View Full Version : The Bumpkin Factor

11-11-2004, 05:09 PM
Here's a little something my brother wrote the other week:

The Bumpkin Factor
by David Huisjen, Jr.

Being an American expatriate this year has its frustrations and rewards. On the one hand, being a citizen, but not being a resident of any particular state, there was really no way to make my voice heard in this election. On the other hand, seeing the result, I donít have to run away to put a safe distance between myself and my more embarrassingly ignorant countrymen; I already am at a safe distance.

I have been living in Finland for the past 18 years. Itís not a perfect country, but itís growing, slowly learning from its mistakes, continuously developing its democratic systems to better respond to the will of the people, and becoming more customer service oriented and internationally competitive each year. I could do much worse.

But sadly, Finland too is a country which is very politically polarized, though not along strictly left / right lines. The multi-party system here involves three large parties, each accounting for between 20 and 25% of the voting public. Then there are another four or five parties accounting for the vast majority of the remainder, with the odd independent actually getting elected here and there as well. Yet for all this plurality there is still a major rift among Finnish voters: urban political groups vs. rural political groups. And the more I look, the more I see a parallel between this and the American situation.

The current governing coalition in Finland is center-left, but after less than two years in power this is showing serious signs coming apart already. Prior to this cabinet being formed there was in fact the longest serving cabinet coalition in Finlandís history, combining the leftist Social Democrats with the conservative National Coalition party. In some ways this seemed an odd marriage Ė left and right to the exclusion of the Center Party Ė but it worked. The reason: both the Social Democrats and the National Coalition are parties with urban constituencies, interested in making Finnish cities both livable and competitive in a global market. They differ strongly on the size of welfare payments and tax code ideals which they envision, but as far as being engaged in a global market, active in all forms of international treaties and promoting technological advancement as a national concern, they are very much on the same page with each other.

The party with the opposing ideology in these matters is the Center Party, which tries to serve the needs of rural communities, family farms and small town co-ops. Within the Finnish political mainstream they stood alone in the early nineties (with the support of a few of the tinier radical parties) against the idea of Finland joining the EU, since this would make it more difficult to maintain their protectionist stance against farm produce coming in from warmer climates, as their agricultural constituency was demanding. They lost on that battle, and theyíve been struggling to get back into a position of influence ever since. In the last parliamentary election (2002) they became the largest party again (26% of the popular vote), and thus earned the privilege of trying to construct a cabinet coalition. But almost immediately their Prime Minister / party chair-person got canned for strategically leaking confidential documents to the media. In their second run at putting a workable cabinet together they did slightly better, managing a token level of bipartisan cooperation with the Social Democrats, but as I said, this is already showing serious signs of strain. When it comes to politics, Finnish country bumpkins have a real uphill battle on their hands these days.

If you take a map of Finland showing where Social Democratic candidates have won elections in one hand, and a map showing areas of population density in the other, they will be virtually identical. If you then pick up a map of National Coalition strongholds you find that you are holding a third virtually identical chart. Pick up a map of Center Party controlled areas in Finland and you have a negative image of any of the above three. Itís the city mice vs. the country mice. Richer city mice and poorer city mice have their differences, but overall they prefer each otherís company to that of country mice. Likewise poorer country mice and richer country mice have their differences, but they still prefer to stick together rather than getting involved with city mice.

This seems to be more and more the case in the US as well. What we saw on TV Wednesday was high population density areas in blue, low population density areas in red. Especially when we got to see the breakdown precinct by precinct of voting within given states, the correlation was remarkable. Areas of dense population were all marked in blue; areas where individual residents are prone to be dense were marked in red.

At the same time we can see that the "country mice" outnumber the "city mice" in the US at this point. Thus the greatest determinant of electoral success in the US seems to be the bumpkin factor. In fact as I reflect on the matter it occurs to me that, since the fall of Nixon at least, the strongest common denominator between all of the winners of US presidential elections has been that they all came across as more country-mouse-like than their opponents. For Carter over Ford this was painfully obvious. For Reagan over Carter it was less obvious in terms of their demographic backgrounds, but accents aside, Reagan was just more folksy and seemed more at home on the range then Carter did. Four years later Fritz Mondale tried to sell himself as a simple mid-western preacherís kid, but no one bought it; all of them big city folks were paying the piper, and Mondale was dancing to their tune. His farm roots had dried up long ago.

Then came Bush Sr. vs. Dukakis Ė two painfully obvious city boys from the Northeast, and the bumpkins had to choose the lesser of two evils: the one with more connections to the rural South. But in í92 Clinton came along Ė a true rural southern state governor, whose greatest gift was speaking on a level that country mice could relate to. Even as an incumbent who had started and finished a war within his first term, the elder Bush didnít stand a chance. Republicans thoroughly hated Clinton from the start, and thought that he would be a synch to vote out in í96, given how little he was loved among religious folk and the business community, but Dole proved to be too urbane to win the hearts of the country mice, so Clinton stayed for a second four years.

Next came Gore vs. Bush II: two second generation political insiders from Ivy League schools who were both trying to pass themselves off as normal Southerners. Damn close. Not really a hairís breadth difference between them: Gore got more votes; Bush, more states. In the end it was Bushís brotherís minions in the Florida electoral offices which managed to tip the balance of an otherwise near perfect tie towards W. You couldnít really blame the American voters on that one. By the time the rip off was discovered, the WTC had been destroyed and no one seemed to care any more.

But in retrospect the bumpkin factor was already in play in 2000. After all, Gore couldnít even carry his home state of Tennessee. Bush may have been Ivy League educated and of East Coast Brahman stock, but when it came right down to it he just didnít seem all that refined or educated. He always looked uncomfortable with a tie on, with his endearingly chimp-like face and his difficulties speaking English at a high school graduate level; and the longer he remained in office, the more the bumpkins came to realize, this guy really isnít any smarter than the rest of us. He isnít clever enough to trick us, so we can really trust him! Thus when challenged by another urbane, well spoken, sophisticated thinker from the Northeast, Bush came out with a nearly 10% better showing than he had the first time. Given the number of things he had screwed up in his first term this was a truly incredible feat!

Say what you will about the religious right grass roots movement, the new paradigm after 9/11 or anything else you want; from the other side of the Atlantic the clear fact of the matter seems to be that in America you have the educated city folk on the one side and the less educated country folk on the other, and itís the latter which have been calling the shots for the last 30 years or more. This gets embarrassing for those of us who, as Americans, are living and working among Europeans. Then my native friends and I see American tourists on the streets of Helsinki asking their guide things like, "Where are all the polar bears?" or "Does Santa Claus really live here?" and I can only shrug my shoulders and politely try to hide my head while waiting for them to leave. It no longer works to say that not all Americans are that stupid, since this election has proven the fact that most are.

The scariest thing is to have the worldís only military superpower controlled by people with this minimal level of intelligence. What can be done to fix this? Europeans are not as prone to spending time in prayer as Americans are, but the chill that Bush sends down their spines is reviving the reflex!

Ultimately the only hope is that some viable form of political opposition will arise in the US to bring some much needed sense into our countryís foreign policy. Sadly, this leaves us dependent on the Democrats. (Powell is respected here for making an effort at international diplomacy from within the Republican ranks, but ultimately he didnít stand much of a chance against the forces of idiocy surrounding him, nor would McCain.) But are we looking at a dry well here? Kerry gave it the good old college try, but ultimately he just couldnít carry the country mice. Edwards is a pretty boy and a good speaker, but when it comes to rolling up his sleeves and walking out among the cattle heís clearly not at ease. God knows that Hillary wonít be winning them over! Who else have they got?

This election has proven that you canít win by appealing to the intelligence of the American voter. The candidate has to keep any intelligence he or she has carefully hidden and get out there and shovel manure with the rest of the farm folk, and then try to lead them in a sensible direction once their irrational hearts are won over. What we need is another Lincoln: a man of intelligence and vision, with a feel for how the game is played, but who can still convince the bumpkins that he is one of them at heart Ė a log cabin dweller fond of hard cider. But alas, for every intelligent visionary who remains in touch with his rural roots, you have thousands of charismatic idiots like W.

God help America! God help us all!


11-11-2004, 05:30 PM
Log cabin fond of cider, my ass. The true new power base in America is the exurbian commuter who shops at the outlet mall and thinks war, terrorism, and death are things seen on TV. Real farmers and woodsmen are way too grounded in reality to buy the crap the politicians are dishing out these days.

Bruce Hooke
11-11-2004, 06:15 PM
While I think he is right that the voters of this country tend to prefer someone who comes across as a "regular guy" or even "simple" I don't think he is justified in concluding that rural voters are simple-minded bumpkins. After all, Bill Clinton was pretty popular in the urban and rural areas, and I don't think it was his intelligence that made him so popular. Also, George does raise a good point that some of George Bush's important support came from the suburbs and exurbs -- and most of the people in those areas are probably not old farmers or loggers or ranchers! Finally, the most rural state in the nation, Vermont, is very left leaning, so all generalizations fail somewhere!