By Elizabeth DiNovella on August 26, 2012

When Paul Ryan bounds the stage at the RNC this week, chances are pretty good that he will be touting his small town Wisconsin roots.

His home town of Janesville, population 64,000, isn't that small of a town, when it comes to this state, which has towns of 400 or 500 people.

Janesville used to be an industrial center, a place where workers at the GM factory churned out 1,000 SUVs a day. But that was a long time ago, or so it seems. Back then, Ryan requested government money for projects, such as public transportation and water treatment plants. Back then, during the George W. Bush era, Ryan was "miserable," he says, as he voted over and over again to support his party's ever-growing government deficits, wars, and bureaucracies.

Now, though, Janesville is living in misery. It has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, alongside other cities like Racine and Kenosha in Ryan's First Congressional District. Foreclosures have tripled since 2000.

"They don't make things here," John Beckford, a Ryan supporter and the head of Forward Janesville, a pro-business economic-development group, told The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza. Janesville, Beckford explained, is reinventing itself as a distribution hub for major companies, since it is close to major cities, including Chicago.

We are also going to hear a lot about Chicago at the RNC. Chicago and its Chicago Dems are the foil to the Republican small town brand.

Wisconsinite Reince Priebus is the head of the RNC, a job he got after running millionaire Ron Johnson's successful Senate campaign. After ousting Feingold, Priebus was rewarded with top GOP job.

I saw Priebus (and Paul Ryan and Scott Walker, the trifecta of Wisconsin's right wing) at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), this past February. CPAC is the premiere rightwing get together and Wisconsin was featured front and center every night.

Priebus was bragging his small town roots. "I'm just a guy from small town Wisconsin," he told the crowd. He noted that he and Walker and Ryan all come from the same general area. The branding had begun.

Unlike most people from small town Wisconsin, though, Ryan has a five million dollar trust.

The other crucial element to the small town brand is small business. At the RNC we'll be hearing a lot about the small business owners. The Republicans, and especially Ryan, love to talk about small businesses.

At a talk to businesspeople in Milwaukee this spring, Ryan mentioned that most jobs in Wisconsin come from small businesses, and that most small businesses file tax as individuals. (Therefore, Bush era tax breaks for the wealthy should continue.)

Ryan reverence for small businesses fits alongside his denunciations of "crony capitalism."

How can a politician who rakes in money from the insurance and banking sectors denounce the Big Five insurance companies, like I saw Ryan do in his Milwaukee talk?

"Small business is the face if the Right today because its pugnacious, anti-big business message catches the bitter national mood," writes Thomas Frank in his latest book, Pity the Billionaire. "What the Right actually does is deliver the same favors to the same people as always."

Ryan, as a rightwing populist, takes up the small business crusade because it's such a key part of America's myths about itself.

Government regulation, he's likely to say, is getting in the way of small businesses. He won't say government deregulation of the banks, which he voted for, was a major cause of our economic woes.

At the RNC, expect to see small town America being used to advance our country's most powerful businesses.

If you liked this story by Elizabeth DiNovella, the Culture Editor of The Progressive magazine, check out her story "On the Road to Damascus with Alex Cockburn."

Follow Elizabeth DiNovella @lizdinovella on Twitter.


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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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