• U.S.

The Nation: THE MIDWEST QUIET EXPECTANCY

4 minute read
TIME

From Detroit Bureau Chief Edwin Reingold:

The coldest winter in nearly a century dropped temperatures last week to -11° F. in Chicago, -31° F. in Minneapolis and -54° F. in Solon Springs, Wis. Cracked a farmer in Bayfield County, Wis.: “It was so cold that my wheelbarrow wouldn’t start.” To most Midwesterners, keeping warm was a much more compelling concern than what kind of President Jimmy Carter would make.

Because of a natural-gas shortage, public schools closed in Kansas City, Mo., and may be cut to three days a week in Dayton. Too much demand caused electric voltage to be reduced by 5% in Detroit and other parts of Michigan, which dimmed lights almost imperceptibly and assured that everyone got some current. As an added misery, the wells ran dry in the farm hamlet of Princeton, Kans., and people had to truck in water. But much of it was frozen, and some citizens had to use snow to flush their toilets.

When Midwesterners did get around to talking about Carter, most of them sounded upbeat. Said Donald Percy, a vice president at the University of Wisconsin: “Our mood now is one of quiet expectancy.” Still, as Marquette University Sociologist Wayne Youngquist pointed out, Carter “doesn’t have a great reservoir of partisan feeling to draw on as a kind of cushion. He’s going to have to produce.” Added Theologian Martin Marty of the University of Chicago: “A lot of married couples forgo the honeymoon cruise and take up housekeeping right away. He’s going to have to do that,”

People in rural areas were afraid that even though Carter will be the first farmer in the White House since Thomas Jefferson, a peanut grower may not understand corn-belt problems. Because of unseasonably dry and cold weather this winter, the Midwest may end up at harvest time with unusually low yields in such high-income crops as corn and soybeans.

Until they find out what Carter will do to cushion wide fluctuations in the prices for their crops, some farmers are holding off on purchases of expensive equipment. Others anticipate a consumer rebellion over higher prices and are already explaining on TV that a loaf of bread contains only 3¢ to 4¢ worth of wheat. Still, there is an underlying confidence, which is demonstrated by the seller’s market for prime agricultural land. In a year the price has risen by 28%, to $2,000 an acre, outside Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and by 45%, to $4,000 an acre, near Peoria, Ill.

Businessmen were reassured by Carter’s Cabinet choices. Said a top General Motors Corp. executive: “Whatever decisions he makes, he will at least have the advice of people who know our problems.” Moreover, the Midwestern economic outlook is improving. Detroit hopes to sell close to 10 million cars and 3.5 million trucks this year, thus putting to work many of the 39,000 unemployed auto workers. In turn, the steel and tire industries are heading for a good year, and the prosperity will trickle down to the rest of the region’s economy. Said Eugene Swearingen, chairman of the Bank of Oklahoma in Tulsa, Okla.: “I’m relaxed and optimistic.”

City folk are hopeful that Carter will carry out his promises to do something about the staggering problems of blight and crime. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young foresees a new era of cooperation between the cities and the national Government. But others are skeptical about whether Carter can do much to reverse urban decline. Said Psychologist Wayne Oates of the University of Louisville: “The great poverty in America today is not for money. It’s not for buildings. It’s for ideas. People are tired of the old solutions.”

But the naysayers are in the minority these days. For the moment, most of the population seems willing to give Carter a chance. This was reflected in the annual Chicago Daily News poll of what most worries its readers. Crime ranked first, followed by high food prices, job security and the quality of public schools. To the credit of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, concern about the presidency has dropped to 19th, down from tenth just two years ago.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com