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How the Democratic Party lost the Ozarks


Matt Meacham’s essay, “Plenty of Hope After All,” is a thoughtful insider’s reaction to a Washington Post’s reporter’s superficial article about West Plains, Missouri. The Washington Post sent Eli Saslow to West Plains, a busy trading center in the south central Ozarks of Missouri.

West Plains attained some temporary notoriety in 2009 because of the appearance of this billboard, which suggests that President Obama stands for more abortions, more same-sex marriages,  higher taxes, and more stringent gun regulations.

Meacham’s essay doesn’t advocate in favor of one party over the other. He’s more concerned with the way that the national press covers rural America, a contextless reporting style that ” furthers the marginalization of rural America” when it should convey “something of the depth and complexity of rural American life.”

Besides gently pointing out Saslow’s deficient reporting, Meacham poses the idea that the values of the people of the Ozarks are not precisely aligned with the platforms of national political parties. The people of the Ozarks, generally speaking, share a set of political values that have been called Jeffersonian populism, which was once more closely aligned with the Democratic Party.

Though the interior Ozarks has never been dominated by the modern Democratic Party, the majority of the voters of the Ozarks have become more firmly Republican than ever, even  though the Ozarks is hardly a place where you’ll hear much support for the bank bailout, a strong federal government (other than the military part of it), or U. S. efforts in Bosnia or Somalia, or guest-worker programs for immigrants, even though the Republican-dominated Congress of the Bush years and both Presidents Bush advanced these efforts, along with President Clinton.

Since the 1960s, the Republican Party on the national level has gained strength in rural America with its focus on abortion rights, opposition to same-sex marriage and gay rights, and support of gun rights, which are apparently enough to make many people of the Ozarks ignore the Republican positions of deficit spending, bailing out the banks, exporting jobs, and acting as the world’s policeman.

The Democratic Party, particularly at the national level, seems tone-deaf on religion, heartless on abortion, and unconvincing on gun control, getting little traction in the Ozarks with independent voters.

The Ozarks are like the rest of the country, a stew of political and ethnic diversity. In the past ten years of my legal practice in Branson, I’ve worked with people from Laos, Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine, Russia, Syria, Israel, Armenia, Iran, China, Uganda, Mexico, and several European and Latin American countries. I also work with people from all over the United States and Canada. The political values of my clients isn’t of interest to me, but I’ve noticed that they cover the spectrum.

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About Harry Styron

I'm a lawyer who lives in Branson, Missouri, whose professional interests involve real estate, construction and local government.

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