There is more than a simple public relations lesson to be learned about the risk of thinking out loud in the recent experience of Kansas State Representative Virgil Peck. During a March 14th meeting of the State House Appropriations Committee on a proposal to deal with the problem of feral pigs by shooting them from helicopters, the 11th District Republican suggested that, “if shooting these immigrating hogs works maybe we have a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem.” Conservative lawmakers would be wise to express their murderous impulses away from microphones. Aerial summary execution of the undocumented as a state immigration policy is shocking enough, but what Peck later said in response to criticism was even more chilling. “I was just speaking as a southeast Kansas person,” he said.
That explanation raises some important questions. Could Peck be correct about the denizens of southeast Kansas? Are they so inhuman so as to confuse the moral standing of destructive alien wildlife with human beings who seek work but lack appropriate legal documents? That they should be so very different from the good people of adjacent regions like central Kansas or southwest Missouri is surprising, but the rest of America deserves to know whether or not it has a geographic hot spot of dangerous psychopathy on its hands. If he is correct, then we are indeed fortunate that no major interstate highway runs though southeast Kansas, but that is no guarantee that presumably savage southeast Kansans will not seek victims outside their normal range. Roadblocks would not be sufficient. Possibly some sort of fencing might be necessary to contain the monstrous threat.
If Peck is incorrect about the people of southeast Kansas—and let us pray that is true—we are confronted with a rather different but equally disturbing parochialism problem. For years now Republican politicians have been campaigning for public office by presenting themselves as champions of the values systems of various states and regions of states. Consider that current U.S. Representatives Robert Aderholt and Alan Nunnelee say that they defend, respectively “Alabama values” and “Mississippi values.” Consider that in their respective 2004 election campaigns, former U.S. Representative Zach Wamp evoked “east Tennessee values” and current Georgia State Senator Barry Loudermilk evoked “north Georgia values.” This presents us with an obvious question. Just what are the differences between the cultures of Alabama and Mississippi? Between the cultures of east Tennessee and north Georgia?
Tribal markers can be subtle in the extreme, as any cultural anthropologist will tell you. One possibility is that the differences that are assumed to exist between “X state values” and ‘Y state values” involve nothing more than local variations in the intensity of idolatrous fetus and gun worship, anti-Hispanic xenophobia, homosexual panic, and hatred of the national government.
Another possibility is that references to parochial value systems are nothing more than rhetorical devices for psychologically transforming insecurities and resentments into something that sounds more positive. Crass bigotry becomes local pride. Yet another possibility is that they are attempts to reduce to focus from the national to the local as a way to escape accountability. Republican politicians bear much of the responsibility for our national problems. Claiming to defend parochial values from the rest of America evades discussion of how conservative decisions reduced America to its present lamentable circumstances.
So what are the lessons for aspiring conservative politicians to be learned from all this? First, proposing state immigration policies that include any element of DEATH FROM THE SKIES should probably be avoided. Second, and more important, claiming parochial value systems as a defense against criticism of profoundly evil ideas only works when the evil doesn’t stick to your constituents and neighbors.