Friday, August 28, 2015

Is Opposition to Gay Marriage Enough of a Rural Platform?


Mitt Romney in Clear Lake, IowaWhat does Mitt Romney think of the farm bill? How does Rudy Giuliani figure the federal government can help small towns survive?

Mitt Romney campaigns in Clear Lake, Iowa.

The Daily Yonder has written about the rural platforms (or records) of Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Fred Thompson. We see that Barack Obama is putting together his rural program and the DY will report on that shortly.

But what about the leading Republican candidates: former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney? The crack Yonder staff has scrounged around databases and scoured websites and speeches — and we've found"¦.


When you look for "rural" or "farm" at either the Giuliani or Romney websites, there's very little. When you search back issues of newspapers for what these leaders have said about crop supports, rural housing or small schools, you don't find much. Well, really, you don't find a thing. Neither candidate has an "issues" section dedicated to rural America. Neither candidate has a history of working on rural problems.

The candidates address all manner of issues. Mayor Giuliani has positions on Iraq, Public Safety, the War on Terror, Abortion, the Second Amendment and Marriage. But not rural America.

Gov. Romney has talked about taxpayers, children and immigration — but not about the future of small towns, farms or rural America. (Well, we do know that in 1994, Romney, as a candidate for the U.S. Senate, proposed getting rid of the Department of Agriculture and reducing farm subsidies.)

Why the silence? The Yonder has no inside information, but we think one answer can be found in an analysis of the 2004 election. Political scientist Peter Francia and his colleagues at East Carolina University (Greenville, North Carolina) have been studying the 2004 election, when rural residents voted in waves for George Bush.

Francia has sorted through the survey data from that election and found "significant differences between rural and urban residents." But the reason Bush won rural America in landslide fashion was "his socially conservative position on the issue of gay marriage."

Rudy eating chiliRural areas have grown considerably more Republican since 1980, Francia discovered. By 2004, rural America was extremely Republican. After the political scientist controlled for every other demographic factor (age, race, income), rural Americans voted for George Bush at a rate ten percentage points above the rest of the nation.

Rudy Giuliani eats chili at Robie's Country Store in Hooksett, New Hampshire, in July.


Photo: Andrew Cline

The country has polarized, rural and urban. But why?

Francia runs through the usual list of differences: rural Americans attend church more often than urban residents; they are more likely to adopt a literal interpretation of the Bible; rural residents are more likely to be married, to own a gun and to own a house. Rural residents in 2004 were twice as likely as urban residents to support the Iraq War. But rural residents are also more culturally conservative — and in 2004, 71 percent of rural residents said their cultural disagreements with Democrat John Kerry led them to vote for George Bush.

The most important factor in how rural residents voted in 2004 was gay marriage, Francia found. More than tax cuts, guns or the Iraq War, opposition to gay marriage moved rural voters. Francia wrote, "In short, gay marriage appears to have been the dominant cultural issue of 2004 and was important in understanding the success of George W. Bush among rural voters."

Of course, 2004 isn't 2007 or 2008. But it may be that leading Republican candidates are pretending as if it is (and will be).No wonder Republican candidates mention rural less often in their debates. Maybe they figure that opposition to gay marriage IS a rural platform.

So, Giuliani has issued a position on marriage, but not farm policy, rural development or rural health care. (Giuliani has the ticklish problem of being against gay marriage, but FOR gay civil unions, a distinction that sets him apart from his opponents.) Romney has a position on "America's culture and values," but nothing particular for small towns. (Romney recently said Sen. Clinton was too liberal to be elected in France.)

Rural voters will decide what issues are most important to them. But if Republican candidates feel like the next election is a replay of '04, expect a lot of talk about the sanctity of the family and less about bolstering rural hospitals.


What Do Rural Folk Want?

Maybe one of the great things about rural America is that it doesn't have it's hand out, like the rest of America -- that it is relatively self-sufficient and indpendent -- that it doesn't want much of anything, except to be left alone by (federal) government. Rural Americans depend on federal government for infrastructure maintenance, and *some* depend upon federal government for subsidies of various kinds. But generally I don't see a lot of my neighbors looking to the federal government for solutions to their problems, or evaluating any of the presidential candidates on this basis. It's more like, "Why is my neighbor's loss of employment the federal government's problem?" It ain't the government's problem. And he'll land on his feet, 'cause his friends and relatives will help him get through. This is the kind of spirit and community capital that rural Americans possess that urban Americans don't. So let the Democrats offer their federal government solutions to city folk. The New Deal, the Great Society -- all the big social programs, these were aimed at cities, anyway. What would be nice to see in a presidential candidate is someone who can be a good example of leadership and good character for our children. I would vote for someone like that over someone lacking those qualities but who goes around promising everyone a hand-out. We're not welfare cases like urban Americans are. I don't know why you expect us to make these demands, and choose our candidates on the basis of how much federal aid they'll offer for my vote. The presidential election isn't a bidding war, or less charitably, bribery -- not out here Yonder, anyway.

Rural folks' hands ARE out

Most rural states do very well at the federal trough as compared to more urban states. They typically receive more federal spending than they contribute in federal tax dollars. See the table below. Of course, since rural states are already getting MORE than their fare share of federal funds, they're free to support "values" candidates. Forego the federal largesse for a few years and then let's hear what tune you sing. TABLE: Per Capita Return on Federal Tax Dollar: Fiscal 2004 (Return on Federal Tax Dollar = per capita federal spending / per capita federal tax burden) State/Region -- Return on Federal Tax Dollar -- Rank NEW ENGLAND Connecticut -- 0.73 -- 47 Maine -- 1.36 -- 16 Massachusetts -- 0.82 -- 44 New Hampshire -- 0.73 -- 48 Rhode Island -- 1.03 -- 30 Vermont -- 1.11 -- 23 Total 0.84 -- 5 MID-ATLANTIC Delaware -- 0.83 -- 42 Maryland -- 1.41 -- 13 New Jersey -- 0.63 -- 50 New York -- 0.84 -- 40 Pennsylvania -- 1.07 -- 28 Total -- 0.91 -- 3 MIDWEST Illinois -- 0.77 -- 46 Indiana -- 0.99 -- 33 Iowa -- 1.10 -- 25 Michigan -- 0.88 -- 38 Minnesota -- 0.73 -- 49 Ohio -- 1.02 -- 31 Wisconsin -- 0.85 -- 39 Total -- 0.88 -- 4 SOUTH Alabama -- 1.64 -- 5 Arkansas -- 1.43 -- 10 Florida -- 1.01 -- 32 Georgia -- 0.99 -- 34 Kentucky -- 1.41 -- 14 Louisiana -- 1.41 -- 15 Mississippi -- 1.70 -- 4 North Carolina -- 1.10 -- 26 Oklahoma -- 1.43 -- 11 South Carolina -- 1.35 -- 17 Tennessee -- 1.29 -- 18 Texas -- 0.98 -- 35 Virginia -- 1.60 -- 7 West Virginia -- 1.75 -- 3 Total -- 1.19 -- 1 WEST Alaska -- 1.80 -- 2 Arizona -- 1.28 -- 19 California -- 0.83 -- 43 Colorado -- 0.84 -- 41 Hawaii -- 1.54 -- 8 Idaho -- 1.25 -- 21 Kansas -- 1.11 -- 24 Missouri -- 1.27 -- 20 Montana -- 1.51 -- 9 Nebraska -- 1.06 -- 29 Nevada -- 0.78 -- 45 New Mexico -- 1.91 -- 1 North Dakota -- 1.64 -- 6 Oregon -- 0.97 -- 36 South Dakota -- 1.43 -- 12 Utah -- 1.14 -- 22 Washington -- 0.91 -- 37 Wyoming -- 1.09 -- 27 Total -- 0.98 -- 2 Source: Northeast Midwest Institute

Tackling a sensitive issue

This is a sensitive issue to many people and one that a news source focusing on rural America might choose to ignore. Putting into perspective how economic prioities should be weighed(priorities like an equitable distribution of agricultural incentives, access to a decent education, and availability of healthcare) versus priorities related to traditional values is not an easy topic. There is, however, one thing that is easy to see. Politicians who take for granted an important vote based on only an appeal to "values" and offer nothing to improve the vitality of life should be dismissed as irrelevant. That's my opinion.

Values and other priorities

So are you saying that "values" have nothing to do with the vitality of life? The way you have separated the two, you make it sound as if they are unrelated. Most of the people I know do not farm "on the programs." That is, they do not participate in ag subsidy programs. Several others I know have left the farm, and have done just fine in other jobs, often improving their income (and their happiness), although it certainly required an adjustment on their part -- as it would for anyone. Agriculture and rural dwellers are not immune from economic changes, ups-and-downs, any more than anyone else is. And why should they be? It's called "life." Small businesses on main street fail every day. No one is there to promise a guy that every venture he starts is going to succeed. What I've seen is that people fail, or run out of patience, but then move on, and usually without *any* help, assistance or awareness of the federal government. That isn't heartless or cruel. Change happens -- and it's often good for people, though they may not realize it at the time. So I guess the point is, no candidate is going to buy my vote by telling me that he's got a program to guarantee success for every farmer or small town business. And I don't think rural Americans want that, anyway.

Where do the dollars go?

I live in an urban area and do not see my neighbors asking for a hand out either. Indeed, most of them work 40-60 hours per week. All citizens ought to know that after we have accounted for military spending, national security, medicare/medicaid, social security and financing the debt we have about 10% of the entire budget left over. The specific numbers are not difficult to find. Presumably, rural Americans and urban Americans benefit from military and national security equally, and perhaps from medicare and social security as well, at least on a per capita basis. But what about medicaid and the remaining 10% or so of the budget? As a percentage of the total population, which areas of the country get the most on a per capita basis? Is there a difference, and if so, how great? Are urban areas really the areas of the country with their hands out? Apart from the question of whether any region of the country actually shares disproportionately in the dollars spent by the federal government, I do not understand the complacency of your reader who appears to think the decisions made in the farm bill or other bills which affect rural areas do not matter. Assuming X dollars will be spent in rural areas, does it not matter how those dollars will be spent? I hazard the guess that the very complacency he demonstrates increases the probability that those dollars will be spent poorly. After all, I would think the people in rural areas know best how funds ought to be spent in their communities. If they do not pay attention, I wonder how things will turn out? To provide a little context, the recent changes to the medicaid laws increase the probability tremendously that genuinely small farmers throughout the United States will be losing their homes and land and passing nothing to their children because they will have to liquidate everything to pay for their long term care when their children do not provide that care. The "small" farmers with land worth up to four million dollars come out just fine under the new estate tax laws, but the small farmer with a net worth of $400,000 stands to lose everything under the new medicaid laws. While your reader was sleeping, politicians who played the gay marriage card passed these two wonderful pieces of legislation, one of which will cause tremendous hardships in rural and other areas for years to come.

Who is asleep?

Who has been sleeping? While you tout your economic issues, urban Americans have been driving up the cost of government by demanding ever more of it, in ever more parts of our lives. They demand cradle-to-grave care, and want to be excused for making poor, irresponsible, choices that have led to their fiscal ruin. Then they expect taxpayers and the federal government to solve all of their financial woes, when if they had learned some basic virtues, common to rural communities, they wouldn't have to beg for a handout. And if your neighbors haven't been begging, look at your big-city mayors, and your representatives in Congress. Handouts, regulation and more government are their specialty. They have a history of bad decisionmaking that they want the rest of America to pay for. Someone's been sleeping alright. It's the voters in cities who continue to elect politicians who preach that it's always the economy, and never individual responsibility.


I confess that my belief is basic in that marriage is intended to nurture conventional families. Marriage between a father and mother benefits their offspring, society, and the human race. If two people of the same gender want to make a personal commitment, that's between them, but I don't feel that is conventional marriage. George Bush has done a great job of appealing to American phobias about terrorists, gays, guns, and God. Though sooner or later America must choose a real leader who will deal with the real issues. Conservatives choose to deny abortion as an option, but would deny medical treatment to a 17 year old mother and her child through cuts in social programs. They offer tax credits to wealthy big pharmaceutical firms in exchange for new jobs, yet the big pharmas never hold up their end by adding those jobs. In fact, all the talk of subsidies ignores the fact that the biggest source of subsidy is not a check from the government, but simply release from paying taxes due. In the meantime, average citizens pay and pay.

Who will make you pay?

And who is going to make you pay more taxes, for more government? That would be the Democrats and the Democratic Party. They have always stood for bigger, more centralized government and higher taxes. If you don't believe that, then someone IS asleep. Go ahead, close the corporate loopholes. Average citizens will still pay more under the Democrats. Their ideology is government, and more of it. And why do you think the values issues are not "real" issues? Why are only the economic issues "real"? I don't get it. Sounds like you want government involved in everything. Rural America isn't going to buy it. If you think I'm kidding, just look at the voting patterns from the last, say, six presidential elections. Urban America, on the other hand, will LOVE you. They want exactly the same kind of leaders you want.