Rural Conversations On Politics

I spend a lot of time talking about politics. Usually I’m in a rural situation, as that is where I currently live, and the conversation usually goes like this.

Random person: What do you do?

There is a definite feeling in rural conversation re: politics of us and them. Photo from Dr. Suess' The Sneetches.

Me: Blah, blah, blah and I work p/t in politics.

RP: I HATE POLITICS! Nobody cares about us. I don’t want to talk about POLITICS! (Then for the next 15 minutes I listen to them talk about politics from their point of view.)

There is a theme I hear and in some ways it troubles me but then on another plain, I understand that just what Washington or Nashville/any state capital doesn’t get is that people really aren’t engaged by the political infrastructure in front of them, but more on what they are hearing on Fox/MSNBC/CNN.

I decided to hold an experiment on the governor’s race and District 8 and 9 to just see what information was out there.

First to the governor’s race. A majority of folks in this independent and very for-my-own-knowledge study didn’t not have a lot of indication of who was even RUNNING for governor. I got a lot of “Who is Bill Haslam?” to which I responded that he’s the mayor of Knoxville.

RP: What does he know about farming and all the factory workers losing their jobs here?

Me: Just ask him or his campaign. (I’m a big proponent if you have a question or want information, to contact their campaigns.)

Other RP:  Is he rich?

Me: Yeah.

Then I get questions about Zach Wamp, which more people up here no less about. We are talking about hard working people coming out of the fields or working 10 hours in a hot factory like Lennox or MTD. Not everyone, because I’ve seen some signs but I was speaking to some working Joes, not local political leaders.

RP:  Don’t know him. Where is he from?

Me: Chattanooga.

RP: Where does he go to church?

Me: Umm, I’m not sure. I think he’s a Baptist.

RP: Okay.

Then we get to Ron Ramsey, where some of my conversations had some folks knowing him, not for his boots but for his hairdo.

I kid you not.

In northwest Tennessee, last Democrat standing Mike McWherter (disclosure here) was discussed mainly on his name recognition which is a reality. As McWherter grew up in northwest Tennessee, some folks mentioned that they had gone to school with him and they spoke highly of his father. But there were also questions about jobs and farming and his thoughts on that.

Most of the questions had less to do with the four candidates than they did about who they should trust.  One statement I heard repeatedly was “I’m not voting! Nobody gives a damn about us up here until election time.”

And that my friends, is the disconnect.

Never was it discussed about political parties or social strategy. No one mentioned those particular things at all. They talked about that no one cares about them. I don’t think northwest Tennessee is unique in this because I’ve heard these same statements out of Memphis and Jackson and have read bloggers discuss this from the east side of the state as well. All I did was try to listen and advocate a bit that it’s good to know, at least, the political structure around them. When I asked about county commissioners or local aldermen, they knew their friends that sat on boards and they were very up-to-date on farm laws, crime and what was happening at schools their children attended, but for political hoo-haa coming out of Nashville, they were not invested.

Being invested is important. The other question is why aren’t they invested?

When we moved into Rep. John Tanner leaving office, everyone knew him.  One thing brought up more than once, and that I witnessed in Union City, TN, were the insane amount of flyers from GOP candidates. George Flinn, Ron Kirkland and Stephen Fincher flyers are going to mailboxes like an ant parade at a July 4th picnic attacking a watermelon. There was more irritation regarding the flyers having to be thrown out then with what the flyers were trying to communicate. There was some discussion on why they haven’t gotten flyers from Roy Herron.

RP: How much do these things cost? Heck these things cost more than I make in a year I bet?

Me: I’m not sure. (And I’m not but my random people in this very unscientific study that mentioned this have a point.)

I return to being invested.  I think there is a fatigue of sorts when it comes to politics  happening in our state. Shelby County has had a gazillion elections in the past few years. Voter turn-out, other than the presidential race, has been low. More people, especially in Shelby Co, will turn out for the August election but I believe those numbers will go down after the Willie Herenton/Steve Cohen showdown, which I will use as an example, because Memphis is invested and engaged in that race. Maybe for reasons that have nothing to do with political strategy but emotional resonance from the two candidates.

The fatigue is there. Sacrifices have been asked by our government. Now people want to know what they are willing to do for them and what sacrifices will be made by them. You can only live on ramen noodles and tentative hope for something a little better for so long.

It’s interesting to see what will happen during this long, hot summer when it comes to further conversations. Thus far I’m seeing and hearing a lot of talk about Us and Them and I think that something that anyone running for office needs to take into consideration. Because the Us will be voting for Them.

Then again, they may not if what I’m witnessing comes to fruition.

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