This past weekend I attended the California Young Democrats retreat in South Lake Tahoe, California. I'm from Los Angeles and it's an 8-hour drive to Tahoe, so I decided to offer the extra space in my Prius to anyone from the area who wanted to carpool with me.
One of my fellow young Democrats who the organizers arranged to go with me was a freshman at Claremont McKenna College, a small liberal arts college with an excellent reputation (though with a price tag to match). Matt hails from a small town in Indiana an hour outside of Indianapolis called Crawfordsville, with a population of about 18,000.
I spent a good deal of time talking to Matt over the course of our 16 hours of car time together, and I feel his family's story is one we would all enjoy.
See, you may all be wondering how it came to be that a young man from a small town in Indiana came to attend a small liberal arts college in California. I certainly was; during my Crashing the States trip a year ago, I got to spend a lot of time in rural Indiana with Barry Welsh, who was--and still is--running for Congress against Mike Pence in IN-06.
Now, Crawfordsville isn't in IN-06, but the principle is still the same as what I wrote about last year. Crawfordsville sits in Indiana's rust belt--an area that used to be in the heartland of automobile part production, but whose factories have long since shut down, whose jobs have long since been lost, and where opportunity doesn't knock unless you knock first.
As Matt describes it, it's an area with significant challenges for progressive beliefs; an area where racism exists in force as a subtext behind community interaction, and an area where "moral conservatism" plays a prominent role in the ethos of a parochial population. But Matt's parents are both Democrats, and Matt himself is a proud Democrat who is not only attending a liberal arts college, but is also actively involved as a freshman in his College Democrats organization. How did that happen?
Well, to hear Matt tell it, his parents used to be the type of conservative Republican endemic to the area back when they both had stable factory jobs. The type of Republican who would complain bitterly about their tax dollars going to support the indigent in the welfare state. But then something happened: The factories closed down. And at that point, all of a sudden that social safety net and welfare state didn't look too bad, and they started to come around to a different way of thinking about political issues.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Matt said that at that point, when his parents were trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after what was essentially the basis of the local economy got shut down, his mom was pretty solidly in the Democratic camp, but his dad was still wavering back and forth, still leaning toward the Republican end of things.
Matt's dad ended up getting back up on his feet and founded a headhunting business. Now, the Republicans would like to think that small business owners would tend to vote their way because of their fanatical fear of taxes and regulations--but just the opposite happened. Matt's dad was now in the unfortunate position of having to provide healthcare for his employees, as opposed to simply accepting it as part of a benefit package at the factory and not thinking about it any further. And Matt's dad saw that being a responsible employer and providing health coverage to his employees was not only ridiculously expensive alredy, but constantly increasing, and that the private sector was simply not accomplishing what the Republican ideology said it could accomplish.
kos told the story recently about his grandfather-in-law, who was a Republican, but then complained about the outrageous costs of his prescriptions. And like the commentary in the link above, it's certainly justifiable to have a slightly derisive attitude to those who are coming around to realizing that taking care of people is a good idea only when they're in need of being taken care of. But lapsed Republicans are indeed lapsed Republicans--and if the idea of a social safety net and public health care are making inroads in rural Indiana, I'd say that our time on these issues has finally arrived.