Joke’s on them: how Democrats gave up on rural America

One evening a few summers ago, I walked from my house to the county fairgrounds. It was a long July day, and the sun still hung above the hills that surround the small western Colorado town where I live. People packed the bleachers of an outdoor arena to watch a rodeo.

Shortly before the bullriding began, a rodeo clown strolled to the center of the dirt field and began his night with a joke. It went something like this:

There was a man who died after a good life on earth, and St Peter met him at the pearly gates and welcomed him to Heaven. When he got inside, the man noticed that there were clocks all over the place, each set to a different time.

“What’s with all the clocks?” he asked.

“Those are liars’ clocks,” St Peter answered. “They keep track of the lies that people tell on earth.”

“Whose is that?” the man asked, pointing at a clock set to two.

“That’s Noah’s clock,” St. Peter said, “he lived 800 years and only lied twice.”

“How about that one?” the man asked, looking at a clock that showed noon.

“That’s Mary’s clock,” St. Peter said. “The Mother of God didn’t tell a lie her whole life.”

The man thought for a minute. “How about Hillary Clinton’s clock?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s in Jesus’s office. He uses it as a ceiling fan.”

This is not a new bit. The same story was told in similar settings about Barack Obama, and a friend who grew up in the area noted that his father’s 1990s version had Bill Clinton as the punchline. At the rodeo, there was an assumption shared by clown and crowd: a Democrat, take your pick, would be the butt of the joke.

When it comes to rural America, the Democrats are not doing well. They have lost Arkansas, which had two Democratic senators as recently as 2010. They’ve lost Minnesota’s farm country and its Iron Range in the north – once strongholds of the state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor party. As of 2020, they’re on the verge of losing south Texas. And they’ve lost…

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