At first glance, it’s tempting to think that Mark Leibovitch is calling various Republican candidates stupid in his New York Times article, The Bumpkinification of the Midterm Elections. It would be an easy and understandable mistake to make, given that the introduction focuses almost entirely on Joni Ernst, with a generous sprinkling of Sarah Palin and other, almost exclusively GOP figures throughout the piece. But a closer reading reveals that even though the author might be thinking the candidates are toothless, drooling hicks, he’s really casting stones at those of you stupid enough to fall for their homespun, down on the farm campaign commercials.
As we have often been reminded, this was supposed to be a very important election cycle. The Republicans’ hopes of retaking the Senate could easily hinge on squeaker races like Ernst’s in Iowa. This, along with the possibility of padding their majority in the House, would be a significant development for the nation, just as the issues loom huge, complex and ISIS-Ebola scary. And yet countless candidates seem determined to tout their fitness for these enormous challenges by trying to out-bumpkin one another. This spring, Ernst’s opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA)4%, a four-term congressman, assured voters that he “grew up doing farm jobs and working a grain elevator.”
Some of Leibovitch’s less articulate supporters, such as Ed Kilgore, prefer to put aside all the carefully crafted characterizations and just begin slinging “the S word” around. You’re all just stupid.
Now such ads are clever insofar as they link biography to agenda (however vaguely) in a mildly humorous—and more importantly memorable—way. And of course they are deeply stupid, because (just to cite the most obvious thing) working on a farm or riding Harleys or packing heat or baking biscuits has about as much relevance to the decisions being made (or evaded) in Washington as hog-calling has to high oratory. In Ernst’s case, the ads are doubly stupid because she’s not going to be casting votes based on her own homespun farm-bred judgment, but will instead do whatever Mitch McConnell and/or the right-wing activists of Iowa tell her to do.
Leon Wolf, writing at Redstate, has a fairly effective takedown of these attacks, identifying the fact that what these elite culture warriors truly hate more than anything else is having to live on a patch of land which is attached to the flyover states where the annoying, unwashed masses reside. But more to the point, it should be noted that these campaign messages are effective for a reason, and it’s not a negative one. These “bumpkins” which Leibovitch so casually dismisses as being unworthy of participating in a modern democracy are, in fact, representative of a large swath of the nation. There are still people who actually live in farm country and maintain the values he so cheerily derides. There are people working in factories and mills – at least those few who can still find jobs – and get up every day worrying about problems which probably seem quaint, if not fictional, to those who spend their lives living in Manhattan, D.C. or Hollywood.
If Joni Ernst does pull this off and win on Tuesday, the commentariat may have learned a valuable lesson. Advertisements featuring people working on farms, castrating hogs, emptying trash cans or nailing shingles on the roofs of homes actually do work, and not because the viewers are stupid bumpkins. It’s because real people would prefer to be represented in Congress by someone who understands and can relate to their own lives.