Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Seed Hat Wearer Is Not Offended

So I'm just minding my own business in my little corner of heaven out here in the country, and all of a sudden I hear there's some kind of dust-up about something Barack Obama said in regard to rural Iowans. It had something to do with seed hats, so of course I was interested.

As a rural Iowan who is rarely seen in public without a seed hat planted firmly on his head, I needed to learn what disgusting derogatory comment was made so I could take action against this outrage. So I did some digging.

They say it all started with Obama's appearance on Nightline a few days ago. Strange, I thought. I'd watched Terry Moran's Obama interview on Nightline, and heard nothing to which a rural Iowan should take offense. Maybe I just missed it, maybe I dozed off.

A look at the transcript would reveal it, I thought. Here's what I found:

MORAN: Do you think Americans are challenged by voting potentially for a presidential candidate who didn't have an American boyhood?
OBAMA: Oh, well, I think that it is both a challenge and an opportunity. I think there's no doubt that the fact that my name is Barack Obama and that my father was from Kenya and that I grew up in Hawaii that there's that whole exotic aspect to me that people, I think, have to get past. But they also, surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa, recognize the opportunity to send a signal to the world that, you know, we are not as ingrown, as parochial as you may perceive or as the Bush administration seems to have communicated, that we are, in fact, embracing the world, we are listening, we are concerned, we want to be engaged. We want to be safe. We want to be treated fairly. We want to make sure that, whether it's on trade relations or dealing with terrorism, that our national interests are dealt with. But we also recognize that we're part of the world community. And I think it was interesting, just here in Dunlap, you notice that some of the biggest applause was when I talked about wanting America to be respected again in the world. People understand this in a very significant way.

Still nothing about seed hats. But apparently I'm supposed to be irked about the "surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa" phrase. That's what bloggers in Los Angeles are saying, anyway. They're saying I should be steaming mad about this.

As I sit here and think about it, I actually don't take offense to that comment at all. To the contrary, I fully agree with Obama on this point. I've always been bothered by the stereotype of rural America that's been pushed by George W. Bush and many Republicans. This idea that we all ascribe to the Bush view of the world, the cowboy diplomacy, the "with us or against us" attitude of addressing world affairs.

Obama's right. Even in places where you wouldn't expect it, people are deeply concerned about America's standing in the world.

I've seen this concern throughout the past year at the dozens of political events I've attended. And like Obama, I've been surprised as well. People out here in the small towns are not asking the candidates much about corn, or soybeans, or hogs. I even wrote a story about that very subject a couple weeks ago. A candidate can do a major policy rollout on agricultural issues and people say "ho-hum." People out here are worried about Iraq, and terrorism. And they talk about torture. They're upset about our porous borders and they wonder why Bin Ladin got away. And they're asking candidates about gas prices and our dependence on foreign oil.

They want America to be seen once again as the respected leader in the world.

Just last Saturday, Joe Biden came to Albia and took questions for more than an hour from local residents. There wasn't a single question asked about agriculture. Not one. A young woman sitting behind me asked Biden about how he would prevent further genocide in Darfur. Her question was thoughtful and informed, and she asked it boldly. Biden looked very surprised to hear such a question from such a young Iowan, but I must say I was surprised as well. And I was proud of the fact that folks in my hometown take their role in the Iowa caucuses so seriously.

So anyway I still needed to get to the bottom of this Obama seed hat business. Here's where it came from, in an appearance on the Tonight Show.

JAY LENO: Let me ask you, you've been campaigning for quite a while now. Anything surprised you? Obviously they brief you. You get out there and you think -- I don't know if you saw our Jay Walking how amazing what people don't know. Is there anything you go, "Do people even know what we're talking about?"
OBAMA: You know, folks in Iowa are really well informed. I'm spending a lot of time there.
JAY LENO: That's really good.
OBAMA: I'm just telling you, you go to some barn somewhere and some guy in overalls and a seed hat, he's say, "What is your policy on Burma?" And it turns out I think people are a lot more plugged in.

I know a lot of guys who wear overalls and seed hats, and I'm sure none of them would be offended by that. They would nod and agree.

Now, if I could just get the candidates to answer some questions about farm programs...

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