Country Mice and City Mice

by TOM MCLAUGHLIN November 10, 2010
Conservatives made gains last week, but there’s pain ahead. Government must be pruned back drastically. I say this not just as a conservative who believes it philosophically; I say it as a rational human being, because it’s mathematically impossible to sustain. What government has promised to do for people it simply cannot do. It cannot pay medical bills for the poor (Medicaid) and for the elderly (Medicare) too much longer. It cannot continue to pay pensions to the elderly and disability payments to whomever at current levels.

According to one study, “. . . the [Social Security Disability Insurance program] will continue to grow until its rolls include almost seven percent of the non-elderly adult population, a 70 percent increase over today's enrollment rate.” Fourteen percent of Americans get food stamps and that’s rising. States are straining too. California, already going bankrupt, borrows $40 million per day just to pay unemployment.
We’ve already gone too long pretending we can do all this indefinitely. It’s past time to admit we cannot. People are going to have to learn how to take care of themselves as they did before progressives created the almost-bankrupt, nanny state we have now.

We have to cut it all back 5-10% per year for the next several. If we look at riots in Greece and France after cutbacks there, the entitlement class will likely push back here too. It's going to be difficult, but not as hard as it would be should it all collapse at once. That's what will happen if we don't start taking incremental steps now.

There are few alive today who remember when people didn’t look to government to take care of them if they were unable or unwilling to take care of themselves. Where did they look back then? To family. To church. To private charity. Not to government. Now government is the first place they look - and for just about every American under the age of 80, it’s always been that way. That has to change, and the change is going to be painful for millions who have become dependent for their living in whole or in part - either temporarily, or for their entire lives - on government.

Last week, for the first time in half a century, Mainers elected a conservative Republican governor and a Republican legislature. According to one analysis in the Portland Press Herald, it was Mainers from rural areas who gave us Governor-elect Paul LaPage: "With the exception of sort of the area right around Portland, LePage got virtually every town with a population under 1,000," said L. Sandy Maisel, professor of government at Colby College. "More than any election that I can recall in Maine, it was a rural-urban split."

Maine had been moving steadily left under liberal Democrats for decades to the point where it had more generous welfare benefits than other states and attracted dependent people from other areas. As a sanctuary state, it attracted illegal aliens from other countries. Democrat Governor Baldacci passed down an executive order preventing any state employee to question anyone’s immigration status when they applied for benefits, or even when they applied for driver’s licenses. That was quite a departure from Maine’s long tradition of self-reliance and last week’s election results can be understood as backlash.

When I moved to rural Maine 33 years ago, I was struck by local people’s pride and self-sufficiency. Very community-minded, they were more than willing to help anyone in need. However, they disdained those who were able-bodied but relied on government, saying they lived “on the town.” That was the ultimate put-down. That city/country split exists for the rest of the United States as well. If we look at the red/blue electoral map for the past three presidential elections, liberal-Democrat/big-government/nanny state support comes from urban areas, especially on the coasts. People in rural America are overwhelmingly conservative and seen as stupid rubes by coastal urban liberals. Country people see urban liberals as pseudo-intellectual elitists. That disdainful divide became clear when the red/blue US map by county was published after the 2000 election. Ten years later, it has grown wider.

While campaigning in the ultra-liberal San Francisco area in 2008, elite, urban, liberal Senator Obama described rural Americans thus: “ . . . they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
New Orleans flood
On conservative blogs that year were many comparisons between how local people reacted to a flood in Iowa and how they had reacted to a previous flood in New Orleans: “We're not seeing hordes of Iowans sitting on their roofs looking stupid and waiting for someone else to come save them,” for example, and “We're not seeing Iowans blaming everyone except themselves while they sit around watching everyone else clean up their neighborhoods,” and “We're not seeing Iowans demand that the rest of us rebuild their old houses for free.”

John Edwards was right when he said there were two Americas, but not for the reasons he outlined. Call them red/blue, conservative/liberal, rural/urban, or whatever you want, but the real divide is between the America that wants government to leave it alone, and the America that wants government to take care of it from cradle to grave. Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam. E-mail him at

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