Friday, October 20, 2006

If the Heartland hearts the heartless Dick Cheney then how much heart does the Heartland really have

Saturday night second-guessing of self update; revised again Sunday afternoon: Mike and MaryC think I totally missed the boat here. They both think the Times article by Mark Leibovich isn't puffery, as I thought, but is actually, although subtly, poking fun at Dick Cheney. I re-read it and I can see how it might be. There's Cheney, reduced to under the media's radar speaking engagements in out of the way places like Wyoming, Michigan, Caspar, Wyoming, and Topeka, Kansas---Topeka isn't that out of the way. I think he should have kept the Wyoming theme going and given a speech in Cheyenne County; there's also a town not too far west of Wichita called Cheney---with no one to come listen to him but Republican stalwarts, their soppy, bible-clutching wives, his boyhood pal, and a little girl with the oddest case of hero worship I've ever heard of.

In other words, Leibovich's story might be what I was criticizing it for not being and might not be what I criticized it for being. Leibovich might not be painting a crowd of boobs and yahoos as a Norman Rockwell illustration, as I suggested; he might be drawing a grim, Hogarthian caricature of an isolated Dick Cheney.

But I can't take the post back without losing Mike's, Mary's, and everybody elses's comments now. So:

This struck me as more of a cute little girl story than anything---"Oh look at that! She's only 6 years old and her hero's the despicable, lying, torture-loving, warmongering, powermad, probable thief Dick Cheney! Isn't that precious?"---but Avedon's right. The piece is annoying.

It's the tone.

The reporter, Mark Leibovich, adopts that phony aw shucks, they's jess folks smarminess that Ivy League elistist apologists for the Right Wing use to remind the rest of us who live where there are people who aren't white, aren't cornfed, don't vote Republican, and don't live off farm subsidies while whining about the evils of big Librul gummint that we aren't real Americans.

Kansas is the Heartland, you know, it's at the Heart of America, the very middle, where the heart would be if the continent was a body, get it?, and therefore this accidental geographic fact resulting in a hokey metpahor must mean that the real heart of America is to be found in anyone who lives in proximity to a Kansas cornfield.

An insurance agent who lives in a subdivision outside of Topeka and commutes to his big box office building next to a strip mall in his SUV is more in the American grain than the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants who is putting herself through college working double shifts at a McDonalds in South Philly simply by having had the luck of having been born in the Heartland, and his vote for Bush and Cheney is somehow more representative and authentic than hers for Kerry and Edwards.

We're talking about Kansas here. The state that has twice decided to deny its children a 21st Century education in science. Not everyone who lives there is a boob or a yahoo. In fact there are enough non-boobs and anti-yahoos to have elected a Democratic governor and vote out the boobs and yahoos on the Board of Education who wanted to erase the name Darwin from the schoolbooks.

But it's a good bet that the crowd who turned out to cheer Dick Cheney included a high proportion of boobs and yahoos.

I don't know though, because Leibovich apparently didn't bother to find out who was in the crowd.

There was at least one farmer there, and a rancher, who happens to be one of Cheney's boyhood friends. The only other people identified and quoted are a Republican Congressman, his wife, and a Republican state senator. But Leibovich writes as if the whole crowd was a Norman Rockwell painting come to life and leaves it at that, apparently unaware that even in Kansas there are people who don't farm for a living---there are corporate executives and suburban-dwelling middle managers in the Heartland, just as there are farmers here in the Blue and soon to be Bluer State of New York.

A crowd of pesticide salesmen cheering Dick Cheney in Kansas shouldn't be treated as being more representative of the true American spirit than a crowd of dockworkers booing him in New York City, not that Cheney would ever show up to be booed by dockworkers.

Not that he ever shows up where he isn't positive he's going to be cheered.

Leibovich must know but he doesn't note it in his article that the crowd cheering was like all the crowds Bush and Cheney appear before---filled with ringers.

Nope. What we get is told that out here the folks went for Bush by a 25 per cent margin in 2004.

What would he get if he ran there today? Leibovich doesn't say.

He does say, "As a rule, people still love Mr. Bush in Cheney Country, at least relative to some locales."

I like that. "Some locales." Can't you hear Sheriff Andy Taylor saying that to refer to locales like New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, and Seattle, all those strange, furrin places far away from the Heartland?

Leibovich does get around to mentioning the fact that generally, outside of good, God-fearing Cheney Country like Topeka, Dick Cheney is held in lower regard than even used car salesmen and New York Times journalists, with an approval rating below 20 per cent. But then he goes right back to painting his Saturday Evening Post cover illustration of a loveable, affable Dick Cheney telling it straight to the crowd of just plain folks.

Dick Cheney is probably the most odious excuse for a human being to hold the office of Vice President---and remember Aaron Burr had the job once ---but all Leibovich can find to explain why those of us who aren't just plain folks and despise the man despise him is that he told Pat Leahy to get stuffed and shot some poor dope who went and apologized to Cheney for getting in his way.

Otherwise, Cheney's a man admired for his "intellect and steadiness."

Now we know that reporters covering the Bush Leaguers are expected to write these kind of puff pieces or risk being thrown off the plane, and you could almost feel sorry for them, if they weren't so giddily grateful when they're told to bend over and take it.

But there's nothing to be lost by covering the Heartland as if it is what it is, just a place among many places in the United States.

Virtue doesn't adhere to a farmer like manure adheres to his boots. Folks in Kiowa County are less likely to be mugged for the same reason folks in Queens County are less likely to be kicked by a cow.

There a boobs and yahoos in every Manhattan skyscraper, and men and women of wisdom and sophistication driving tractors and milking cows. There are palm readers and fortune tellers on every block in Greenwich Village, and some of the best libraries and universities scattered all over the the reddest states in the Heartland. But still, the farther inland you get from the coasts doesn't mean the closer you are getting to the true heart of America. You are just getting closer to concentrations of people who believe that they were visited by aliens and the end times are near when God is going to rapture them naked into heaven while they are in the middle of flying airplanes, driving school buses, and performing open heart surgery. The just plain folks in Leibovich's Cheney-loving Heartland are as likely as not to be parochial, bigoted, bible-thumping ignoramuses, even, and maybe especially, if they wear suits to work, and lots of them do.

And it just plain insulting to the rest of us to credit them with being the true heirs and representatives of the spirit of a nation founded by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.

But ain't that little girl who loves Dick Cheney a sweeheart?


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