It’s never been easy to be witness to members of your own population working diligently against their own interests. It’s the kind of thing so eloquently expressed in the late (and very missed) Joe Bageant’s “Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War”. In this book, Bageant focuses on the superficially baffling redneck contingent so disproportionately relied upon to vote against their own interests in the last few decades. It’s a compelling and sensitive peek into the motivations and manipulations that cloud the minds of the members of this group.
The thing is, they are still out there, but at this point, they couldn’t vote “for their own interests” even if they suddenly had a populist epiphany. There are no candidates on either aisle (the entire hallway is crawling with thieves) to represent these obstinate members of the 99%’ You can see their footprints and hair left behind in the comment section of any US newspaper, precious glimpses with logic as fuzzy as a bigfoot film from the 70’s. They are still there in all their glory, railing about things like the protestors’ perceived bathroom habits.
So a story about a domestic violence free-for-all in Topeka, Kansas should fit right into that worldview, right? Crazy rednecks are taking away laws to keep from beating the shit out of each other. Sounds about right….. Sites like the Huffington Post and Dailykos breathily proclaimed this week that that the city was now essentially welcoming wife beating. Fits the no-evolution tag that had staying power for the state. Just add wife beating and you have a hillbilly-palooza not seen since Ned Beatty’s love scene in “Deliverence”.
I live in the Midwest, so of course I was shocked to see the national headlines. I did cursory background reading on the machinations of the Topeka City Council and found this to be yes, the act of idiotic men and women, but not necessarily pro-wife beating idiots. The truth was lost in the rush to find a story to make smarmy knee-jerk liberals feel that superior tingle. I’m not writing this as some kind of rank conservative, on the contrary, they stink, but I usually feel the same level of anger at the self professed liberals because they have blind spots just as large as the demographic so eloquently described by Bageant. I get frustrated by them because I think they should know better. Most of them have had advantages that weren’t there for the folks whose last shred of self esteem is held together by belligerence.
The story actually boils down to a pissy County District Attorney named Chadwick Taylor. Not unlike the trillion other counties out there, his budget was cut but he made a point of saying that he couldn’t prosecute misdemeanors in Topeka due to these budget constraints. He wanted the cases to be dealt with by the city, which had a statute on the books against it. Hell, it may be true that he was broke, but there’s that first name of his so I’m not really sure……and there’s always the worry that a pot smoker might escape the wheels of justice. Of course resources need to be tied up over that.
Anyway….. someone realized that certain domestic issues fall into a misdemeanor level and thus, an outrage du jour was born.
Here’s the thing that the national media didn’t put out effectively…..There was already a state law against domestic issues of the misdemeanor type. The city law was redundant. When the city of Topeka got rid of it they were trying to force another entity to take over the prosecution. Any cases falling between the cracks were from fiscal dine and ditch operations. Both parties hoping the other would be stuck with the bill. Trashy behavior but not what was being portrayed in the national media.
I will say that it is surely an example of turning a locale’s bad reputation into a heinous one. The state has tried to put out tourist crumbs with slogans like “Kansas.. Land of Ahs” and “Kansas as Big as You Think” (that last one made someone a few coins when they promptly turned out some “Kansas as Bigoted as You Think” bumper stickers in response. This is a place in need of the Public Relations A team, but we’ve been stuck with the guys who have a copy of “State PR for Dummies”. They managed to make the place look even more awful by accidentally looking like a wife beating haven. It’s like a Larry David “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode. You mean the state’s hair didn’t grow back!? You’d really think they would have realized the implications of this.
In the world of instant “like” button sensibilities the shading of this story faded. Groups joined in and advanced the story in a manner that further fogged the fact that it is a prime example of idiotic local leadership dealing with fiscal issues beyond their limited creativity.
So come to Kansas, spend some time, but don’t plan on wife beating junket tourism.
Kathleen Peine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org