The truth is this: during this age of national and global economic uncertainty, a long-term war on terror, and a vigorous debate over social and moral issues, Iowa is a place in flux. But perhaps it is the state’s struggle to come to terms with shifting landscapes that should make it a familiar place—not the indecipherable, “foreign” one Bloom describes—for a country grappling with the very same issues.
Indeed, Iowa is a state where anti-immigration ads today are running about as often as political ads, almost certainly because many Iowans have been frustrated—angry, even—with the influx of thousands of workers who have come to the state, often illegally, to work in meat-packing plants and slaughterhouses. That part of the magazine’s piece is dead on. But it is also a place where the people in those same frustrated small towns have raised money to help those same immigrant families pay for medical bills, for Christmas presents, even for funeral expenses after some of those immigrants died in their attempt to sneak into the country. Surely conflicted voters in places like California or Arizona can understand that dichotomy.
It is a state where a few months ago one of my best friends, a small-town girl who was raised Catholic, got married to a big-city man who was raised as a Muslim, in a classy reception at a modern facility overlooking the Mississippi River. (Unlike Bloom’s depiction, the dinner was catered, and not a single guest assumed it would be appropriate to bring a Jell-o mold.) The groom’s family, many of whom were born and raised in Pakistan long before 9-11 compelled Americans to pay attention to that part of the world, traveled to Dubuque for the event; the bride’s family, generations of whom have been farmers or worked in industries where farmers were their customers, did not serve Iowa pork at dinner out of respect for their guests. Surely states with growing Muslim populations like Michigan could relate.
It is a state that has, to be sure, seen a generation of farmers struggle to make ends meet raising corn, soybeans, and hogs; many family farms simply went under, causing plenty of small towns and small schools to dry up with them. But it is also a place that high-tech agribusiness and ethanol are reviving, with some farmers today making more money than they ever have and taking one issue that used to be something of a holy grail for Iowa voters—ag subsidies—virtually off the table this caucus season. Surely this rings a bell in critical swing states like Pennsylvania and Missouri.
As far as the state losing talented young professionals, it’s absolutely true. Big in-state companies have set up recruiting programs to pull them back; it’s hardly an insidious, hidden reality that only The Atlantic has noticed. But it is also hardly true that the only people left behind are meth addicts. And the latest census data on domestic migration show that adults in their 20s, and those aged between 45 and 64, are arriving in the Midwest faster than they are leaving.
Whatever one thinks about the virtues or pitfalls of the Iowa caucuses, the piece does Iowans—and the national political audience, which will evaluate the outcome come January 4—a terrible disservice. Rather than offering a framework to understand the concerns of politically engaged citizens, a piece like this simply begs the rest of the nation to laugh off whatever those primitive hicks in the Heartland decide on caucus night.