It has been a long time since I’ve seen so many stories on rural America—about four years. It seems that during every presidential election, there is a flurry of coverage about the all-important rural vote.
This year it was particularly true with headlines such as, “Revenge of the Rural Voter” spawning deep analysis of what is really happening in “fly-over country,” the places rarely visited by the political elite—but where they think they understand by simply hanging out at a local diner.
I watched “Meet the Press” and “learned” what the polls tell us about these rural voters: They are bitter, uneducated and yearning for yesteryear. The jobs are all gone. They don’t go to Starbucks, they don’t take their kids on college tours, and on and on.
I don’t put a lot of stock in most of these commentators because they either live just off Central Park in Manhattan or sit in traffic on the Capital Beltway.
I don’t pretend to be the voice of small-town America either, even though I work for an organization that has “rural” in its name.
But here is what I do know: The rural leaders I’ve come across are some of the most civic-minded, forward-looking and innovative people you will ever meet. They may not go to Starbucks because it’s a 100-mile drive, though they make 100-mile drives with the same ease most of us go to the local strip mall. And while—at least in my state—there are more Oregon State Beavers than Yale Bulldogs, they understand the value of education and want to create a vibrant rural economy so their children don’t all flee to Portland.
Finally, they are not angry, bitter people. Despite the headlines, the “revenge” I hear about most is when the local eight-man football team gets beat by the rival across the county.
Perhaps it’s a good thing to have this much attention on rural America right now. We will take the spotlight while it’s on us. We’ll see if it continues as the election fades and the pundits retreat to their multitude of Starbucks, a Metro stop away from the White House.