America’s forgotten ‘Fly Over’ majority

Brian Kutzley and Brian Kutzley

Liberal progressives claim a monopoly on righteous indignation. After all, they seem to have all the momentum. Universities acknowledge a relatively progressive agenda, and there is a vicious outcry anytime conservative agendas are pushed forward. Consider the storm of indignant op-eds, cartoons and blogs regarding the veto of State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The same indignation – with less severity – occurs every time an Iraq war funding or troop extension bill is passed, whenever an immigration bill that favors strengthening our policies is introduced, and every time a state tries to limit access to abortion or strictly define marriage.

So how is it that any form of conservative agenda can stand before such a ferocious impetus for change? This plaguing question has a remarkably simple answer.

The U.S. is unlike any other country. More pertinently, we are not a European country. The population density of Europe is dramatically higher than that of the U.S. Case in point: In 2005 the population density for the U.K. and Germany were approximately eight times that of the U.S. (U.K.- 246, Germany- 232, U.S.- 31, in population per square kilometer), while France, Hungary and Austria (110, 109 and 98 respectively) had approximately triple the population density of the U.S. My point being that the U.S., at a measly 31 souls per square kilometer, is still essentially a frontier nation.

We no longer send brave families into the wilderness to stake their claims, and we no longer slaughter the people who happened to precede us, but we are still predominantly rural. Yet somehow we have become so accustomed to thinking of the U.S. as a collection of big cities (D.C., New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, etc.) that we are forgetting everything in between. In fact, there is even a political term for this: “Fly Over Zones.” Everything between the east and west coasts, with the exception of parts of the Midwest (especially during election cycles) is considered irrelevant. Businesspersons and politicians alike fly from coast to coast with no more thought for what lies in between than “Oh my, that’s a pretty view.” But the simple fact is, tucked away in that wilderness is the bulk of the U.S. population. Here’s the best part: They vote. And they have senators and congresspersons. And they won’t go away, even if you ask nicely.

Admittedly I am not a citizen of one of America’s “Fly Over Zones”, as I grew up in a suburb of Columbus. I did, however, spend 10 weeks in the middle of Montana. Their few cities remain few and far between, and the locals I had a chance to talk to left me with one resonant message: They are happy with their lives, their families, their jobs and their country. Every time a well-meaning individual wants to socialize medicine, expand the definition of marriage, or impose harsher gun controls, it is the staunch men and women of “Fly Over America” who kindly bring them back to their senses. In return, America has labeled these people backwards, uneducated and incestuous bigots. An especially ironic condemnation, as it comes from the theoretical bastion of acceptance and plurality.

Here’s the long and short of it. Individuals living in a 21st century frontier pick up lessons on life I can only hope to one day understand. They understand the importance of both self-assurance and community relations, and as such believe in family and public values that progressives scoff at as backwards or even repressive. But at the end of the day, this is their country too.

Imagining “Fly Over America” from the perspective of a liberal, I cannot help but recall a line from British satirist Terry Pratchett: The problem with being on the side of the people is that, once you actually take stock, the people rarely live up to your expectations. I have a hunch that about sums up the perspective of the social-minded advocate. But the simple truth is that advocate has failed to measure up. There is a reason Rush Limbaugh and Fox News enjoy such popularity. People don’t want new deals and more responsive governments. They want their lives on their terms, and they will fight for them. I like to think our founders foresaw this standoff, and placed the answer at our fingertips. You might notice the first amendment does not read “Congress shall ensure freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly.” It reads “Congress shall make no law”.” It translates: “Leave your people alone so they might finally find happiness.” It is painfully ironic that we, a nation born in opposition to outside infringements, now forget about our own population, except to condemn their independence.