We’re not perfect, but we’re not bad

Posted December 21, 2011 at 11:44 am


Talk about hitting someone where they live.

There has been much angry reaction to the lengthy article University of Iowa professor Stephen Bloom recently wrote, called “Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life.”

The piece appeared on The Atlantic website (www.theatlantic.com/politics).

His premise is to question Iowa’s role in kicking off the presidential election process with its first-in-the-nation caucuses. Bloom suggests this shouldn’t be the case, because “Iowa’s not representative of much.”

Now, to start with, I don’t share the anger toward Bloom that is felt by so many other Iowans. Maybe it’s because I’m not from here originally, so it’s harder to take it personally.

I even agreed with parts of it. Like Bloom, I believe the state should be concerned about the number of young people who move away after finishing college.

Like Bloom, I believe rural Iowa could do a little better in the diversity and tolerance departments.

And like Bloom, I believe wind energy can be a positive force for the state.

But for my money, the column misses the mark, in four ways.

First, his argument and stereotypes are based on a minority of Iowans.

Bloom points out that 88 of Iowa’s 99 counties are rural, which may be true. What he conveniently ignores is that more than 60 percent of Iowa residents now live in urban areas. Which means the picture he tries to paint of Iowa is based on less than 40 percent of the state’s population.

Second, rather than having some good-natured fun with the quirks and traditions that make rural Iowa life so unique, Bloom’s tone is condescending, apparently designed to mock rural Iowa in front of the rest of the nation.

In spite of that, I have to admit there were times when I found myself nodding in recognition of some of the characterizations.

After all, haven’t most of us attended a demolition derby or tractor pull, been “caught behind a tractor on Main Street,” or lifted a two-fingered greeting from behind our steering wheels?

But these are things that I – and I suspect many Iowans – find endearing about this state, rather than targets of ridicule.

I don’t think Iowans mind being razzed. Slammed is another thing. I mean, what does he have against meatloaf and Tater Tot casserole?

Third, he completely ignores the role of high school sports in his depiction of rural Iowa.

For all his time spent here, Bloom apparently never set foot in a high school football stadium on an autumn Friday night. And how does he write a 12-page document about Iowa without once mentioning wrestling?

Finally, he fails to mention one of rural Iowa’s greatest qualities, which is its ability to rise up and come together for someone in need. You have farmers completing a harvest for a neighbor, fund-raisers for families of ill or injured residents, and citizens filling sandbags to ward against an impending flood.

Rural Iowans do these things willingly, immediately, and without question. If that’s not representative of our nation as a whole, that’s a shame.

The problems Bloom touches on – particularly pertaining to the exodus of young people and the aging population – are real, and need serious examination by Iowans.

It’s too bad he felt the need to denigrate certain Iowa cities, and pompously rip on small-town people and traditions, in order to cover those topics.