I zipped up the Shenandoah Valley to Washington, D.C., last week and got to rapping electoral numbers with this political expert dude. Knowing I was a country person—a Bubba—he tried to explain why President Obama’s numbers in rural America were dropping so quickly. Like most inside-the-Beltway types who quietly think we’re a bunch of ignorant rednecks, he seemed to suggest that racism was the cause of the erosion, but I reminded him that Obama (the black guy) far out-performed John Kerry (the white guy) in rural America. And while I readily admit there are racists in rural America—as there are everywhere else in this country for that matter—this is the perfect illustration of how mathematically challenged my Democratic Party friends can be at times. Racists were never in Obama’s column. They didn’t vote for him in the first place.
Like I told that dude, if Barack Obama wants to hit Bubba’s heart and get him moving in his direction, he needs to start hunting in the Bubba-filled woods of cultural economic populism.
Rural polling has shown that when comparing “lack of economic fairness” to “health care reform” as driving issues, Bubba could give a rat’s ass about “health care reform.” Like everybody else, Bubba wants quality health care for him and his family, but the reality to many Bubbas is they could have the shiniest of Cadillac health care plans but they might as well park them on cinder blocks in the side yard. That’s because more than 80 percent of rural counties are designated as “medically underserved” since 500 hospitals have closed in rural America in the last 30 years, meaning that there are few, if any, doctors in four out of five rural counties. Mortality rates in rural America are much higher than in other areas, and those high rates are not the end result of us hollering, “Hey, y’all! Watch this!” Plus, if Bubba has a tooth ache, he might as well go to the work shed and grab the pliers because in much of rural America you could find a Tiffany’s quicker than a dentist’s office. Even with government intervention, Bubba knows the healthcare facts of rural life will be difficult to reverse any time soon. While we are 20 percent of the population, only 3 percent of today’s medical students plan to practice in rural America.
But herein lies the power of economic populism. Even with such a grim picture of health care in rural America, Bubba doesn’t find health care reform the least bit sexy. He’s not down on Obama because he fears socialistic health care. Bubba’s down on Obama because he has been screwed by unchecked corporate greed for the last 30 years and is pissed that Obama, who sold himself as an agent of change, has yet to do a thing about it. Talk about redistribution of wealth all you want. In 1980, 1 percent of the people had 8 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today, 1 percent has close to 25 percent.
Bubba only wants to once again make things and grow things and, unlike the Global Economy Theorists, he doesn’t necessarily believe those days are gone with the wind. As far as Bubba making things, Pat Buchanan pointed out very eloquently a couple of weeks ago that in the last 10 short years we’ve gone from producing 32 percent of the world’s domestic product to 24 percent, and no single group has felt the economic sting of that decline more than Bubba.
And the Bubba nation, which used to serve as the world’s bread basket, has seen the greed of American-based, multi-national agricultural giants run unchecked to the point we now import more food than Bubba exports. If you want to see how the American family farmer got screwed, you have to look no further than Iowa. In 1978, there were 60,000 family-owned hog farms in Iowa. Because of vertical integration, there are less than 9,000 today. That there is a damned shame.
Looking way ahead to 2012, Obama desperately needs to grab the throttle of the economic fairness train or he’s in serious danger of riding the early train back to Chicago. Who’s going to put him on the early train? I think it could very easily be Mike Huckabee. Since the days of Teddy Roosevelt, there has never been a better political landscape for economic populism than now. Besides being a Baptist preacher, which sits real well with his Republican base, Huckabee can also deliver a kick-ass populist sermon on the resurrection of economic fairness. Even with Huckabee’s sin, I believe if Obama doesn’t tackle the issue of economic fairness for all Americans, Bubba would resoundingly answer a Huckabee altar call in huge numbers in 2012. And remember… there are a bunch of Bubbas living everywhere, not just in rural America. There won’t be the same kind of “change” energy for Obama in 2012 that there was in 2008. Huckabee could win the White House using the same arithmetic Republican winners have used since 1980: Jesus + Bubba = Glory.
Dave “Mudcat” Saunders, a former senior strategist and bubba coordinator for Mark Warner, Jim Webb, John Edwards, and Bob Graham, author, and has worked for years with NASCAR’s legendary Wood Brothers Racing Team.