Carroll, Iowa, newspaperman Douglas Burns asks President Obama if there should be a rural member of the Supreme Court -- and why Democrats have fallen out of favor with many rural voters.
Douglas Burns, a Yonder contributor and writer and columnist at the Daily Times Herald in Carroll, Iowa, had a chance to interview President Barack Obama by phone Wednesday afternoon, just the after President’s town hall meeting in Alpha, Illinois. Burns asked the President several questions about rural America.
Below is a complete transcript of the interview.
President Obama: Hello.
Douglas Burns: Mr. President. Doug Burns in Carroll, Iowa, sir.
President Obama: Doug, it’s great to talk to you.
Douglas Burns: Great to talk to you again.
President Obama: How you been?
Douglas Burns: I’ve been very good. Yourself?
President Obama: I’m doing great. We had a wonderful event here in Alfa. I’m just glad to have a chance to talk to The Herald.
Douglas Burns: Thanks for showing the respect by coming to rural America, sir.
President Obama: Listen, it is my pleasure. It makes me feel real good after being stuck in Washington.
Douglas Burns: Mr. President, we’re doing pretty well here in Carroll County. We have the second-lowest unemployment rate in the state, but over the last decade, Audubon County, Iowa, lost 12 percent of its population. Our neighbor to the east, Greene County, lost 11 percent. Does the government have a role in helping to reverse this or should these very rural counties just accept that they’re on the losing end of market forces?
President Obama: You know, I just had a rural forum in Iowa to talk about exactly these issues, and I think there are so many strengths in rural America — hard-working people, great values, an entrepreneurial spirit. The challenge is in a lot of these communities they have not been connected to the market, and there hasn’t been a comprehensive strategy for helping them grow and succeed.
So to just take one example, it’s hard if you’re a business these days to succeed if you don’t have high-speed Internet connections. That’s why we invested to make sure that we get 98 percent coverage all across America, focusing specifically on rural America.
When it comes to our schools, we’ve got to make sure that young people in schools in rural communities are able to attract good teachers and hospitals are able to attract good doctors. That all contributes to quality of life.
So we’re creating special programs that can ensure that we get the capacity to attract teachers and doctors and nurses into community hospitals and rural schools.
There are a lot of things that we can be doing that will strengthen rural communities and build off of the incredible strengths of the people. That’s why I put together this Rural Council so we could start coordinating more effectively, delivering these kinds of strategies.
Douglas Burns: Thank you, sir. The U.S. Supreme Court right now lacks a rural voice. There’s no one on it right now with any rural background on their resumes. Trenton, New Jersey, just one American city, has more representation — (Samuel) Alito and (Antonin) Scalia were born there — than rural America which is 20 percent of the nation. Is it right to have the nation’s final-say panel populated exclusively by urbanites who see land and environmental issues from an outside observer’s perspective?
President Obama: You know, that’s a great question. I’d like to see more diversity on the Court, and when people hear diversity a lot of times they think racial diversity or gender diversity. I’d like to see more diversity of experience on the Court.
I think it’d be great to have somebody who comes out of rural America. I’d like to see more folks who have more practical, hands-on experience.
Obviously, I’m very proud of the two nominations and Supreme Court justices that I’ve placed on the Court.
But if I have the opportunity to place a few more, then I think taking into account what their life experiences are is as important in many ways to shaping their legal philosophy. Obviously, there’s got to be a threshold of somebody who knows the law and knows the Constitution and is whip-smart and is able to understand and listen and pay attention to arguments from across the board. But I also would like some folks with some practical experience as well.
Douglas Burns: Sir, Texas Governor Rick Perry has on more than occasion referenced secession. Do patriotic Americans joke, if in fact he was joking, about the Civil War, and should such comments disqualify Governor Perry from leading the Union? Shouldn’t you at least believe in the Union to want to lead the Union?
President Obama: You know what, I’m assuming that a lot of times he’s saying these things just for effect and to get himself on TV.
Now that he’s decided he’s running for president I’m sure that his advisers are telling him that people actually start paying attention to what you’re saying.
I suspect you’ll see an adjustment in terms of how he approaches some of his comments, and if not, I think the American people will be able to make those judgments themselves about the kind of president that they want.
Douglas Burns: Sir, you know Iowa as well anyone who doesn’t live here based on the 2008 campaign. Why should people move to Iowa’s small towns, and furthermore would it be reasonable for your presidential library to someday be located here because we did launch your presidency. We maybe have as much claim to it as Hawaii or New York or someplace you spent less time?
President Obama: It is true that I feel sometimes like Iowa is a second home. Chicago and Honolulu might have some pretty strong claims for a library, but that’s not what I’m spending time thinking about now.
I can tell you this: When I go back to Iowa it always makes me feel good. It’s got wonderful people. There’s a great community spirit. People are civic-minded. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m from the Midwest and I was raised by Midwesterners, but there’s something about the people of Iowa that always cheers me up, and I’m so glad that I was able to spend a couple of days with all of you this past week.
Douglas Burns: Mr. President, 40 years ago, there was really no difference between the way rural and urban Americans voted, and in 1976 only 26 percent of Americans lived in what are known as landslide counties. Now, there’s really a straight-line correlation between urban Democratic and rural Republican voting patterns. How did this happen?
President Obama: I think part of it has to do with a generational component. I think that older Americans tend to be a little more conservative, tend to vote a little more Republican, and in rural communities, the population is a little bit older.
I think that there are cultural issues. There have been times in the past at least where some of these social issues or wedge issues made rural communities suspicious of Democratic candidates.
But I also think that Democrats need to show up in rural communities.
I may not win every rural community but I tell you what, I’m certainly going to lose them if people don’t feel like I’m paying attention to ’em. I always tell Democrats: Don’t just assume the only place you’re going to get votes is in the cities or the suburbs.
If you go to a rural community and people feel that you’re respectful and you’re listening to ’em and you’ve got I think a good story to tell about issues like agriculture — and my administration I think has done as good of a job on agriculture as any administration — then even if you don’t win, you learn something, and over time, you can rebuild trust.
Doug, I appreciate you taking the time. Please tell everybody in Carroll that I said, “Hello,” and tell all the folks at The Herald that I look forward to seeing them again.
Douglas Burns: Thank you for the time as always Mr. President.
President Obama: You bet. Bye.
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