After spending much of the fall in Kansas City, Missouri I think I understand...
Missouri seems to me to be normal America--a little older, a little less Hispanic, about as African-American, a little less well-educated, a little poorer (but also a little bit more equal) than the average.These facts all matter, but they matter in predictable and normal ways. Anxious suburban doctors in Missouri are like anxious suburban doctors anywhere in America. Young urban hipsters are like young urban hipsters anywhere. People watch the same kinds of cable-TV shows, listen to the same advertisements, buy from the same chains--all in different proportions than I am used to, but different proportions as one would expect given age, race, gender, education level, and wealth. Missouri thus seems to me to be normal America in the sense that the I-80 corridor from San Francisco to Truckee is normal America--one sees the same kinds of people and cultural patterns as one goes from Truckee to Folsom to Sacramento to Davis to Vacaville to Fairfield to Vallejo to Berkeley to San Francisco, albeit with significantly different climate, and with tornadoes rather than earthquakes (we hope).
And I used to think that all of America was normal America--just with with different mixes.[
And now Kansas is scaring me.
As I see it, and I may well be completely wrong, there are three Kansases:
The first is what I call North Permian Basin: Greater Wichita. It is a petropolis, with all the economic and political disadvantages of the natural resource curse--albeit to a low degree. Enough said.
The second is the Leavenworth-Lawrence-Overland Park triangle. It is the Kansas side of the Kansas City metropolis, suburbopolis, and exurbopolis. Its freeways are twice as far from the urban core as I would expect (I am not sure whether because of fear of the Pendergasts or the fact that Truman and Eisenhower both came from greater Kansas City). Thus the car- and freeway-driven flight of the suburbanites so that they no longer bear the taxes or dangers of the city while still being able to draw on its benefits seems greater than I would have expected--fleeing not just the city limits but the state But, again, a normal American pattern.The suburbanites of Leavenworth (and the rest of Leavenworth County) and Overland Park (and the rest of Johnson County) and the hipsters of Lawrence want the normal American good life--which means police and roads and bridges and working public utilities and fire departments; which means good schools that teach evolution so that their children can pass college biology and go on to medical school; which means easy access to contraception and no shotgun marriages among teenagers who do not yet really know who they are and available but regrettable first-trimester abortions when that seems the best option. They also want low taxes and feel unfairly financially stressed because their counterparts in other parts of the country that they see on the TeeVee appear richer than they are. They are conflicted.
And then there is the third Kansas: the land of Brownback. It is the land where people:
- say "the government should just keep funding the farm support programs and Medicare and leave us alone",
- own a million dollars' worth of prime farmland, which will become next to worthless in short order should the market begin to expect that global warming might turn it into west Texas desert in 50 years,
- pray to Jesus for rain,denounce global warming as a scientific-socialist-United-Nations conspiracy,
- really believe that 47% of Americans pay no taxes, vote for Democrats to secure their benefits, and can never be induced to take responsibility for their lives,
- really believe that Medicare and Social Security and farm-support programs and EITC and CTC aren't government benefits--that they are not Romney's in 47, and
- are terrified that sex education and access to contraception will turn their daughters into sluts--never mind that their teen-sex and teen-pregnancy rates are higher (as are their divorce rates, and this shows in their children's educational attainment and future family stability as well).
Please tell me that I am wrong: Tell me that Brownbackism holds and maintains and wields power out of a combination of bad electoral luck, bad economic luck, and an unfavorable mix of the normal American types. Tell me that there is nothing special the matter with Kansas…