Why do some liberals hate Appalachia so much?
The key word there is some, but not all. First, let’s introduce the damning evidence. On the liberal website The Daily Kos, there was recently a fascinating back-and-forth over whether liberals should care about rural America, seeing as how it’s overwhelmingly populated by Republicans.
When one commenter from Arlington ventured the rather benign observation that “sometimes these voters have something important to say about all of our collective experiences, we just need to be open enough to hear it,” the savage counter-posts began.
“Don’t understand this obsession with pleasing Republicans.”
“There is advantage and disadvantage, and these folks have earned their disadvantage after 50 years of spite.”
“We should tell them to [expletive deleted] and drop dead. That’s what they deserve to be told.”
When the Arlington commenter suggested that helping rebuild the economy of rural America — especially Appalachia — was the right thing to do, the savaging amplified:
“There is no ‘right thing to do.’ In politics you do things because it benefits your side . . . Why bankrupt the government to benefit folks who will never, ever agree with your policies?”
“I have no ‘collective experiences’ with these people. I don’t believe in coal, guns, religion or just about anything else these people believe in. That’s the basic problem. We are two very different countries and only one can survive.”
“None of that is an excuse for knowingly voting for a racist, bigoted, lying, ignorant buffoon for President of the US. You’re saying we should spend trillions of dollars to target areas that specifically did just that, as some sort of reward, while letting the blue areas foot the bill.”
“Why should anyone cry over these losers down in the South . . .?”
“Let’s see, we supported providing them disability and Medicaid and what do they do? They vote for Republicans that promised to dismantle Medicaid and disability . . . I really have no sympathy for them and I’m not going to lift a finger ever again to help them.”
“It’s about pouring trillions of blue state dollars into red areas as a reward for red voters voting for a liar, a bigot, a buffoon, and an ignoramus all rolled into one. I’m not in a generous mood to help such folks . . . If they were just ‘conservative,’ I’d have no problem spending money on them. But they aren’t just ‘conservative.’ They are ignorant and racist and proud to be both. That’s the problem I have. We have lots of other things to spend money on. Spending money on the deplorables as a reward for being deplorable isn’t high on my priority list.”
If there were a conservative website somewhere that was discussing whether conservatives should help, say, inner cities, and the responses were similar to the ones above, we’d have a very ugly word for that, now wouldn’t we? So why are some liberals — again, the key word there is “some” — so vicious against rural areas? Why aren’t they being called out for their prejudices?
“All this demand of massive spending on whites in rural areas as their reward for voting for a racist, ignorant, lying buffoon is tiresome.”
One definition of the word “liberal” deals with generosity; these don’t seem very generous answers. By that measure, they really seem rather illiberal. When supposed “progressives” are telling many rural Americans to “[expletive deleted] and drop dead,” it seems fair to ask: Who are the real deplorables here?
Keep in mind these comments are coming from the far left wing, not mainstream, establishment liberalism. Still, they are instructive; conservatives would say quite revealing. These viewpoints also aren’t confined simply to Internet trolls. They’ve shown up in various ways in such well-known publications as New York magazine and The New Republic. In one much-quoted article headlined “No Sympathy For The Hillbilly,” writer Frank Rich urged Democrats to simply ignore rural voters because they — we — are essentially irredeemable bigots who are too stupid to appreciate any government help.
It’s hard to have a one-sided argument. One reason all these anti-rural comments are getting posted is because there are other liberals who are making the case that Democrats should spend more time appealing to rural voters, not less. They point out that Hillary Clinton would be president today if she’d only run a little bit better in rural areas. Instead, she ignored rural America, except to talk about how coal miners would be put out of work. That infamous quote was taken out of context, but it didn’t really matter. It seemed to fit with her overall disinterest in rural America. The problem for Democrats going forward is that it’s going to be hard for them to reclaim Congress or the White House if they can’t improve their standing about rural voters. They don’t have to win rural areas — realistically, that’s not very likely — but they can’t continue to lose them with the margins they have been, either.
That’s why one of the most fascinating political debates going on these days isn’t over health care or Russia, but over what a liberal agenda for rural America might actually look like — and whether it’s even worth coming up with one. Conservatives likely find all this highly amusing. It’s always fun to see the other side engage in an internecine brawl. And conservatives probably think they win either way. If the side quoted above prevails, well, that’s the best campaign talking point Republicans ever had in rural areas: The other side really does hate you. If the more pragmatic side prevails, conservatives probably still think they have a lock on rural voters, so any liberal outreach to rural voters is a waste of time.
That may be. Still, conservatives might want to keep an eye on this liberal debate over whether it’s worth investing time in developing a rural agenda. That’s because, historically, rural areas were actually bastions of a certain breed of liberalism. The progressive movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s grew out of rural discontent, and gave rise to classic rural liberals from William Jennings Bryan to Lyndon Johnson. Conservatives would hate to miss the rise of a modern-day Bryan or LBJ, just as liberals missed the rise of Trump.
Coming tomorrow: A surprising rural challenge to liberal orthodoxy.