Stock and Lauck discuss “The Conservative Heartland: A Political History of the Postwar American Midwest”

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election there was widespread shock that the Midwest, the Democrats’ so-called blue wall, had been so effectively breached by Donald Trump. But the blue wall, as The Conservative Heartland makes clear, was never quite as secure as so many observers assumed. A deep look at the Midwest’s history of conservative politics, this timely volume reveals how conservative victories in state houses, legislatures, and national elections in the early twenty-first century, far from coming out of nowhere, in fact had extensive roots across decades of political organization in the region.

Focusing on nine states, from Iowa and the Dakotas to Indiana and Ohio, the essays in this collection detail the rise of midwestern conservatism after World War II—a trend that coincided with the transformation of the prewar Republican Party into the New Right. This transformation, the authors contend, involved the Midwest and the Sunbelt states. Through the lenses of race, class, gender, and sexuality, their essays explore the development of midwestern conservative politics in light of deindustrialization, environmentalism, second wave feminism, mass incarceration, privatization, and debates over same-sex marriage and abortion, among other issues. Together these essays map the region’s complex patchwork of viable rural and urban areas, variously subject to a wide array of conflicting interests and concerns; the perspective they provide, at once broad and in-depth, offers unique historical insight into the Midwest’s political complexity—and its status as the last real competitive battleground in presidential elections.

1. What is your elevator pitch for The Conservative Heartland? How would you describe the book in two or three sentences?

Stock: The 2016 election reminded political observers everywhere of the importance of conservative politics in the Midwest.  But what many did not realize is that Midwestern conservatism is nothing new.  In our book, contributors examine conservative political tradition in eleven states over the course of a transformative period, 1945 to the present, when “new conservatism” came to change American politics forever.

Lauck: Since the election of the Midwesterner Ronald Reagan in 1980, the dominant political orientation of the United States has been conservative, especially in the interior sections of the country. Unfortunately, we know very little about modern conservatism in the American Midwest, which is often seen as the heartland of the nation. This book is a major step toward addressing that historical oversight.

2. What was your inspiration to research and write about the political history of the postwar American Midwest?

Stock: Personally, I have been inspired to do political history by the grass-roots political work–stuffing envelopes and going door to door–that I did as a young girl in Minneapolis. My father was active in the Independent Republican Party and supported moderate IR candidates like Arne Carlson through the 1960s. Increasingly in the 1970s, however, IR politics began to change, with more far right candidates appearing in elections as hyper-local as those for the Minneapolis Park Board.  Since becoming a historian and moving to New England, I have continued to be fascinated with the region as a whole–even the question of how it became seen as a region in the first place. Most of my research and writing has examined the interactions between the federal government and the rural people.  I can still remember the arguments between my maternal grandparents, originally from Grand Forks, North Dakota, over the question of whether FDR had “ruined the country.”

Lauck: It is a bit annoying to hear coastal commentators opine about what is “really” going on in the interior of the country. I think it’s far past time for a deep and serious dive into the actual history of the Midwest and to get past stereotypes and anecdotes.

3. What was the most challenging aspect of compiling and editing the book?

Stock: We had far more terrific proposals than we had room for!  Also, we were looking for chronological, geographic, and thematic breadth so that was hard too!

Lauck: There is not much historiography to build on. We are starting from scratch in many cases.

4. How has the political influence of the American Midwest evolved over the past 100 years?

Stock: In one of our chapters, we show how the Midwest had been the most-frequently visited region of the country by presidential candidates throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Certain states like Ohio retained the reputation of being “bellwether” states even to this day.  But other Midwestern states, with fewer Electoral College votes, quickly became “fly-over states” in modern presidential campaigns.  And yet this too may be changing. It is quite striking to see how the Trump administration has returned time and again to small rural states with large percentages of his supporters, like North and South Dakota, to remind those voters that rural people are no less important to his coalition than urban voters.  Of course, the creation of the Iowa caucuses put rural, largely white, America front and center, but after the debacle of the 2020 primary I doubt it will continue to have that place of privilege, at least for the Democrats.

Lauck: Since the explosive growth of the Republican Party in 1850s as a Midwestern regional party to the Midwest GOP’s 50-year reign of dominance after the Civil War to the more recent rise of Reaganism the Midwest has been central to American politics. It is now the last swing region which will determine who captures the presidency this fall and in subsequent cycles.

5. How have single-issue voters influenced political trends in the Midwest?

Stock: I think that the rise of new conservatism cannot be boiled down to single issues–but there are some single issues that certainly made a huge impact in the region’s growing support for new conservatism in the 1970s and 1980s.  Support for the military is an understudied part of the appeal of the New Right in the Midwest; anti-abortion politics is better understood and, of course, seen as a critical component in this shift.  In our essay we also look at the impact of cultural issues like marriage equality, the increased numbers of evangelical Protestant congregations, and the appeal of often racially coded calls for “law and order.”

Lauck: Issues like farming, steel, and trade along with conservative social issues and defenses of American traditions have been major issues in the Midwest in recent decades and will likely remain so.

6. National attention turned to the Midwest after the surprising results from the 2016 Presidential election. Do you sense the region is being monitored more closely by political parties prior to the 2020 election?

Stock: Nearly every day (or at least before COVID 19!) major media outlets have published or broadcast pieces on Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio and their extremely important roles in the upcoming elections. It is now a truism that Hillary Clinton may have lost the 2016 election by neglecting to travel to Wisconsin.  No candidate will make that mistake this year!  Similarly, there are new articles examining the question of the Democrat’s supposed “blue wall” in the Midwest.  In our book we question whether there ever was a blue wall in the first place!

Lauck: Absolutely. The growing number of stories about Michigan and Wisconsin, for example, speak to that increased attention. The Democrats’ decision to have their convention in Milwaukee is no accident.

7. What is one thing you would like readers to take from your work?

Stock: That conservative politics have always been an essential part of Midwestern politics and that the region itself may be the last true battleground region in the country!

Lauck: There is a dense civic culture underlying the politics of the Midwest and people need to understand that and focus less on the day-to-day stories of polls and the horse race. People also need to understand that regions and smaller micro-places still play a role in politics and so we need to understand particular places better than we do. To do that we have to break out of the information bubble created by producers and editors in New York and Washington DC.

8. If you could have any one person read your book, who would it be and why?

Stock: I would like to go back in time and have Hillary Clinton read it in 2015!

Lauck: Both Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Pete Buttigieg of Indiana. They could have teamed up, formed an all-Midwest ticket, and fought a good fight for the region. They dropped the ball and left the Democrats with an old Washington insider who hails from Delaware. They should have played the regional angle better and emphasized they were fresh voices from a new generation.

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Catherine McNicol Stock is the Barbara Zaccheo Kohn ‘72 Professor of History at Connecticut College.

Jon K. Lauck is the founding president of the Midwestern History Association, editor-in-chief of the Middle West Review, and adjunct professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.

The Recent Upsurge of Anti-Abortion Sentiments and the Constitutional Right of Privacy

By John W. Johnson

This year has already emerged as the year that anti-abortion activists have achieved their greatest triumphs since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade (1973). As of this writing, eight state legislatures–mainly in the South and Midwest–have passed laws in the last five months hostile to a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. Some of these laws have limited the grounds for abortion; some have stipulated that an abortion may only legally be performed in the very early weeks of a pregnancy; some have criminalized a physician’s performance of abortions; and others have placed onerous burdens in the path of women’s seeking abortions. A number of additional states are presently considering the passage of similar legislation.

Emboldened by the statements of President Donald Trump, who regularly voices the rhetoric of the right to life movement, and strengthened by the recent appointment and confirmation of over 100 “pro-life” federal judges, the constitutionally-established right of a woman to end a pregnancy is in question as it has not been for almost a half century.

Roe v. Wade would not have come to pass without a precedent enunciated in a 1965 Supreme Court decision known as Griswold v. Connecticut. About 20 years ago I became interested in the Griswold case, eventually completing a book published by the University Press of Kansas in 2005. In light of the current challenges to Roe v. Wade and the right to an abortion, it makes sense to recall the Griswold decision, its role in the run-up to Roe v. Wade, and the current state of constitutional issues serving as the foundation for both decisions.

Griswold emerged from a successful legal challenge to an 1879 statute forbidding the use of birth control in the state of Connecticut. The named plaintiffs in the case were Estelle Griswold, the director of the Planned Parent League of Connecticut (PPLC), and Lee Buxton, a Connecticut physician and Yale Medical School professor.

Griswold and Buxton saw injustices to Connecticut women presented by the old state anti-abortion law. For example, the law did not prohibit contraception out-right: it permitted efforts to block pregnancies for the purpose of preventing the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), but it did not allow women to seek reproductive hegemony over their own bodies through medically-prescribed artificial efforts or devices. What this disjunction meant, in fact, was that a man or woman could walk into a gas station and, without any oversight or advice, purchase a condom from a dispenser for the purpose of preventing an STD; but a married couple could not seek a prescription from a licensed Connecticut physician for a diaphragm or birth control pills for the purpose of family planning. One of the least publicized services provided by the PPLC was to drive, in their personal automobiles, financially-strapped married couples to a state that permitted physician-supervised birth control (usually New York) to obtain contraceptive counseling.

Griswold and Buxton wanted to take birth control out of the shadows and make it routinely available to married couples. So, in 1961, they opened a birth control clinic in New Haven. They were shortly arrested for violating the state anticontraception statute and the clinic was shut down. The Connecticut courts upheld the conviction and Griswold and Buxton appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ultimate Supreme Court ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut was one of the most unusual and debated decisions of the 1960s. The Court’s 7-2 majority, in an opinion written by Justice William Douglas, held that the 19th century Connecticut anti-abortion law was unconstitutional as a violation of a newly enunciated “right of privacy.” Although privacy is not explicitly guaranteed by the words of the U.S. Constitution or its amendments, Douglas found that the “penumbras” and “emanations” of some of the Bill or Rights afforded a constitutionally-protected right of privacy. For example, Douglas wrote, a right of privacy was implied by the Fourth Amendment’s protections against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Justices joining Douglas in the majority found that the right of privacy could be teased out of other provisions of the Constitution, such as the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or the “certain rights . . . retained by the people” in the Ninth Amendment. A few years after Griswold, the right of privacy was extended to unmarried individuals seeking birth control information and prescriptions.

Ultimately, in Roe v. Wade, Justice Harry Blackmun ruled that the right of privacy in the first three months of a woman’s pregnancy was protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since Roe in 1973, the Court has revisited the constitutional right to an abortion on several occasions. Notably, in 1992 in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a Court majority determined that state regulations of the right to an abortion could not impose “undue burdens” on women seeking termination of pregnancies. Despite the nuances of Supreme Court abortion decisions of the last generation, the essential core of Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land.

Back to the present: What’s to make of the recent spate of anti-abortion legislation and the future of Roe v. Wade? Based upon my research on the right of privacy and Griswold v. Connecticut, I have some observations.

  • Is Roe v. Wade in jeopardy? Probably not. The precedent is well-established and, at the same time, malleable. The “undue burden” modification of the right to an abortion, for example, gives states some additional latitude to modify Roe. In addition, some of the new laws are more predicated on the language of state constitutions than the federal constitution. So, it bears watching whether the challenges to Roe emerge from state supreme courts or the federal courts.  At the Supreme Court level, my guess is that the strong institutional leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts will serve as a last gasp source of protection for what some have termed the “super precedent” of Roe v. Wade. Also, of course, any assault on the legitimacy of Roe v. Wade will be met by the resistance of well-financed and well-organized interest groups which will be quick to remind the justices that public opinion polls consistently show majority popular support for a woman’s right to an abortion.

 

  • Is the right of privacy imperiled by anti-abortion sentiment sweeping the country? In spite of the rather shaky emergence of the right of privacy in the “penumbra” language of Justice Douglas in Griswold, the right has found, in recent decisions, a more stable mooring in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.   The right of privacy has also gained traction in appellate court decisions involving LGBTQ rights; such protections would be hard to undercut or undo at this time in our nation’s history.  Americans will not give up without a major legal battle their recently-obtained right of privacy.

 

  • Even if Roe v. Wade survives impending legal challenges, has damage to abortion rights from the 2019 statutes already taken a toll? A qualified yes. Planned Parenthood is currently on the defensive, being forced by public and legal pressure in some states to curtail its reproductive health services. As of this writing, Missouri is about to shutter its Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, leaving no abortion providers in the state. Many largely rural states, such as Nebraska, now only offer abortions in small urban corridors. Moreover, ghastly accounts of rare late term abortions have somewhat undercut the support for reproductive rights among Americans. In addition, pregnant women with limited financial resources are finding it increasingly difficult to travel hundreds of miles to seek out a dwindling number of abortion-providers. Nevertheless, no matter what transpires in constitutional tests of the recently-enacted anti-abortion laws, organizations that support a woman’s right to control her own body will have powerful legal and emotional issues to present to the electorate in 2020 and beyond.

 

John Johnson is an emeritus professor of History at the University of Northern Iowa. In his 46-year academic career, he taught courses on Recent U.S. History, American Civil Liberties, and Critical Thinking.  He is also the author of a number of books and articles, including Griswold v. Connecticut: Birth Control and the Constitutional Right of Privacy (University Press of Kansas, 2005).

The First Drink of Fall

When University Press of Kansas acquisitions editor Kim Hogeland contacted Pete Dulin with a book idea, he didn’t have to consider it for long.

“It was a pretty quick ‘yes’ from me,” Dulin says with his customary straight-forward fashion. “You want me to write a book examining all the breweries, wineries and distilleries across Kansas and Missouri? No problem.”

With Expedition of Thirst; Exploring Breweries, Wineries, and Distilleries Across the Heart of Kansas and Missouri, experienced Kansas City journalist Pete Dulin guides readers through a dizzying array of beverages made in America’s heartland. Expedition of Thirst maps routes that crisscross eastern Kansas and western Missouri, with stops at some 150 breweries, wineries, and distilleries along the way. Dulin, explains how and why these businesses produce beer, wine, and spirits tied to regional terroir and represent the flavors of the Midwest from the Flint Hills to the Ozarks. More than a travel guide, his book is a cultural journal exploring the people, places, and craft that make each destination distinct and noteworthy.

“This book was so much fun to write,” Dulin explains. “When I started I had no idea how many breweries and wineries were in Kansas and Missouri. It mirrors the national trend of growing craft breweries and wineries. In fact, there are now as many breweries in America now as there were before Prohibition – which has never happened before.”

Dulin’s travels for the book took him down back roads and across interstates; into tasting rooms and walking through vineyards. However, the assignment wasn’t a stretch. Dulin is the author of Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland, KC Ale Trail, and Last Bite: 100 Simple Recipes from Kansas City’s Best Chefs and Cooks. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including Flatland, Feast Magazine, The Kansas City Star, Visit KC, River Front Times, The Boston Globe, Thinking Bigger, Pitch, and Kansas City Business Journal. He knows what he’s doing when talking about food and alcohol.

“I love the process of meeting small business owners who are so passionate about what they do,” Dulin says. “People that brew beer or distill whiskey or create wine are some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met.”

Dulin shares the stories of many of these brewers, winemakers, and distillers in their own words. Expedition of Thirst captures the character of the small business owners and makers and offers insight about their craft. For good measure, Dulin delves into the history, culture, and geography that have shaped these producers and their practices, from the impact of Prohibition to the early influence of immigrant winemakers and brewers, regional agriculture, and politics. As informative as it is engaging—even intoxicating—his Expedition is sure to work up readers’ thirst to travel and discover firsthand the singular regional pleasures Dulin so richly describes.