Art Cullen

Our Superior Values

Prepare yourself for ad nauseam assertions this fall about who has small-town values as the presidential campaigns go fishing for the rural vote. Several rural states are in play for the November election, Iowa chief among them. The McCain camp will trot out Sarah Palin the hunter-mother and detail her small-town roots in Alaska. Joe Biden will set up camp in Scranton, Pa., where he will hold forth on blue-collar issues and the joys of deer hunting.

If anyplace can be shaped by small-town values it is Iowa, where its state capital is a small town viewed through a bi-coastal telescope.

But what are these values?

We always thought they boiled down to hard work, honesty, tolerance and limited self-reliance (we’ll take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself).

If you were reared in the old days on an integrated crop-livestock farm you had to work hard. Nobody else would feed the cattle on a sub-zero January morning.

If you are a liar or a cheat nobody in town will have much to do with you. No one will take your check.

Everyone in a small town has to get along with everyone, so we tolerate each other. We have to see each other in the street the next morning. The motto of the fictional editor Harold Star of the Herald Star in Lake Wobegone is “We Gotta Live Here, Too.”

We don’t expect the government to solve all our problems because, even in a small state like Iowa, often the government in Des Moines doesn’t even know that Truesdale, population 50, exists — much less what its peculiar problems might be. But if your house burns down or you are stricken with illness, that small town will do what it can to help you out.

That’s small town.

Truth be told, it’s probably big town, too. People in Des Moines or Minneapolis care about their schools as much as we do. They miss the corner grocery store. They look out for the old lady next door. They battle the freeway every day to grind it out in the cubicle for eight hours five days a week.

Small town values don’t relate so much with guns and religion as the media makers tell us they do. A CNN poll last week found Barack Obama running in a dead heat with John McCain in the Fifth Congressional District of Western Iowa. If Obama has some goofy religion and doesn’t like Uzis, it doesn’t seem to matter much in this most rural (and red) district of a rural state.

What people here want is a chance to pursue opportunity, a president who is generally honest and a government that does not unduly interfere with their pursuits but that provides a safety net to those who suffer ill fortune.

We love our guns no more than the guy in Philadelphia, where the murder rate has set records this summer. We are no more religious than the Jews of New York. We are as conflicted over abortion as anyone. And we are probably as ambivalent about other social wedge issues that do not necessarily have a political answer.

Be smug about your values if you wish and vote that way. Just remember that nobody corners the market on the values front. Or, put another way, pride goeth before the fall.

Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake (Iowa) Times, where this appeared. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2008

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