Iowa Is Your Nation:
Let's face it: those of us who live in large urban areas on the various edges of the United States are smug fuckers. We see ourselves as more sophisticated, more intelligent, more in touch than the yahoos who fill the rest of the nation and fuck it up for us. Sure, we have our problems; sure, we have our fights; sure, we have our assholes. In other words, mostly, we're wrong and jerks about it.
But the thing is that we're less wrong about our self-image than people in the middle-sized cities and small towns that fill the nation. For every moment of a town coming together to help out each other after a fire or flood, there's another instance of intolerance or ignorance that poisons the good will. (Note: go ahead, cite shit about NYC, the Ground Zero "mosque," the racism of the cops, we know, we know. Here's the difference: most of us are ashamed of that ignorance, not proud of it, as other places are. Oh, and our crime rate is lower than most of yours.)
The Rude Pundit is not talking out of his overeducated ass here. He's walked the motherfuckin' walk. He lived for a few years in a barn on a corn farm in the Midwest where the nearest neighbor was literally (he odometered it) a mile away. The couple hundred acre place was owned and planted and harvested by a farmer named Joe who didn't have his cats neutered because, as he said, "The road fixes 'em." The Rude Pundit's lived in the middle of a small, depressed, awful Midwest city. He's lived in the Deep South, the Deep, Deep South, and the Not-As-Deep South. And he wasn't staying in his towers of ivory, looking down on the rabble. Oh, no. He was out and about, going native, doing all those things that seem oh-so-exotic to the Yankees and San Frans. You ever been to a combine demolition derby? You ever cut sugar cane and chewed it out in the field? You ever sat on a porch in the mountains while musicians who worked factory day jobs had a bluegrass jam? You ever been to a snake-handling church? Yeah. Suck it. This blogger's got country cred to go with his big city ways.
When University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom wrote in The Atlantic his take on what "Iowa" really is, he created an uproar in the state. But put aside Bloom's douchebaggery in his description, the kind of pure dickishness that should be left to blogs. Put aside that Bloom is an academic who obviously feels like he's better than where he lives and deserved to get a job in a big city instead of being stranded in the hellhole of the tenure-line gig he accepted because he thought, surely, it would just be temporary, and, oh, fuck, he got tenure and realized he was gonna die in motherfuckin' Iowa.
And, instead, look at what he actually describes (before he gets all snotty about the cultural shit): a place afflicted by an economy that had its union manufacturing plant jobs shifted overseas, that is left with a low-wage positions, like slaughterhouse and farm work, done by immigrants legal and illegal, a place where evangelical Christians pray for a better life beyond because this one sucks so hard. "Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in educated) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth," Bloom writes (and, yes, all of this has been disputed and argued with and threats have been made on Bloom and his family). "Suicides in Iowa's rural counties are 13.55 per 100,000 residents; New York's suicide rate is 5.4 residents per 100,000." Depression is high and the number of mental health clinics is low.
Here is the gut-churning thing that most of us here in the concrete jungle don't want to admit about Iowa. Put racial demographics aside for a moment. The reality is that, whether we like it or not, Iowa is the nation. It's a fucked-up place of desperate people seeking escape in drugs or gambling or fatty food or liquor or the internet, attempting to exist in a harsh landscape that promises so much constantly but fails far more often than it succeeds, deranged with religion and bludgeoned by a constant barrage of political information that is overkill to such an extent that it makes Iowa native John Wayne Gacy seem subtle by comparison, eking out moments of pleasure and communing with family or neighbors or friends that, like that hit of the pipe or the hope of the slot machine button push, give moments of release. Bloom's article could have been written about Kansas or Montana or New Hampshire or South Carolina or Oregon or Washington or New York or California or Illinois or Texas or Tennessee or, or, or, or.
Yes, like the fact that Senators from Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, and Utah, states that, together, don't have the population of New York City, can halt the progress of the nation, Iowa has no business having such importance in the calendar of our quadrennial national punishment known as our presidential election season. The Rude Pundit stands by what he wrote four years ago. It's the vote of 20% of registered Republicans. Who the fuck cares? And, please, media, stop trying to make us care. Stop trying to make us think that anything is going to happen other than Mitt Romney winning the nomination. It's not.
But what we can't deny is that Iowa works as a representation of a nation on the edge of falling into its own shitpile. We are living on the brink. And our politicians have proposed that we inch away from the cliff rather than run. While people are scrambling to make a living in Iowa and elsewhere, the Republican candidates are talking about who hates abortions more.
(You want to end on a note of hope? Fine: right now, Des Moines doesn't suck, and the state is going urban. Meth usage has actually gone down in the last couple of years, probably out of incarceration and death. And Omaha, Nebraska, is just across the river, and that place rocked the last time the Rude Pundit visited.)
(Oh, one last thing: Farmer Joe's farm wife left him and their two sons for a man who worked at the local tanning salon. Farmer Joe's farm, which had been in his family for generations, was failing. Farmer Joe sat at the kitchen table and told the Rude Pundit that he had stalked his wife and seen him with the guy. Farmer Joe said that he wanted to take his shotgun and kill himself. The Rude Pundit reminded him of his boys. The Rude Pundit gave him a few names so he could get help. And then the Rude Pundit moved out of the barn and into the small city down the road.)