Reviewed 8/14/2017

Flyover Nation, by Dana Loesch

You Can't Run a Country You've Never Been To
Dana Loesch
New York: Sentinel/Random House, April 2016




ISBN-13 978-0-399-56388-1
ISBN 0-399-56388-1 246pp. HC/GSI $27.00

The message of this book is that the government now in charge of the U.S.A. cannot govern fairly because it does not pay attention to the interior of the country: what the author, following a current phrase, dubs "flyover country." The idea is that people who live on the coasts, including the denizens of Washington DC, wing heedlessly back and forth over the Great Plains where dwell great folks whose great ideas deserve to be considered when policies for the nation are decided.

I have no quarrel with that message. Indeed, I regard it as indisputable. However, I think there are two things the author should consider. The first is that her assumption her people are not being listened to does not bear close examination. The second is that when people are given a chance to voice their concerns, they have an obligation to say something worth hearing.

So we come to the point of my review: does this book say something worth hearing (or, for sticklers, contain something worth reading)?

That question has two answers, for the book is partly autobiographical. Dana Loesch (née Eaton) comes from a broken home, and by her account endured some bad treatment — not only by her father. Yet she went on to study journalism at Webster College, marry and raise two children, and launch a career doing investigative news articles for St. Louis Magazine. She succeeded despite adversity. This is admirable, and the portions of the book that describe her life are worth reading.

Unfortunately, those portions are interleaved with diatribes against liberals. Not only are these dripping with resentment, but they are often factually inaccurate. I'll give you an idea by quoting some paragraphs from her introduction.

"In the summer of 2004, as I was juggling a baby and freelancing on the side, President George W. Bush was barreling toward reelection. Democrats were beside themselves that Teresa Heinz Kerry's uncharismatic housewife, John Kerry, couldn't run away in the polls against a man they hated with every ounce of their withered, coexist-bumper-stickered souls. Not only were conservatives still popular, but President Bush's wartime brand of God-fearing Midwestern conservatism gathered applause at every campaign stop (though the big spending and expansion of government would later tarnish his legacy due to Tea Party criticisms).

"That's why they pushed a near nobody named Thomas Frank onto the best-seller list and kept him there for nearly five months with a book called What's the Matter with Kansas? Frank had traveled around his family's home state trying to discover why liberals were not popular in a state where Democrats had ruled a century before. His book got some things right, like the disconnect between many Republicans in Congress and the citizens they claimed to represent. He got bigger things wrong, however, like his thesis that those citizens would eventually realize their opinions were all wrong and would turn into progressives exactly like him.

What's remarkable about the book, though, isn't where he ended up; it's where he started. The coastal city dwellers knew so little about people in a state like Kansas that they were eager to read the ramblings of anyone willing to go there and translate. They were as curious and ignorant as Columbus sailing for the New World, and those coastals turned a book about malls and cornfields and cities too small for Minor League Baseball fields into a best seller.

"This book is just one example of a media strategy we've seen employed countless times before and since: Send a reporter out to 'Murica and see if he can explain what the heck these people do without Cuban-Indonesian fusion restaurants, appletinis, juice bars, and SoulCycle.

"This would all be funny if the coastal elite didn't run this country."

– Pages 1-2

These paragraphs are more about tone (e.g. calling John Kerry a housewife) than about substance. Considered in its entirety, the passage implicitly touts conservatives as the people leading valid lives while describing liberals as out of touch and mostly incapable of understanding why.

But let's examine the substance in this excerpt — or more precisely the lack of substance.

John Kerry fought well enough in Vietnam to earn medals,1 and after the Vietnamese War he testified before Congress about U.S. war crimes in Viet Nam.2 He is hardly the type to deserve being called a "girly man." He was unpopular in the 2004 election, largely due to persistent lying by a conservative group which ironically called itself "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth."3 George W. Bush was popular due to his performance after the 9/11 attacks and being in charge during the Iraq War — a war that proved to be both unjustified and largely unsuccessful.

Thomas Frank's purpose in writing What's the Matter with Kansas? was to probe the reasons why Kansans voted against their own best interests by choosing Republicans. They have continued doing so by electing and re-electing Sam Brownback, whose policies have plunged the state into fiscal chaos. Loesch mentions none of this, preferring to blame Frank and the Republicans in Congress instead of the citizens who made bad choices — and absurdly claiming that making good choices equates to becoming progressives.4

Loesch makes many questionable statements in this book. I'll mention only three of them.

"I realize that Sandra Fluke requested thousands of dollars a year in free birth control—which at that price must be some Louis Vuitton birth control talon rolled in fourteen-carat gold flakes by bald eagles— but for us plebes you can get it for a fraction of that." The problem Sandra sought to address was insurance companies denying women birth control pills for medical conditions: for example, a friend of hers who required birth control medicine costing $100 per month to treat a disease.5 Sandra argued that the ACA should cover the costs of such cases, because low-income women could not afford them without help.
"Last year a friend in Texas whose child attends Keller High School [***] alerted me to a letter sent out to parents apologizing for an admission made by a motivational speaker named Ryan Roberts. The speaker, a graduate of the school and part of the youth ministry at an area church, spoke to students on dealing with stress and overcoming challenges as part of the C3 Student Leadership Group. He included in his remarks that there was someone in whom they could find peace and relief and asked the students to shout the name of this person on the count of three, yelling 'Jesus!' on three." 6 I shouldn't have to explain why preaching Christianity in a public school is not a good idea. It's because of a little thing known as the First Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids government "respecting an establishment of religion."

Several schools have permitted similar activities and lost millions in lawsuits. And I probably don't need to guess how Dana would react if she heard of someone exhorting those same students to shout "Allah!"
"The language was there when Obama was just a first-term [state] senator making his 'audacious' run for the presidency. In July 2008 he lectured to an audience in Powder Springs, Georgia, about the need for Americans to be more worldly, starting from a young age. 'Instead of worrying about whether immigrants can learn English—they'll learn English—you need to make sure your child can speak Spanish.' He went on to detail his 'embarrassment' in the face of multilingual European tourists...

"Sometimes it feels like Obama has based his entire presidency on this kind of 'embarrassment' by his uncultured fellow Americans. We're not exceptional—we're embarrassing because we don't speak enough languages."
I wonder if Dana remembers that one of the problems we had before and during the "war on terror" was not enough diplomats and service members who spoke Arabic, Pashtun, and other Middle-Eastern languages. Knowing a second language is not just a matter of impressing European tourists with our erudition; it has practical benefits as well — sometimes vital benefits.

But I expect that even though Dana now lives in Texas, where there are lots of Spanish speakers, she gets along fine with just English. ¿No es verdad?

As I say, the book is filled with misleading or flat-out incorrect statements. Other readers can discover this for themselves.7 It's to the author's credit that she does provide citations for many of the statements she makes — and I haven't checked those citations. But there's enough wrong with this book that showing the citations don't support her arguments would feel like piling on. I'll close with this: The book is engagingly written. I consider it worth reading, annoying as it is (and despite its lack of an index.) But it merits only a mid-level mark, and it is definitely not a keeper.

1 Military service (1966-1970): During engagements on the rivers of Viet Nam, Kerry won the Bronze Star with Combat "V", the Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts.
2 Anti-war activism (1970-1971): Kerry joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) and was instrumental in that group's "Winter Soldier Investigation" of U.S. atrocities in Viet Nam. He later testified before Congress about the subject.
3 Military Records Debunk 'Swift Boat' Kerry Attacker.
4 Long, long ago (on a planet close at hand), there were conservatives who actually worked for their constituents rather than for evangelicals and oligarchs.
5 Her friend's condition was Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). It is no laughing matter, being associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and endometrial cancer among other diseases. It is the most common endocrine disorder for women aged 18 to 44. While it is incurable, treatment is possible, and birth control medicine is one of the primary treatments available.
6 Dana goes on to write, "People become offended when someone holds a different perspective because in our modern era, not sharing another's point of view is a challenge to that person's character and intelligence." As well as being hard to parse, this misses the point.
7 OK, just one more. She states "No, women do not make less money than men for the same job anymore (sic)." Then she quotes a source which says, in part, "And if we compare only people who work 40 hours a week, BLS data show that women then earn an average 90 cents for every dollar earned by men." (See pp. 149-150.) Who knew comparing salaries could be so complicated?
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