Saturday, July 02, 2005

What's wrong with asking "what's wrong with Kansas"?

A diarist at Daily Kos ask What's right with Kansas?, and tells a story about a Kansan friend who voted for Bush:
He took a moment and looked around the room. He said something along the lines of, "That other guy, he didn't look like our kind of people. And Bush did, so I figured he'd do all right." Then he stopped and looked at me and said, "But I wish I hadn't voted for him." I asked him why, and he said, "He scares me now. He really scares me." Neither of us said anything for a few moments, but the look on his face was heartbreaking-- he had done what he believed was right for the country he loved and found that he had done the worst thing possible.

I thought a lot about "That other guy, he didn't look like our kind of people" over the next few days. It could be taken for bigotry, but if you were in the room you wouldn't have felt that. What it felt like to me was a kind of longing, a longing to be able to find in our leaders the qualities we value in ourselves and our neighbors. And John Kerry didn't communicate that. Part of it was, well, John Kerry ain't much of a communicator. We know that. But part of it is that George Bush was a Republican, and John Kerry was a Democrat, and for a lot of people in this country, Republicans have become the default party.
Now, in the comments on Avian's RTT post, there're some people suggesting that it's anti-Kansas to discuss the bigotry or the rural fear of "big cities" like Wichita.

I didn't read it that way, and I don't think that's what anyone means. I don't think anyone could read What's the Matter with Kansas? : How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank as an attack on Kansas.

Neither can anyone deny that there are serious problems here. Agriculture is in decline, and it was never a great way to make a living. You work 24-7, and make bad money no matter what. A good harvest means low prices; a bad harvest means higher prices but too little to sell. Industrial farming is driving the little guy out. Industry isn't flocking to Kansas, and the smartest kids are going to college out of state and taking jobs out of state.

The country is getting pulled in all sorts of directions, and Kansans aren't in the driving seat on any of the tractors.

The same can be said of many Central Plains states. This is Thoughts from Kansas, so I and my RTT guests will probably focus on Kansas. None of what I say about how scary the religious authoritarians are should be taken as a critique of Kansas only. If I were blogging from New York, I'd have more to say about how such a cosmopolitan people can be so parochial.

But I'm not in New York, I'm in Kansas.

One thing I'd like to see come out of this blog, especially the 'Round the Table feature, is a better understanding of what the concerns are around the state. I think a lot of the coverage of Kansas is focussed on Topeka, Kansas City, and our Congressional reps. The important things may be getting missed.

I'd also like to get a better sense of how people see the different debates, and offer a direct channel for people to discuss issues and pass information around.

For instance: Avian said (as I've done before) that the gay marriage amendment was based on bigotry. Some commenters objected that it wasn't. I suspect that this could be a productive place for a "meeting of minds."

The amendment was a tricky situation. Kansas law already defines marriage as between one man and one woman, so it wasn't about the definition. It was about using that issue symbolically, to rally anti-gay sentiment.

I think that the arguments against gay marriage rest fundamentally on anti-gay bias. Maybe my commenters can find other arguments, but I've heard most of the arguments out there, and I'm unconvinced that those arguments aren't anti-gay.

To be clear, no one in Kansas is advocating for gay marriage. There will be a day when gay marriage is commonplace, but that day is a long time off, and it will reflect a change in social attitudes. The amendment's only effect was moving the ban up the ladder. There was no defense of gay marriage offered, just a doubt about its necessity. The support for the bill wasn't motivated by any activism or sense of public demand for gay marriage. There was some underlying cause, which I believe to be anti-gay bias.

But if we can have a civil discussion about gay marriage that reveals what that underlying concern is, everyone benefits. Maybe there's something else.

There are lots of issues like that, and no one can claim that gay marriage is the greatest danger facing Kansas. I'd like to talk about the real issues, and see where that leads us. Some of that discussion will be critical, some will be supportive, and I though Avian touched on both in his piece. We can't make things better if we don't understand what's wrong.