democrats and rural america problem


Democrats are seriously missing the mark on their issues management with rural, "conservative", voters.  I've lived in Western rural areas most of my life before moving to Seattle, WA and then Tacoma, WA. I am pretty confident I can write this essay, just on the strength of my own experience.

I'll break this down in an outline form, just for the sake of simple taxonomy. For the sake of this essay, a Democrat is presumed to be someone with these qualities:

\- Educated
\- Urban
\- Non-macho

Since those are the stereotypes that are pre-eminent where I've been.

  1. Social Issues
    1. Guns
      1. Hunting
        1. Hunting is one of the Great Myths and Identities of the rural American. It is connected with 400 years of frontier living. When Greenpeace or PETA endorse a Democrat, someone in this Identity rightly can presume that Hunting is being targeted. 
        2. Democrats are generally presumed to not hunt, nor to have roots in the land beyond a hippie "woo". 
      2. 2nd Amendment
        1. The 2nd amendment is understood (historically correct or not) to be a mechanism to allow militias to form to overthrow the government. This means that limitations on guns are seen as an attack on the 2nd Amendment.
    2. Religion
      1. The De Facto religion of rural Americans is a flavor of Fundamentalist or Evangelical Christianity. This strongly conflicts with the Urban American, who is assumed to be godless. This is an old rural prejudice about the city, but has a certain grain of truth.
      2. Democrats don't put Christian religion front and center. Why should they: cities are multi-religious... 
    3. LGBT issues
      1. It's not really relevant. "No one knows" a queer person, and anyway, those people are somewhere else, and anyway, they are godless. Why cater to them? What about real problems, like why there are no jobs? (One might note that there's a reason cities have a common story of queer people finding acceptance.....)
  2. Government
    1. The Democrat vision is of a reasonably strong central government, usually driven by experiences in an urban environment.  This is counter to the rural experience, which is often set in a place where the only help you can get in a crisis is "too" far away. Whether that be a policeman, or a neighbor. 
      1. Therefore, a good rural government doesn't limit what someone can do to help themself.
    2. The Democrats see government as a servant of the people and by the people; the rural vision is of a government from a far away place laying down regulations.
    3. Taxes are for larger governments... if you want a smaller government, vote for less taxes. 
    4. Military adventures - why do them? Mind your own business is an old American value that we seem to have forgotten. 
    5. Law and order: respect the police, because you need them to deal with thefts on your land.
  3. Environment
    1. The common complaint is that the EPA and other governmental entities are making laws that are both irrelevant, limiting, and useless to the local situation. 
    2. Environmental laws limit what farmers and ranchers can do with their land. Isn't it their land that they own?  (I would like to note that this idea directly leads to horrific pollution)
  4. Distrust elites.
    1. Distrust education. 
      1. This is basically rooted in the fact that education and apostasy are linked.
      2. It is also rooted in the fact that education tells others what to do, and presupposes the excellence of knowledge of ignorance, making it non-democratic and thus Un-American(this is also a core tension on the Democrat side - direct democracy and populism are in conflict with education and knowledgeable people making choices).
    2. Distrust media.
      1. The media aren't rural.
      2. The media often don't take the time to understand a subject well enough for an expert to accept it.

From a pure policy perspective, some of the key policies that matter to rural voters that simply are irrelevant in its day to day effects in urban circles

  1. The Farm Bill
    1. This is the central planning document for US agriculture. 
  2. Water Rights
    1. Long story. Much bloodshed. Key to the West.
  3. Highway maintenance
    1. Lots of roads, no tax base to maintain them.
  4. Mining regulations
    1. Done far away from cities.
  5. Hunting regulations

(The list goes on)

These conflicts and concepts are deeply rooted in an ideology I'll call the "Traditional and Low-density Ideology", or the TLI. The TLI is the product of history - specifically, white history and myths - and the system of living in a low density rural population.  Deeper core values, some of them incoherent, that are generating these conflicts include (but are not limited to):

  1. Liberty is the key to America.
    1. Limiting what the self can do is contra liberty.
  2. Property rights are fundamental 
    1. Ownership of property is not to be limited
      1. Taxation is a limitation and stricture on property, so it must be resisted
    2. Police are for enforcing property rights
    3. Real estate property is to be desired.
  3. Self sufficiency - to depend on others is a moral problem.
    1. Therefore, drill for oil in the USA
    2. Don't involve yourself in other country's affairs, because it's immoral to do so.
    3. Government services to help others make man immoral
  4. A rough Christianity, vaguely Fundamentalist, is the moral way of life.
    1. Being straight, with kids, is also a kind of big deal.
  5. Assimilation into (loosely defined) white culture is the Proper Way.
  6. Distrust of change
  7. Hunting is a core right.
  8. People are not naturally good.

I also want to say that there's a physical roughness to the culture that is alien to peaceable urban culture. 

Some of these aspects can be assembled into a platform for a rural party. It'll look a little like the GOP, because the rural parts of America have voted for, and selected, parts of the GOP for many years. Some approaches that can be used for a principled rural party representing their ways of life:

  • Be skeptical of change. If a policy is working well enough, why change it?
  • Prefer allowing social change naturally, not sponsoring it with government programs and regulation.
  • Distrust policies and programs that assume people will generally do the right thing. 
  • Limit involvement in other countries.
  • Implement family policies that produce well-adjusted children. 
  • Prefer homeownership and intrusions on property rights.
  • Hunting should be a protected activity.

None of those approaches are really Democrat; they are sort of Republican. But they are definitely the "Republican in the Street" sort of thing, if you were to talk to them about what they care about, as opposed to what Fox News tells them they should care about.

I hope that a party embodying these kinds of ideas comes into existence. The Democrats have overspecialized in terms of its identities and have issues reaching outside of their base. These issues could, in part, be brought under the Democrat tent, but most won't be a comfortable fit.

The other thing I hope is that over time we dismantle the two-party system to form a multi-party system encompassing 4 or 5 parties. I think that will lead to stronger parties and more trusted institutions.