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Whats Right About Nebraska: How the Democrats Lost the Heart of American Populism

(Note: This article was written slightly before the 2004 election; however, its thesis on how the Dems. lost the heartland--and why they continue to fumble the ball--bespeaks of a sea change that continues to sweep the American political landscape. Yet, Dean, et al, run down to the beach and think that last tsunami was it--not knowing they come in successive intervals, are stronger than the last one, and are not designed for your viewing pleasure!)

Liberal Democrats don't get it. America's "book ends" don't get it. Kerry's on a boat somewhere and will wait until next week and film it. Barbara Streisand has never even seen it and wouldn't know it if it were starring her right in the face. George Soros is scared to death of it; while, knows it's coming right at them‚€”but, alas, Thomas Frank, allegedly, a recent convert from it, really can't figure it out either‚€”though try he may. Thomas sees and attempts to analyze it in "What's the Matter with Kansas: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," but discovers "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

Now, I'm not saying that I really see it all either‚€”however, since East Coast transplant Frank, from affluent Johnson County near Kansas City, KS tried to figure it out‚€”why can't I give it a shot, since my ancestors who hail from the heartland are the victims of his analysis; and, besides, I've been transplanted to the Left Coast? Furthermore, I bear strong Populist Democratic roots `a la William Jennings Bryan, the Olympic-size looser of Democrat Presidential aspirations and Christian fundamentalist, all wrapped inside an enigma.

Truthfully, however, I'm a bit ambivalent in addressing the obvious‚€”but for the sake of the effete left-wing of Americana who can't see the forest for hugging the trees, nor distinguish adult stem-cell research from embryonic-stem cell research, I am pressed to do so and sidestep the remarks made by author Bill Watterson: The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.


It was just about overdue for me to head to Hastings, Nebraska and visit the land of my forebears. So, in the summer of 2003‚€”traveling east on I-80‚€”we plunged fifteen miles or so south and discovered where three generations of German-Russians landed to work for the Burlington Northern Railroad and carve out their homesteads about twenty miles east of Hastings College in a quaint little berg called Sutton. Johannes (changed to John), Karl (changed to Carl) and Georg (changed to George) knew full-well that the old patriarchal system which ruled their households, from Catherine the Great's invitation in 1763 to homestead the Volga region (and keep out the marauding Moslems) until 1890 (when they landed on Ellis Island), was gone for good‚€”this was AmeriKa!

Man, why did Dad leave this beautiful place (it was summer, wet, and not winter)‚€”just because an old Dustbowl or something? Maybe Tom Daschle (also Volga Deutsch) knows why they left? Couldn't believe it‚€”there to my left was Spady Motors (huge‚€”probably the biggest dealership in town) and related to me. Why, Grandmother Spady-Krieger would have been proud of me to own a car dealership. Then there was Krieger Electric‚€”he looked pretty prosperous too. All hard working, no doubt. There was the little Emmanuel German Congregational Church‚€”of course, on the south side of the tracks that run through Hastings (incidentally, the wrong side)‚€”it's now a little Church of Christ but still looks the same, and you could still see the old frozen-in-time warehouses near the tracks where scores of relatives worked.

Then off to see Hastings College‚€”overwhelming for the size of Hastings‚€”really kind of a neat place. Lots of cool old looking buildings scattered amongst huge elms and one-third the price of California federalist-style mansions nestled throughout the campus area. You'd never know that in the 1950s and '60s this was the fulcrum, the bastion for Billy James Hargis' Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. This private Christian College would have been the delight of the anti-evolutionist Bryan‚€”and a great place to release a more modern version of his "Cross of Gold" speech.


Mom was having a hard time choosing between Adlai Stevenson and Dwight D. Eisenhower. We were listening to these things called "conventions" on our super-doper Zenith Radio (could get short wave too)‚€”didn't have T.V. I think she finally voted for Ike‚€”but I wouldn't know that for sure, never asked‚€”I mean, when you're eight-years old, and being into dirt clod fights and all‚€”didn't care.

We moved to Sacramento and I started the third grade. Mom, now a single parent, did her best to raise us kids and wanted us to be near dad‚€”that's why we moved. She later got a job at the Almond Growers/Blue Diamond‚€”got up everyone morning, made us breakfast, and took off to work in her neat little brown outfit, super early. One day she came home and told us kids‚€”"Well, I've been fired! I tried to organize a labor union with the other girls and the bosses kicked us out . . . but the Teamsters are going to take care of me and you kids, so don't worry." I'll never forget that day. "The Teamsters? Maybe they're a baseball team that helps people like us?"

Over at dad's house the Presidential elections were taking place‚€”some time in the mid-fifties. Dad and Margie (my step-mother who once picked fruit in the Santa Clara Valley before it was a highway‚€”also a rabid Democrat) were voting Democrat‚€”something about Harry Truman convinced them that the Democrats were for the little guy‚€”"and that guy Hoover nearly destroyed us in the Mid-West. If it wasn't for Roosevelt, we'd all have starved . . . the Democrats care for people like us and we'd probably vote for a jackass if they ran one." (Note: Dad had no idea that they actually did this on several occasions.)

At the time I thought that was kind of funny‚€”but all these stories about my roots tell a tale that Thomas Frank really doesn't understand too well.

Then, along came Cuba, the bomb, and the commies. Dad even built a family bomb shelter in his new home in Carmichael‚€”it too was kind of neat‚€”I just had to figure out how to get across town fast enough to get down there and survive a couple of weeks while the radiation clamed down and somehow allowed us to come out of hiding to scavenge for food, and meet the other bomb shelter survivors, and continue the fight.

"The Democrats used to be hard on communism‚€”I can't figure out why they're not any more . . . I'm not planning to vote this time around" (quoting Dad). "Anyway, every time I vote for a Democrat, I get audited on my taxes. Another thing, if we let the reds take over, we'll be isolated and their atheism will take over too." Humm . . ., "their atheism‚€”what's that got to do with voting for Republicans?" "Nothing son, I just feel that way."


Frank, being from Kansas, doesn't really understand why these populist, died-in-the-wool Roosevelt Democrats, keep voting against their economic well being. I mean, why on earth you would vote for a party that is anti-union, pro-tax cuts for the rich and famous, outsource-NAFTA specialists, pro-monster-plantation-ADM-to-the-world-against-small farmers, and in general, the Party of Big Business, Country Clubbers, Oil moguls and everything that bespeaks of "the rich get richer?" These people must be self-haters or just plain ignorant rednecks‚€”in sum, hicks that just can't figure out the obvious.

I'm trying to make the obvious, the obvious. It's like voting, while holding your nose‚€”someone's got to do it! Now, populist Bryan‚€”later of Scopes-Darrow Monkey Trial fame‚€”celebrated his farmer-labor populist roots WITHIN THE FRAMWORK of Christian evangelical fundamentalism‚€”an experience, most likely, observed only from the outside, by Frank (no offense to his intellectual genius-void-of-sacredness-style piece of social science pandering to the Left).


Frankly (no offense here), along with Clark Gable's remark to Scarlet, they (i.e., these former Roosevelt-Truman Democrats) don't really "Give a da... " (Better to leave out the "mn" because I know Frank can figure it out better).

Life was hectic in Sacramento in the late 1950s. We'd go back to the Mid-West for visits now and again‚€”but it was obvious, Dad and Mom we're desperately trying to live the American Dream‚€”although they had no idea it was called that and, if they did, it didn't mean all that much to them, they we're trying to survive. But, what was happening in the Mid-West, the South, the West in general, and especially in the Great Central Valley of California, among these Democrat-style Populists, was a sea-change in the way they viewed their Party.

In this aspect, Frank's right‚€”as far as they were concerned; the RLs (Radical Left) took over. The white Northerners among them tolerated the Civil Rights movement‚€”some even heartily supported it because it was fair and right for all Americans to have a piece of the pie‚€”but, of course, the Southern Strategy was in full force by the late '60s and, along with the embrace of the social agenda of the RLs‚€”well, it was only a matter of time before the Southern Strategy would join the Northern social malcontents. Thence, Reagan's one-two punch blew these populists clean off the Democrat radar screens and into the arms of a "kinder and gentler" America‚€”notwithstanding the fat-cat country clubbers (who are hypocrites anyway‚€”and we fully intend to take over the Republican Party in any event).


My buddy, Dene McGriff, took off to a Christian camp near Sacramento and met with some young families who tried to get his goat‚€”i.e., "Hey, Dene, Bush is the best thing that ever happened to America‚€”Right? And, he's a Christian, right? So---aren't you voting for Bush?"

Dene (whose relatives come from Oklahoma, just south of Kansas in case certain social scientists don't know where that's at) wouldn't take sides and said his "citizenship is in heaven ‚€“ no thanks, I won't take your bait." He also warned them about getting involved in one-issue politics.

Then, Mike M., getting a little more serious, spoke up: "McGriff, abortion trumps everything . . . and as far as I am concerned, that's the only issue that matters." Yes‚€”he really did say this and he really meant it (Mike's folks were conservative Catholics, but he now attends a little evangelical Jesus People-type gathering with like-minded anti-abortionists). See, we're talking real world here‚€”you don't need another social scientist blathering about why people vote Republican and against their pocket books.

Sue me‚€”it's the truth! You get right down to it and you're left with this overriding sense that these people, my people, feel totally disenfranchised by the Democrat Party‚€”the same compromising, effete, hypocritical, commercial grubbers, like Clinton, who pushed through their vision for the "working man and woman" of America, along with the help of Congressman Bob Matsui (for whom I voted for high school president at C. K. McClatchy Sr. High School in Sacramento‚€”he won too‚€”remember Bob: he was the front man for Clinton's NAFTA crusade (talk about holding your nose)).

Stinks, doesn't it? You're sittin' in this Republican Big Tent, and you know that McCain, Schwarzenegger, Guliani, don't even come close to how the Republican trench warfare types, the foot soldiers of American "conservatism," really feel about these "social issues." This little co-existence is the best we can find for now. Going back to the Dems, with their gay-marriage agenda (the final straw for Hispanics and any waffling Catholic whose family "prays together, stays together"); along with their Whoppi Goldberg-Hollywood blasphemies (Kerry's "heart and soul" of America types‚€”give me a break); their pro-choice-at-any-cost-free-our-women-from-the-oppressive Religious Right; their hug-a-tree and protect the spotted owl no matter how many jobs it costs; and on and on and on.

You see, Frank, these people BELIEVE. True believers, especially "under attack" from the protesters and anarchists in New York, really believe "their way of life" is under assault and that economic issues, war issues, ad nausea, ad infinitum, don't matter, no how. Furthermore, the best thing that ever happened since 9/11 is the ACLU loosing a few of their precious, little civil liberties‚€”if they only understood the "common good."


Now, what I've said‚€”and the populist manner of my address (purposefully orchestrated for effect)‚€”doesn't mean that my conclusions differ from those of Frank. No, what I'm saying is simply this: Frank sees what's happening but I really don't think he can grasp the inner intensity of why it's happening‚€”nor the true historicity of its inexorable march toward total political polarization in this nation. He sees it happening, but like the Left who relishes his clever analyses‚€”thinking that they too understand why its happening‚€”simply is fooling around with symptoms and hasn't any clue as to the real cause.

Like the present European mindset that is aghast at Bush's appeal to "morality's involvement in political affairs" ‚€“ dare he defile the secular debate! Yeah, who are these leaders supporting Kerry? Hasn't Kerry ever heard of the Monroe Doctrine and Manifest Destiny? Frank better tell the lefties why the Reps. are just thrilled to welcome this massive incursion of troops into their tent‚€”as long as we can toss them a conservative judge now and again, we'll just keep picking their pockets (here's where Frank and I see eye to eye), and who knows, some day Roe v. Wade will be tossed out! By that time they'll be flat broke‚€”but it'll be worth it to 'um, right?


There's a group of evangelical lefties (whoops, "neutral centrists") who are running newspaper articles entitled: GOD IS NEITHER REPUBLICAN NOR DEMOCRAT (something like that). Really, I wish Sojourners well. The only thing is this‚€”after you read through the multitude of their considerations on why believers (or for that matter anyone else out there who is of voting age) can't be single-issue oriented in voting for political candidates, especially for President‚€”you realize that no one fits the bill and that your only choice is: Throw all the bums out!

Seriously, go to their web site and then go figure‚€”no one measures up to their litmus tests‚€”unless I'm missing somebody. You get the feeling‚€”better vote for Jesus‚€”the ultimate absentee ballot vote-getter in all this exchange!

This is not a trite conclusion‚€”nor is the defection of classical Democratic populism and its headlong rush to the Republicans a superficial phenomenon. It has taken time to entrench itself‚€”and the effete Left in America is grossly underestimating its impact on the American body politic. These populist masses are fleeing to the Republican Party because they understand they have to choose the lesser of two evils or perish in the process. "I can't hear what you're saying, because what you're doing is speaking so loud that I'm going deaf." You look at your "pink slip" and then you glance at a massive gay rights parade, and before you realize what's happening‚€”you vote Republican!


Hunkering down in the South, the Mid-West, the West, in Middle America somewhere‚€”well, you got any better ideas? It reminds me of the train taking Kerry and Edwards to Colorado through Kansas this summer. Someone blew the schedule and the express went sailing through that little pit stop‚€”while the forlorn and long-awaiting throng of hopeful Kansans, dumbfounded, cheered and waved goodbye, blessed that they could at least view the train that carried the man of their dreams. Yep, that little incident spoke volumes‚€”but Kerry sent Edwards back and never went himself‚€”goodbye Dorothy, goodbye Kerry (whoops), and goodbye Toto (my PETA friends would appreciate that).

Doug is a writer for the TribNet, a blogger based out of Portland, Oregon and Sacramento, California‚€”he is a Public School Educator in Sacramento. Please view his and other authors' articles @ or

By Doug Krieger ‚€“

Doug is a member of the "Last Days Network" . . . a group of evangelical writers and educators whose articles on religion in politics provoke interest from both Left and Right. Their synthesis of how religion impacts "The American New World Order System" in light of the Republican takeover of all branches of government, the on-going militarization of the economy and the implications of Empire embedded in America's quest for economic and political hegemony (i.e., "Democratic Globalism") demands careful analysis of the phenomenon and how it impacts upon the Church and American culture. As a educator and administrator for many years, Doug brings a fresh approach to the impact that conservative Christianity has upon the American body politic; while decrying the encroachments of New Age Apostasy and Deception infiltrating those same conservative Christians.


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