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Opinion :: How 'schizophrenic' Iowans should respond to Atlantic Monthly article
· 10:42pm December 13th, 2011
Iowans are yelling, and we should, about an article by a University of Iowa professor that says some not-so-nice things about our state. The article, recently published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, was written by Professor Stephen Bloom, who calls Iowa (among other things), a "schizophrenic, economically-depressed, and some say, culturally-challenged state."
Mr. Bloom seemed, at times, to be trying to do just about everything possible to irritate and offend Iowans, even as he said that "Coastal elites love to dump on Iowa the same way Manhattanites trash New Jersey."
What else could you possibly expect from an article entitled, "Observations from 20 years in Iowa life: When Obama spoke of those clinging to guns and religion, he was talking about the Iowa hamlets that will shape the contours of the GOP contest"
Mr. Bloom wrote that when Barack Obama was speaking the truth when he said of small-town Midwestern residents, "So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
Iowans are, in the words of Mr. Bloom: Insular, with "legions of unemployed who have come to the realization that it makes no sense to look for work."
Oh, and he also called Keokuk a "depressed, crime-infested slum town," and he labeled the Iowa Caucuses the result of a "host of nonsensical political precedents."
He also said: "Those who stay in rural Iowa are often the elderly waiting to die, those too timid (or lacking in education) to peer around the bend for better opportunities, an assortment of waste-toids and meth addicts with pale skin and rotted teeth, or those who quixotically believe, like Little Orphan Annie, that "The sun'll come out tomorrow."
Want some more Bloom-isms?
"It's no surprise then, really, that the most popular place for suicide in Americaisn't New Yorkor Los Angeles, but the rural Middle, where guns, unemployment, alcoholism and machismo reign. Suicides in Iowa's rural counties are 13.55 per 100,000 residents; New York's suicide rate is 5.4 residents per 100,000. Hunting accidents are common, perhaps spurred by the elixir of alcohol, which seems to be the drink of choice whenever a man suits up in camo or orange overalls."
It seems that about the only thing Mr. Bloom did not do in this article was mention the many ways that people of Iowa like to use the word, "ain't."
Mr. Bloom is a journalism professor, who tells us in his article how he taught his students about some of the journalistic errors made by some of the state's largest newspapers.
But what Mr. Bloom ain't done right is check his facts. Ain't that the first rule in journalism?
A few examples:
Mr. Bloom referred to the milk that comes from "millions" of Holstein cows in the state. According to the Iowa State Dairy Association, however, there are only 209,000 dairy cows in production; Holsteins are just a fraction of that total.
He also said that the winner of the Iowa Caucus has a 50 percent chance of winning the White House 11 months later. Last time I checked, the 2012 elections take place Nov. 6, which comes 10 months and three days after the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus. And historians will point out that only three people of the 20 politicians (15 percent) who have won the Iowa Caucus in contested elections have gone to the White House: Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. And Carter finished second to "uncommitted" in 1976.
But after Mr. Bloom's nonsense and repeating some of it here, I have to say: The rest of Dr. Bloom's article is not all bad. It's pretty good, in fact.
He shares some history about our state that most people, including some Iowans, did not know.
He also, at times, says things I have been saying for years. For example, he talks about Iowa's overwhelming whiteness, when compared to most other states. I have laughed at the fact that when AmeriCorps members come to Vinton, one of the first classes these people (who have more minorities among their population of 250 than our entire town has) have to take is "diversity education." More than once I have said, "What? These people came to Vinton to learn about diversity?"
He also speaks about the rural nature of the state, and the way people in most towns feel safe, and how people are always waving, even on the highways. Yeah, that's Iowa.
Professor Bloom and I are not on the same page on just about every issues, it seems. We ain't even in the same library.
But he has a point when he talks about the fact that Iowa loses way too many young people to other states, and when he cites the statistics about dwindling population in many rural areas. A group of people in Vinton has been studying this issue, and looking for ways to help keep young people in our town after they finish high school and college.
And at times, I have pointed out the fact that it may not be in America's best interest to let 1/1000th of the nation's eligible voters (227,000 participants in the 2008 caucus, compared to 229 million people old enough to vote in the U.S.) have so much say in presidential politics. Also, I happen to share his view that the proliferation of casinos is a short-term band-aid that won't do enough to help our long-term economic challenges.
But Mr. Bloom, despite living in Iowa since the first Bush Administration and seeing all 99 of our counties, still has an arrogant and condescending view toward Iowa.
I think you should read his article; it would be appropriate to share your feedback. But on the other hand, we Iowans would do well to realize that many people from other states -- especially those who live in urban areas -- share Mr. Bloom's negative impressions of Iowa. If we understand how people perceive us, maybe we can come up with some ways to help give them better information about living and working in our state.
It would also do us good to acknowledge those things he says about us that are at least partially accurate.
Mr. Bloom ended by saying:
"You'd never get a dog because you might just want to walk with the dog or to throw a ball for her to fetch. No, that's not a reason to own a dog in Iowa. You get a dog to track and bag animals that you want to stuff, mount, or eat."
That's not entirely true.
Me, I want a dog so he can can walk with me through the woods to warn off the skunks, and chase the possums off our back porch. That, like so many things that we Iowans see, hear and live every day, is something that most of America would never know.
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