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'Heartland Values,' Again?

January 15, 2002

George W. Bush is back on the road, flattering the nation’s “heartland” as a place where people appreciate the values of  “family and faith, of personal responsibility and hard work.” The implicit message is that Bush still finds those values lacking in coastal cities, despite the events of Sept. 11.

Bush made his first big pitch for “heartland values” in August during his Texas working vacation, which included side trips to several cities where the president highlighted what he saw as their basic decency. Some residents living near the Atlantic and Pacific oceans viewed the hype about “heartland values” as a not-so-subtle snub at the so-called “blue” coastal states that favored Al Gore.

“Where exactly is this heartland so chock-full of values?” asked an editorial in the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee on Aug. 18, 2001. “Is it just those red states, the ones Bush carried on the map of last year’s presidential election?” The Bee editorial argued that no part of the country had a monopoly on positive values, or on shortcomings.

“Homicide rates are higher in places like Texas and the South than in ‘sinful’ places such as California and New York, and three times higher than in New England,” the editorial said. “Teenage binge drinking is most common in the upper Midwest states such as the Dakotas. The list of states with the highest rates of dependence on alcohol and illicit drugs includes Iowa and Wyoming. Gonorrhea rates are about twice as high in Kansas as here, and Indianapolis leads the country in syphilis.”

Yet, whatever political advantage Bush saw in flattering the interior states for their “heartland values” in August, the notion that Americans living near the coasts were unworthy was shattered by the actions of everyday citizens during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, especially the selfless heroism of the firefighters in New York City, the rescue workers at the Pentagon and the passengers who battled for control of a hijacked plane that had been heading for San Francisco before crashing in Pennsylvania.

After Sept. 11, Bush dropped his “heartland values” rhetoric. But it was back on Jan. 14 as Bush addressed a crowd in Aurora, Missouri. After flying from Washington, Bush declared, “I’m also glad to be in the heartland because it’s a place that understands values, the values of family and faith, of personal responsibility and hard work.”

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