The Common Sense Values of America's Heartland
By Denis Boyles
(Doubleday, Hardcover, 9780385516747, 288pp.)
Publication Date: February 12, 2008
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Since the days of “Bleeding Kansas,” people from someplace else have been telling midwesterners how to live, how to vote, and what to believe. In Superior Nebraska, Denis Boyles explodes the myth that hapless Midwesterners have been duped into voting against their own economic interests in order to support right-wing crusades mounted by wily conservatives.
Every election cycle, the angry people who live on America’ s blue coasts smugly ridicule those who live in the mystifying heartland of their own country, an exotic, faraway place many of them have seen only from the window of an aircraft. From up there, those who live in so-called red states appear to be prisoners of desolation and failure, with their twisters and blizzards, their vanishing small towns, and their odd obsession with social values. Easterners look down upon “Jesusland” and pronounce it not only empty but ignorant.
In this leisurely exploration of civic life along the meandering course of the Republican River, Boyles argues that, in fact, the people living in those big, blue cities have a lot to learn from the Midwest's core values of industriousness, vigor, neighborliness, optimism, moderation, and, above all, self-reliance. Those strengths, Boyles points out, are what made it possible to settle the Great Plains in the first place and have sustained life there since.
Deftly demolishing the elitist portrait of rural Republican voters as religious zealots and misguided simpletons, Boyles shows how the interests of red and blue staters actually coincide. Like their coastal, mostly Democratic, cousins, they too want better schools, less intrusive bureaucracies, lower taxes, some moral common sense, a little respect for tradition and faith, some civility in public debate, and support for their belief that personal responsibility always trumps government programs.
For more than a century, writers and critics have been asking, “What’ s the matter with Kansas?” In this affecting love letter to Kansas, Nebraska, and the entire American Midwest, Denis Boyles responds by holding up the common-sense values of America’s heartland as a model for us all.
DENIS BOYLES is the author of African Lives, Man Eaters Motel and A Man's Life, among others.