The Truth About Right-Wingers in Missouri

August 18, 2009 05:30 PM

By Jay Barnes

Kevin Horrigan weighs in today with Why Missouri is Fertile Ground for Right-Wing Activism, and, in the process, reveals why the Post-Dispatch is a “going concern.”

Horrigan’s column is written through the same prism that led film critic Pauline Kael to say, “I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”

Like Kael, Horrigan too lives in a special world. How else to explain his portrayal of Missouri conservatives as a bunch of backwoods bumpkins?

Horrigan points to a crazed state representative of little consequence (Jim Guest, R-King City) as an exemplar of Missouri conservatives.  He misrepresents another Missouri conservative (Jim Boyer) with the gall to question the hot liberal scientific theory of the day. And he lumps neo-Nazis, para-military whackos, and black helicopter conspiracists together as integral parts of the conservative movement in our state. 

Newsflash to Kevin: Nazis were Socialists. The Birchers were cast out of the conservative tent long ago. And the black helicopter conspiracists make no distinction between the Bushes and the Clintons. 

To answer his own question, Horrigan cites two left-wing Mizzou academics. The “academic” answers: “transplanted southern and rural whites living in a relatively diverse urban environment,”  “white people cling to their rural ‘individualist,’ and, it must be said, mono-racial mentality in the face of modern life and modern institutions,” and churches which “militantly apply church teaching to society.”

“The Show-Me attitude does exist,” says Prof. Jeffrey Pasley, “but instead of healthy skepticism, it seems to manifest more often as extreme skepticism or indifference to new ideas or critical social and political thinking. Missourians seem to get most upset about someone trying to change the way they imagine things have always been, as good a definition of conservatism as any.” 

Pasley and Horrigan in a nut-shell: Missourians don’t like black people, thinking, or change. Now that’s deep thought! 

Let me put forth a more realistic assessment of why Missouri is ripe for right-wing activists.

First, just as our nation was built upon the ideals of individualism, so too was our state. Merriweather Lewis and William Clark might have worked for the federal government, but they weren’t know-it-all bureaucrats. They were explorers in search of knowledge and a more prosperous union. The settlers who followed them weren’t coddled. Nor did they seek our state or the West because they sought protection. They came instead in search of a better life – whether from Appalachia in the early 19th century, Germany in the late 19th, or Bosnia in the late 20th. That spirit of individualism lives on today.

Second, Missourians distrust big organizations – government or corporate – and despise edicts issued from far-away. Our state has 115 counties, good for fifth most in the country even though we’re neither one of the most populous nor geographically largest states. The reason for that is that our state’s early citizens didn’t want their lives ruled by distant tyrants, but by the sheriff or judge just down the county road. Along the same lines, we have one of the largest state legislatures in the country, with twice as many state legislators as the state of California, despite the fact that we have 1/6th California’s population.

This combination of individualism and localism makes Missourians skeptical – as noted by Horrigan’s citation of Congressman Willard Vandiver – “I’m from Missouri, and you have got to show me.”

But it’s not a blind skepticism of all ideas, or even just new ideas. It’s a skepticism of grandiose schemes and far-away power. It’s a skepticism that causes Missourians to ask questions before ceding 1/6th of our nation’s economy to put Washington bureaucrats in charge of the most important service any of us ever receive – health care. And it’s a skepticism that motivates Missourians to defend our own liberty in the face of questionable new encroachments.

Jay Barnes is an attorney, Realtor, and writer from Jefferson City, Missouri. He has previously served as General Counsel for the President Pro Tem of the Missouri Senate, Policy Counsel and Chief Speechwriter for Missouri Governor Matt Blunt, and Policy Director on Kenny Hulshof's 2008 campaign for governor.  He also serves as a director for Missourians for Responsible Government, which publishes this site.

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Reader Comments (3)
Good article. Some of us are conservative because we've lived under socialism--and seen how it is not the answer. Keep it up!
8/24/2009 8:02:57 AM  Mark Sutherland  
Birchers refers to members of the John Birch Society, the earliest organized right-wing group to take up paramilitary training.
8/20/2009 11:20:29 AM  Patrick Tuohey  ,
Nice article, but I'm a little bit confused. Does "Birchers" mean "Birthers"?
8/19/2009 4:01:15 PM  Bryan Stalder  

Newsflash to Kevin [Horrigan]: Nazis were Socialists. The Birchers were cast-out of the conservative tent long ago. And the black helicopter conspiracists make little to no distinction between the Bushes and the Clintons.


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