Friday, January 16, 2009

Rural Wariness

Wayne Loewer of Brinkley, Arkansas is cautious about an Obama presidency.

His muddy truck is 900 miles from the kiosks crowding Pennsylvania Avenue selling “Hope Won” T-shirts. But more than miles separate Loewer from the coming celebration in Washington over Barack Obama’s inauguration as president.

The 52-year-old farmer is a conservative Democrat who bet on Republican John McCain and lost, a description that would apply to many in the white South. Now Loewer wonders about his place in Obama’s America.

“I’m worried that he’s not gonna understand the rural way of life,” he says.


He understands the cultural chasm between him and Obama’s Ivy League, biracial, global polish. He realizes he is set apart from the 53 percent majority that put Obama in the White House.

Loewer is not bitter. He is eager to see how Obama will govern.

Still, on the eve of the inauguration, a sense of apprehension prevails in a place that rejected the new president and now warily awaits his version of America.

Not that there’s any implied or inferred racism behind Mr. Loewer’s concerns, but just because Barack Obama is African American and likes playing basketball doesn’t make him urban-centric. Let us remind him that Mr. Obama’s mother was from Kansas and that he grew up in Hawai’i; tropical but hardly the ‘hood. He was also a state and U.S. senator from Illinois, which is sometimes called “The Prairie State.” Just because Mr. Obama doesn’t have an effected Texas twang that would make Gabby Hayes spit out his chaw doesn’t make him unaware of rural issues.

And let’s remember that in spite of his hick act, George W. Bush’s pedigree reeks of East Coast elitism: born in Connecticut, went to a New England boarding school, summered in Kennebunkport, attended (and fratted) at Yale and Harvard, and never did anything rural except wear cowboy boots and drive a pick-up truck. How’d that work out for you?