- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

WELCOME TO THE HOMELAND: A JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF AMERICA’S CONSERVATIVE REVOLUTION

By Brian Mann

Steerforth, $24.95, 296 pages

REVIEWED BY GARY ANDERSON

The cultural divide between Blue and Red America is wide and getting deeper. In his book, “Welcome to the Homeland,” Brian Mann explores this divide. What he finds is both enlightening and disturbing.

Mr. Mann has covered rural issues for 20 years. He lives in Northern New York. He is a professed liberal, but last year he set out to cover the so-called “red state culture” with his brother who is an equally devoted conservative. I’m happy to report that both survived the journey without a homicide. Both men took their sons along on this joy ride.

Mr. Mann doesn’t apologize for his liberalism, but he strives to understand what motivates the conservative rural and exurban mindset. The author does not take the usual east coast condescending view of rural conservatives, who he calls “Homelanders.”

He states flatly that his people, urban liberals or “Metros” as he calls them, have too long underestimated their adversaries on the right as being gullible rubes who vote against their own interests. He points out that for nearly a decade and a half the rubes have ruled the roost while the self satisfied Metros have wondered what hit them.

Brian Mann’s rock solid Midwestern values-oriented brother does not change the author’s mind during the trip, and he does not change his own beliefs. Although they obviously love and respect each other the political gap is too wide.

In many ways this is indicative of early-21st century America with the exception that most Metros and Homelanders neither love nor respect each other. We are indeed becoming a nation separated by a common language.

Rural and exurban America are as alien to most Manhattan dwellers as Mars. Many Homelanders view cities as places at worst to be avoided, or at best to be visited as one would tour an exotic and dangerous wildlife preserve. Most Metros don’t want to visit the homeland. What could possibly go wrong here?

He probably wouldn’t put it this way, but the author is “Red Teaming” the Homelanders. He is trying to understand what makes them tick because he wants to help develop strategies for dealing with them.

Red Teaming is a military device that attempts to get inside the enemy’s head in order to better anticipate him. Ironically, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats do a good job of this. They hold focus groups, but these are generally geared toward maintaining their bases and converting independents.

Mr. Mann has won several awards for his coverage. He admits that he most often covers the rural scene, but tries to keep in touch with the urban point of view in order to give perspective.

The book went to press before the upheaval of the 2006 election and many readers might think that his premise of a growing Homelander right wing power was overcome by events. Metros who believe that their agenda has finally triumphed, rendering Mr. Mann’s views irrelevant should, read it anyway.

Despite scandals such as that involving Tom Delay, this election was a referendum on Iraq. Iraq will not last forever, and the Homelander domestic agenda will again rush to the fore; if not in 2008, then most certainly in 2012.

The leaders of the Homelander communications network such as Rush Limbaugh work best when they can portray themselves as insurgents protecting the Homelander little guy against the Metro “man.”

Mr. Mann spends perhaps too much of the last third of the book examining Homelander tactics perhaps in more detail than is needed. He is better at describing personalities and general motivations, among these including the fears that Homelanders have. The author cites a recent police advisory that urban gang members initiate new members by trolling roads at night with their lights off looking for another car to flash its headlights in warning; they then hunt down the car, and kill its occupants. Things like this only serve to reinforce Homelander fears.

Nevertheless, this is a book that should be read by liberals and conservatives alike. Liberals need to understand how the opposition thinks rather than to continually underestimate it.

Conservatives need to understand that there are some liberal thinkers out there who are not totally clueless, and who seriously want to understand how the opposition has used the tools that the Founding Fathers gave the minority to protect against a tyranny of the majority.

Homelanders ruled the roost for 15 years; they are down but not out. Liberals would be foolish to assume that 2006 gave their side an unassailable mandate.

Gary Anderson is a frequent reviewer for The Washington Times

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