An article in New Yorker magazine by George Packer has been making the rounds about southern politics which Betsy Phillips expanded upon today at Pith In The Wind.
The question being pondered upon in an earlier article from USA Today, which I feel is aligned with the above as well, is basically are rural southern communities becoming more obsolete? Packer says the South as a whole is becoming more isolated but I think that there are further issues to take into consideration.
From the USA Today article:
When the top cheerleader for rural America has some harsh words for the people he represents, it might be time to take notice.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack delivered a dire warning to the 51 million farmers, ranchers and other residents inhabiting rural America before a farm group in Washington last month. His message: Rural Americans are becoming less relevant in the country’s increasingly urban landscape and unless they find a way to reverse the trend their voice will continue to fall on deaf ears in Washington and around the world.
One thing that immediately came to mind to me is that there are times that lack of state news isn’t in certain areas. We live in a digital age right now where the news of the world is at the disposal of anyone with a wifi signal and technological access. Not every place has these options. We can talk about Michelle Rhee all day long in urban areas but are smaller rural areas getting the information that Gov. Bill Haslam is leaning to a voucher system, which basically takes public taxpayer money and puts it toward for-profit education systems? The sheriff from where I’m from told me once when I was a cub reporter that state and federal issues tend to trickle down late to rural areas.
He was right. And I realize now that information is the same way.
Let’s take the part of the state I know the best and that is northwest Tennessee. There is very little Tennessee TV news available. Network affiliates come from Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois on many satellite packages. I used to bang my head against the wall that Martin, TN has a wonderful PBS affiliate but my satellite package only offered the PBS channel from Kentucky.
Get my drift here?
Small newspapers don’t always have the funding for the Associated Press (the one I worked at didn’t) and the Tennessean is no longer available on a daily basis in that area with capitol news. Yes, you can get local news and you can get national news but state news is not as easy to get. And finding wifi can be a chore, I assure you. I scrambled like a monkey on crack last week to find dependable wifi. On Steph’s family farm, my cell phone doesn’t even work and the only option for the Internet is dial-up so many folks don’t even mess with it.
Southern political passions have always been rooted in sometimes extreme ideas of morality, which has meant, in recent years, abortion and school prayer. But there is a largely forgotten Southern history, beyond the well-known heroics of the civil-rights movement, of struggle against poverty and injustice, led by writers, preachers, farmers, rabble-rousers, and even politicians, speaking a rich language of indignation. The region is not entirely defined by Jim DeMint, Sam Walton, and the Tide’s A J McCarron. It would be better for America as well as for the South if Southerners rediscovered their hidden past and took up the painful task of refashioning an identity that no longer inspires their countrymen.
That’s a broad stroke painted right there but the issue goes further than that first sentence. He’s right though in his last line, but I do find that we tend to have short memories. The South has done some good things over the years but we tend to put aside institutionalized knowledge of past history. I’m focusing on rural southern areas here, I realize that but let’s remember a few things. Shelby and Davidson county, as an example, tend to vote Democratic. Why aren’t we focusing on rural areas in this day and age where, from what I’ve seen, folks are more likely to split the ballot and not vote straight party in the past. It’s just something to consider.
In just one generation things have drastically changed and it is stunning. In a day and age where information is plentiful we still have news deserts. The question I ponder is how did this happen? There isn’t an easy answer here.
Al Gore’s mother is from that area as was Ned McWherter. If you don’t remember Fats Everett, he was from Obion County (and before my time I might add.) Back during their prime, there were two Memphis papers (Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Press Scimitar was afternoon) and the Jackson Sun, which also came out in the afternoon and there wasn’t 24/7 cable news yelling at people all the time. Punditry and news are two different things, campers. Imagine how the Greensboro sit-ins would be portrayed in this day of instant news access. I can’t even imagine it and I’m afraid it would get lost in the shuffle of Lindsey Lohan’s weekly media circus.
The thing to remember is that state and national leaders tend to use rural America as a prop during election years. With I-69 on indefinite hold and legislators like Stephen Fincher not showing much initiative now that John Tanner is gone, (who did fight for his district despite his blue dog status) rural Tennessee is pretty much left to its on devices.
Who is the next voice for rural Tennessee? I don’t have an answer to that either.