Flyover Country

During my six years living in Los Angeles, I stopped counting the times I wanted to yank the teeth out of some West Coast native who uttered the phrase “Flyover Country.” It denotes a reflexive derision and contempt for everything in the middle of the country because supposedly it is un-cultured, un-educated, un-interesting, and just generally backward-minded. It also reflects plain old provincialism, which can be found everywhere in this country.

I’ve gotten to thinking about this nasty phrase during the past few days because of Daily Kos getting livid over a very bad environmental bill sponsored by Rep. Dingell (D-MI), calling him an obtuse arrogant scumbag. This was then followed up with a loooooong discussion on Michigan Liberal over a comment made in the DK discussion about Dingell to the effect that the Big-Three Auto companies can rot and die blah, blah, blah.

While I sympathize with the frustration. I sympathize more with the workers at the Big Three who are at the mercy of what has often been bad management. The Big Three have had over 25 years to adjust to the Japanese and now they are rapidly trying to play catch-up as their SUV/Big Truck profit plan is starting to erode, given that $4/gallon for gas is an eventuality in the near future.

You’ll notice I have a link to DailyKos on my blogroll. But truth be told, I hardly read DK. Why? Because it’s too much trouble to wade through the rants to get to the good stuff. (Or the good stuff is covered up in a particularly juvenile rant, like the Dingell post.) I think DK is important and does a great job for what it’s for: progressive activism and whipping up support for that activism. Does the hot-headedness get the best of them sometimes when it comes to their posts and the discussion of ideas? Yes. Too often for my taste. And every once in awhile, that East/West Coast disdain for the rest of the country rears its ugly head, like just a few days ago.

It can not be said enough how stupid, short-sighted, and counterproductive to progressives all over this country this kind of attitude is. Yes, there are differences that unfortunately foster some mutual disdain. Hence, the term “DK Dummies” or “limousine liberals” or “liberal elite.” Whatever.

I grew up just outside of Chicago in a working class suburb. Soon after my wife and I first moved to L.A., I had my first run-in with West Coast Provincial thinking. A self-proclaimed “3rd-generation Californian” asked me, “So, what do you think of all our diversity?” Realizing she hadn’t the slightest clue about Chicago or the Midwest, I told her that believe it or not Chicago is very diverse and that Illinois is second only to California in numbers of Mexican immigrants. She was genuinely surprised. It would not be my last run-in with this Flyover Country Attitude.

My reply to people on the coast who used the term Flyover Country was that they should get used to losing elections to Republicans, that they needed to make an effort to understand how people make a living in the middle of the country. But their reply to that was well they shouldn’t be so dumb to vote for Republicans in the first place. As if voting/being a Republican was a sign of stupidity or willful ignorance. (For me the sign is ignoring the scientific fact that is Evolution and instead believing an all-powerful deity created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. We all have our biases.) And I would say by virtue of that very statement they had betrayed their patronizing attitude towards people in the middle of the country; they didn’t care about them and only wanted them to vote the way they thought was self-evident to them, without making any attempt to understand why the people in the middle of the country were thinking the way they did.

Just the same, there are many in the middle of the country who can not fathom New Yorkers suffering a terrorist attack and then voting overwhlemingly for someone as wishy-washy and turgid-talking as Kerry instead of Bush for President of the United States. (I voted for Kerry, even though the man drives me up the wall with the fact that he is incapable of speaking a simple declarative sentence. It’s like he read too much Michel Foucoult. Couple that with the direct correlation between time spent in the Senate and increasing pompousness and ability to drone on and on, and you have a recipe for alienating voters. See Joe Biden. Give Obama a few more terms in the Senate and he won’t be so eloquent and lucid.)

These differences between people on the Coasts and the Big Middle have just as much to do with class and culture as it does the region in which they live. Of course, all three do go together. Seemingly unrelated, yesterday I came across a link to this insightful essay, “Now I Work in that Factory You Live In” by the poet Diane Kendig, courtesy of one of the best book blogs, Bookslut. In it Kendig talks about becoming class conscious and dealing with the assumptions many in academia have toward students and people from the working class. I have to say that based on my experiences in USC’s MPW program, I had the shock of recognition. I had similar experiences in undergrad, but I became very class conscious, sometimes uncomfortably so, at USC. But that is for another post…But there is a true lack of understanding the working class by many people on the coasts.

What I mean to say in this rambling post is that progressives on the coasts and in the Big Middle of the country have mutual interests in seeing the Big Three survive. But the only way they will flourish is by producing cars that are fuel efficient and have low emissions, and having a stake in a new energy economy. This will in turn give jobs to workers here and give us the kinds of cars we need now that the days of cheap gas are over for the people of the U.S.A.

As we know all too well here in Michigan, the Ripple Effect from the Big Three is extremely large. If they go down, so goes a good chunk of this country, not just Michigan. Just as it’s in no one’s interest to see New Orleans get destroyed and die, it is in no one’s interest to see the Big Three falter and go out of business.

Coddling the big Three as Dingell attempted to do, would not have helped. Did he deserve the merits of the criticism from DK and others? Yes. Did he deserve to be called an obtuse arrogant scumbag? No. Does that mean he deserves to be in Congress? Yes, as long as the voters in his district think so. And I see nothing wrong with making him sweat a little by giving him a challenger in the primary next year. That’s democracy.

But using one bad proposal by Dingell as an excuse to slam the entire state of Michigan is as ignorant as flippantly referring to the Big Middle as Flyover Country. We should have no tolerance for this kind of ignorance. The stakes for our country are too high, given the health of the world environment, our dependence on oil, and the intense pressures of the world market. Anything that can be manufactured in another country more cheaply will be. This is global capitalism. The U.S. helped create this system, and now we’re at its mercy. We can only survive by working together. The snide need not apply.

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