Empty-headed punditry about Iowa, falling on the same rock, every time

There is absolutely nothing that the coastal publishers and their consumers enjoy more than reading snide, stereotype-laden essays about “middle America.” Stephen Bloom, Professor and Bessie Dutton Murray Professional Scholar at the University of Iowa, traded in David Brooks’ savvy “hey, lookit them yokels” brand of writing about The Rural Other with this piece in the Atlantic: 20 Years of Iowa Life. Oh, it’s not all Mayberry, Bloom tells us. Because all of us thought it was.

There’s poverty. Unlike in cities. And immigrants who are treated badly! (Imagine! Unlike the fabulous way we coastal denizens treat immigrants!) Outside the stuff that verges on really seeing (but doesn’t) the world of rural poverty outside of Iowa City, Bloom trades in all of the Coast’s most beloved hate-tropes about the midwest: there’s too much Jebus, too much fattening food for one’s ever-so-precious-and-sophisticated-palate, and guns, guns, guns! Everywhere! Why, a man can’t even walk his lab without people asking him about a-huntin’!

Empty-headed punditry with a professor label on it. This is the reason I stopped talking to the press. It’s too easy to get this type of nonsense out there, and it’s not constructive.

Here’s a measured response from fellow journalist Lynda Waddington. My favorite line:

No one has ever asked if my Iowa-born Shih Tzus hunt, although maybe that says more about my breed choice than my neighbors.

So here’s the policy problem that screeds like Bloom’s always come up against: If Iowa shouldn’t be the first primary/caucus event because it’s not representative of America, where should be first? Note that Bloom doesn’t have a constructive answer. His answer is just Not Iowa. Which leaves a rather biggish number of states left in the choice set.

Where could we pick that represents America? Ok, fine. Say we all agree. Iowa is a dumb place to start, with all its mind-controlled Jebus freaks eating creamy casseroles and listening to their corn grow and a-going to the tractor pulls. (Note to Bloom: you forgot to make fun of playing bingo. That’s something cocktail-guzzling, nightclub-hopping, dinner-party-attending Coastals would eat up with a spoon! Fodder for the next essay.) New Hampshire, btw, is also too white and underpopulated and non representative, though Coastals probably hate it less than any midwest state we might pick.

California? It’s got population, diversity, more cities over 1 million people than any other state. Florida? Texas? If we picked California, some journalist would hang out in Ojai for a bit and try to line his pockets with essays about how nut-eating, meditating, lotus-pose-taking flakes were picking out our presidents and ain’t that a shame? Texas produces its fair of share presidents already, and there’s no apparent shortage of guns and Jebus there (since all we need to do is base the decision on stereotypes). Florida? Ohio? I’m sure there’s probably very little rural decline there (snort).

So where?

Or perhaps we should just make sure rural states never see the candidates in person by requiring all the big states go first, on the same day?

3 thoughts on “Empty-headed punditry about Iowa, falling on the same rock, every time

  1. Here’s our show about Bloom’s article:

    “Four native Iowans talk about the depiction of them and the state they call home in Stephen Bloom’s scathing and controversial article in The Atlantic Monthly, his motives for publishing it, the response its generated across the state, and its national implications with regards to Iowa’s first in the nation voting status.”


  2. What about Colorado or Wisconsin? Both have a major city with real urban issues, as well as large rural areas. In recent elections, both have been swing states.

    I have no problem with paying attention to rural concerns; I object to the fact that the issues facing urban areas are virtually ignored in our nominating process.

    • Greater Milwaukee has about 2 million people in it. I’m not sure that counts as a real urban center that much more than Des Moines does. It is somewhat less white, I guess, if that’s the criteria we’re trying to use.

      I think a big super-primary would probably kill off most candidates. That may be one reason to do it.

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