Another Perspective

Where Corn Counts

Why are Movement Conservatives increasingly tone deaf about where GOP voters come from?

By 2.17.08

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If Movement Conservatives once and for all could bring ideological purity to the Republican Party, they would no longer have to go nose-to-nose with the Democrats for control of the White House and the Congress.

No, instead, a Movement Conservative-dominated GOP would find itself in a different battle: clawing with Greens and Libertarians for two or three percentage points of the vote.

I must stress that I consider America a conservative nation, though small-c conservative. That is, more instinctually conservative than ideologically so, and with a decidedly populist-progressive twist. There is of course much overlap between Movement Conservatism and small-c conservatism. By Movement Conservatism I refer to the dominant narrative of ideas and events issuing forth from the constellation of talk radio hosts, columnists, and think tanks that the mainstream media put under the heading of "Conservative."

While there is not space today to elaborate sufficiently upon those definitions and assertions, I want to draw attention to one point of policy and ideology that has become dogma for MC's: The government should not lend a hand to bio-fuel research and production.

Turn on the big-names of talk radio, flip through Movement Conservative blogs and websites, slide to the more libertarian ones MC's like to quote when it comes to economics, and this will be recited with as much resolve as the faithful affirming that Jesus Christ is "very God from very God." Ethanol ruins the environment, drives up gas prices, and starves poor people somewhere. Simply put, bio-fuels are not the sort of thing the government should be subsidizing. There is much to debate here, including whether corn will (or should) remain for long the primary ethanol crop, but let us leave such matters for another day. Let's talk straight politics.

AS A SMALL-C conservative and registered Republican, I have a serious question: Why do Movement Conservatives seem increasingly tone deaf as to where Republican votes come from and just who the folks are who actually pull the GOP lever?

It is not too difficult to find the location of bio-refineries in the United States. As of late January this year, there were 139 bio-refineries in production and another 62 under construction. They dot the midsection of the country, in some of the reddest of Red State America -- Nebraska, South Dakota, Kansas, North Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana. They're heavy in the land of Lincoln where the party has fallen on hard times as well as Minnesota where the GOP has made inroads.

MC's are willing to take the votes of Middle America, but when it comes to helping the midsection of the country, that swath of America where small towns are drying up and blowing away, and the only thing taking root is the Wal-Mart on the edge of town, they seem to simply quote from their catechism and look the other way.

I would hate to think Movement Conservatives share John F. Kennedy's assessment of the heartland. After giving a speech on agricultural themes in South Dakota, then-candidate JFK told one of his speech writers, "F*** the farmers after November."

These bio-fuel plants boost sagging rural economies. In Nebraska, which is my neck of the prairie, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, who has something bad to say about bio-fuels and ethanol plants.

In the state's Third District, where a three-legged cat with an R behind its name could beat a two-legged Dem, the GOP's House candidate came close in 2006 to losing. The reason? His ties to the anti-ethanol Club for Growth.

Adrian Smith, a state legislator with a record to draw upon, supported renewable fuel subsidies. He stressed this time and time again. Still, his opponent, a 31-year-old Yale Ph.D. who identified his occupation as "ranch hand," made political hay out of the Club for Growth's endorsement and contributions, coming within 10 percentage points of an upset. If the GOP candidate truly had been a Club for Growth man, there'd be another mark in the D column.

Is opposing bio-fuel production such a matter of principle for Movement Conservatives that they'd be willing to lose the midsection of the country? Or are they conflating the GOP base with the residents of Highland Park or, maybe, the attendees of a conference at a D.C. think tank?

I don't know. But unless they're willing to pay the consequences, they'd best remember the number one skill of politics -- knowing how to count.

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About the Author

R. Andrew Newman is a freelance journalist in western Nebraska.