We’ve just stumbled through yet another mid-term election. As if the weeks of candidate commercials and political advertorials weren’t enough—we’ve now had to endure a week’s worth of hand-wringing and Monday morning quarterbacking coming from the pundit class.
If you aren’t Republican (I am not), then waking up Wednesday morning left most of us lefties scratching our heads. Some were even depressed about the results, talking about moving somewhere else. While progressive issues like raising the minimum wage, legalizing pot, and rejecting the passage of personhood won out in many states, this was a minor palliative for non-conservatives, with the counterpoint being that a Republican wave washed across the national landscape. Is this a sign that voters still have some progressive inclination? Better, it might demonstrate the schizophrenic nature of those going out to vote.
In my home state, Governor Paul LePage won re-election in a three-man race, increasing his vote total four years after winning with only 38 percent of the vote (in 2014, he upped that number to 48 percent).
A good friend from high school put it all in perspective on Saturday when he said that “mid-term elections are always wacky—look at 1994 and Newt Gingrich.” He had a point.
I think Republicans have a few things going for them, beyond their apparent appeal to low-information voters. One of them is the cultural cluelessness of Democrats.
In the great electoral state of Iowa, farming country USA, the Democrat, Bruce Braley, launched his campaign by subsequently alienating the farmers of his state.
Braley, the Democrat who had the support of the Democratic elites, like Bill and Hillary Clinton, had the following to say to Iowa farmers, touting his bona fides to fundraisers in Texas back in January.
“If you help me win this race you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice, someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for thirty years, in a visible or public way, on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Or, you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee,”
Granted, he wasn’t speaking directly to his potential constituents, but someone as “smart” as Braley should have figured out what pissing down the backs of Iowa farmers would mean for him down the road, namely that he’d lose to an attractive woman, who packs heat, and has a history castrating hogs.
I could make the case that our president is pretty tone deaf, too, especially when he’s not speaking to voters on both the left and right coasts that make up blue state America. This also applies to how progressives feel about Obama, too. I don’t think of him as “one of us.”
This kind of cultural misstep is all too common, especially in nonprofit work in rural communities. Time and time again, I’ve seen organizations with a longstanding history in a place and a region, have no clue whatsoever about what was happening on the ground. It’s like what they thought they knew from sitting in their offices and going to meetings was the exact opposite of what I learned after showing up and taking the temperature of locals. It’s amazing what happens when you actually talk to people, ask a few questions and listen.
For the past year, I’ve experienced this yet again, working in two places in rural Franklin County. I have a host of partner organizations that are staffed with good people (I guess), but when it comes to engaging the people who live in the two zip codes I’ve been working to build support in, they’ve consistently been befuddled.
I can’t recite a litany of quantitative data about why this is. I have my own qualitative ideas based on the experiential in this case, and in previous situations. Perhaps I’ll unpack all of this at a later date, when I’m not quite as close to all of it, like I am right now.
People that have worked with me have heard me say the following on numerous occasions; “You can get everything right with a project, but not get the local culture correct (in understanding it), and you’ll fall flat on your face. On the other hand, you can get a lot of things wrong (and not have all of your quantitative I’s dotted and t’s crossed), but truly understand the culture of the place, and have lots of success.”
I stand by that adage.
It’s one reason why Paul LePage is Maine’s governor for another four years. It’s also why candidates like Joni Ernst are going to Washington, DC, instead of elitists like Bruce Braley.
I know that’s a bit overly simplistic, and one reason why I’d never be a very good political pundit. Plus, I don’t like doling out bullshit on a consistent basis, which is what pundits do.