Monday, July 20, 2009

Ouch! An extremely uncharitable characterization of rural America

See Frank Rich's column last week, which I didn't read when it first appeared because it was seemingly all about Sarah Palin, and I was suffering a bit of Sarah fatigue. The column is titled "She Broke the G.O.P and Now She Owns It," and I noticed its popularity in the NYTimes most emailed list last week. Seeing this comment about the column in the Daily Yonder caused me to take a look.

It seems that rural America just keeps taking it on the chin due to its association with Sarah Palin. I am generally a fan of Frank Rich's, but here he is just needlessly "piling on" about the link between Sarah and country folks. That association was created, of course, by Palin herself, but also by the pundits. I've previously written about it here, here, and here.

Here is the most problematic part of Rich's column, as I see it:
Most important, she stands for a genuine movement: a dwindling white nonurban America that is aflame with grievances and awash in self-pity as the country hurtles into the 21st century and leaves it behind. Palin gives this movement a major party brand and political plausibility that its open-throated media auxiliary ... cannot. (emphasis added).
Are rural Americans (who else might Rich mean by nonurban? I doubt he means suburban, or even exurban?) awash in self-pity? aflame in grievances? The reader comments to this article support the latter assertion, as did callers to last Friday's Talk of the Nation on NPR. But grievances are sometimes justified ...

Later in the column, Rich actually uses the word "rural." Here's that excerpt:
Even now, the so-called mainstream media can grade Palin on a curve: at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, Palin’s self-proclaimed representation of the “real America” was accepted as a given, as if white rural America actually still was the nation’s baseline.
The people who think "white rural America" is the nation's baseline are clearly rare these days. After all, the United States ceased to be a majority rural nation almost 100 years ago, with the 1920 Census. So why does Rich find it necessary to be so harsh? Can you imagine if a respected columnist like Rich (or anyone with such a national platform) took aim in such a harsh way at a racial or ethnic minority? Why are poor white people (especially rural ones, these days) fair game?

Of course, these are just two slices of the column (which generally does focus more on Palin and the G.O.P., as billed), but both are gratuitous rural bashing, truly unnecessary and destructive rhetorical hyperbole.

Pretty clearly, "white rural America" is no longer the nation's baseline, but does that mean they don't matter at all?

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