urban) elites.
On their merits, the Republican accusations of elitism are absurd, but they will continue to be effective as long as we permit it to continue. We must emphasize our support for small towns and rural areas, which should be easy to do given the left's hostiltity to large corporations and the right's dependence on them. So we can employ a strategy of economic populism, while changing the subject away from social issues. Nothing new here. What is more important is to highlight the place that rural America plays in the egalitarian narrative.