The Great Divide: Washington and Rural America

Posted on February 7, 2013

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Flyover statesMany politicians on Capitol Hill seem to hold the rural portions of their constituency in thinly-veiled contempt.

In a speech to the Obama National Finance Committee and a group of business leaders in January, former President Bill Clinton said, “A lot of these people … all they’ve got is their hunting and their fishing.”

He said he identifies with us because he “come[s] from this world.”

“Or they’re living in a place where they don’t have much police presence. Or they’ve been listening to this stuff for so long that they believe it all,” he told the Democratic financiers, as further explanation for rural Americans’ confounding failure to agree with anti-gun elites.

He told the group not to patronize these folks by looking down their noses at them.

But his quote strikes me as doing exactly that.

Mr. Clinton’s derogatory remarks are strikingly reminiscent of President Obama’s infamous “guns and religion” diss on rural America during his 2008 campaign. At a San Francisco fundraiser, Mr. Obama told supporters:

You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not.

And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

This type of speech is very “us and them”…hardly reflective of a President whose responsibility is to defend all of the country, not just the parts he connects or agrees with.

This growing division seems to be a theme in Washington. Lisa Jackson, the recently resigned EPA chief, said her number one regret from her time in the President’s cabinet was failing to communicate with rural America.

“If I were starting again, I would from day one make a much stronger effort to do personal outreach in rural America,” she told Reuters last week. Ms. Jackson’s career as leader of the Environmental Protection Agency was marked by heated conflict

Perhaps Mr. Clinton, and Mr. Obama, should follow her lead.

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