When Gov. Sarah Palin uttered the phrase, “We grow good people in our small towns,” at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis she changed the tone of the 2008 Presidential election. No longer was it about Change vs. Experience. It became “us” vs. “them;” politicians vs. the people; Washington vs. the rest of the world. I’ve spent the past ten days in a small town in Wisconsin soaking in the ethos of the place. Is there truly a difference between a town of 40,000 and a city of 8 million, I wondered? Of course there is, but I never realized how substantial that difference is. After ten days in a small town I’ve learned that yes, we do grow good people in our small towns, and those people, who have predominantly given authority to the Republican Party over the past 12 years, may very well do it again in 2008.
Brookfield, WI is not a small town in a popular sense of the term. At 40,000 people it’s nearly four times the size of Gov. Palin’s hometown. Brookfield’s probably more like the western suburbs of Chicago or the northern areas of St. Louis. It’s more Wisteria Lane than Wasilla, Alaska. But small towns aren’t about size, I learned, or income for that matter. They’re about mentality. One thing every small town has in common, yes, despite it’s size or makeup, is a total commitment to the word, values.
Define values as you will: a moral code, an understanding of right and wrong, justice. I can tell you values in the heartland, values in the small town are a finite set of principles. Values in the Small Town are the sanctity of the family; the preeminence of private property; the importance of the community; and the unfettered respect of self-reliance. That’s it, and it’s that core set of values that make Gov. Palin and her running-mate John McCain such attractive prospects for the White House.
Republicans have managed to make these values the bedrock of their agenda in Small Towns across the country, insinuating their party’s message into the fabric of the communities. It’s the expression of these values, the total adherence to their importance and a strong-willed defense of their meaning that have made Democrats foreign bodies in a native land into this new millennium.
“Read My Lipstick…”
The most important issue to Small Town voters is taxes. If you raise their federal income tax they will not vote for you. It’s as simple as that. Small Town citizens operate with the understanding that it is them against the world. The big city is looking to tap their tax base to fund urban initiatives; the state is interested in using the money garnished from Small Town workers to feed an over-sized bureaucracy; Washington is looking to tax and spend at the expense of the little person to benefit multinational corporations. Asking people to sacrifice their standard of living and the rewards of their personal initiative for Government programs from which they will not benefit is counter-intuitive. Yet that is the message Democrats send voters in Small Towns when they denounce school choice, advocate more money for failing schools and campaign for office promising Government to be the answer. To Small Town voters, the only question to which Government is the answer is, “What do you need less of in your life?”
Self-reliance is big in Small Towns. If you work, you should be entitled to keep your earnings and do with them as you wish. That means withholding from Social Security and paying into a private account that allows you to invest your own money into the market. That means cutting federal programs that financially support the indigent. That means removing barriers imposed by the Government that prevent you from pursuing your own ambitions. These are all values the Republican party has ingeniously adopted into its fold. Its emphasis on moving the federal government away from New Deal era policies such as Social Security and Medicare; Its emphasis on limiting the influence of unions on business regulation; It’s emphasis on supply side economics are things that many voters in these small towns, the same voters in the same towns that determine the outcome of elections in closely contested states, hold dear.
“You know what the difference between a small town mayor and a community organizer is?”
Community would seem antithetical to the Republican platform considering Gov. Palin’s and Rudy Guilliani’s derisive views on community organizing. But it’s not and small towns respond to that. People in small towns believe whole-heartedly that they know more about the well-being of their neighbors than Washington. They believe local authority is always preferable to federal intervention. School boards should dictate education policy, they say. Community organizations and churches should be relied upon for charity and support, they say. The federal government is to serve, not to meddle. People in small towns believe they have the greatest, most desirable way of life and that it is their responsibility to protect it from federal interference. The Republicans have cowed to that; the Democrats as of yet have not.
Small towns are soccer leagues; Small towns are malls with the finest restaurants; Small towns are places where the American ideal must be protected. Small Towns, yes, are guns and religion, things they cling to not out of bitterness but a fundamental belief in their right to protect their homes and their faith in values that keep a people together. Somehow Republicans have made it clear that they understand this, while Democrats acknowledge it and smile, reminding Small Town Americans that what they have has been good for a while, but now it’s time to give it up for the benefit of the nation.
People in cities see how much more Government can do to help the dispossessed. People in cities see what happens to an urban area after a levee wall breaks during a category 5 hurricane. People in cities see that affordable housing and access to quality education are essential to the growth of the country. This is beyond the purview of the small town. Ten days in a small town and now back in a big city, I can’t say I don’t understand this. We do grow good people in our small towns, and they all grow up to vote Republican.