Kansas City: The View from the Middle Kansas City is at the geographical center of the country — and also at the center of political divide and consensus, business and culture, traditionalism and modernism. Its geographical and cultural middle ground has been shaping this Midwestern city since the Civil War.
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Kansas City: The View from the Middle

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Kansas City: The View from the Middle

Kansas City: The View from the Middle

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From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand along with Alex Chadwick. Hi, Alex.


Madeleine, greetings from Kansas City and the historic train station, Union Station.

BRAND: And what are you doing there in the train station?

CHADWICK: Well, you know, we've come here to get this view from the middle, which Kansas City is, just about the geographical center of the country, the population center too.

BRAND: And who did you speak with?

CHADWICK: We're going to start hearing from them. But we want to begin with this writer we found who we really like. His name is Whitney Terrel. And Madeleine, I wanted his advice on how could DAY TO DAY come here - out-of-towners - to Kansas City and not make fools of ourselves with the locals. And he said, don't worry, you're in Kansas City.

Mr. WHITNEY TERREL (Author): Kansas Citians, generally, are so pleased when somebody comes to talk to them at all that you could practically say anything and I think that we would mostly be happy. This city is interesting. It's interesting because it has the complications of any big, thriving metropolis. Look for the oddball stuff. Ask the questions that mystify you and you'll probable stumble onto the interesting parts of the city.

CHADWICK: We hope that we've done that, and we're going to start here with a question for several people. What does it mean to be in the middle?

Governor KATHLEEN SEBELIUS (Democrat, Kansas): I'm Kathleen Sebelius. I'm the governor of Kansas. We're the dead center of the United States. If somebody closes their eyes and puts a finger in the middle of a map, that's us. That's a familiar place to be. I think it means in the political world an opportunity to find consensus as opposed to finding ways to fight with one another, making people understand how much they have in common; and hopefully moving forward on initiatives where there is a lot of agreement and a lot of opportunity for success.

Ms. CHERYL BROWN HENDERSON (The Brown Foundation): My name is Cheryl Brown Henderson. And I am the founder and president of the Brown Foundation and one of the three children of Oliver Brown, for whom Brown vs. the Board of Education is named.

CHADWICK: What does it mean to be in the middle?

Ms. HENDERSON: We're a little smug being in the middle because the problems that you hear about on the East and West coasts, it takes at least a decade for those problems to present themselves in our part of the world.

The other thing about being in the middle is that Kansas is historically significant. It was the state of Kansas that battled - did battle to halt the westward expansion of slavery and succeeded, mind you, at halting the westward expansion of slavery, and actively recruited formerly enslaved people to come from the south to live in Kansas.

Unidentified Woman #1: From the middle, let's see...

Unidentified Man #1: Things are a little bit slower here.

Unidentified Man #2: You get a nice mixing of people.

Unidentified Woman #2: The rest of the country has a misconception that the middle is kind of backward.

Unidentified Man #3: Do you have like running water or electricity?

Unidentified Woman #3: We are every bit as cultured and...

Unidentified Man #4: Not like there's cows that out walking around like most people would think.

Unidentified Man #4: We're here and we are very much a lot like you.

Unidentified Woman #4: To me the Midwest signifies the kind of hospitality that's hard to find anyplace else.

Unidentified Man #5: And we don't need to be so rude.

Mr. TERREL: I'm Whitney Terrel. I'm the author of "The Kings of Kings County" and "The Huntsman."

The Midwest is an incredibly important place and has a ton of material. The issues that are most painful and difficult for the nation to deal with are being played out in their rawest form. If you want to look for abortion or anti-abortion activists, this is where you come. If you want to look for what's happening on family farms, this is where you come. If you want to look at the red/blue split and divide, where you have an extremely Republican county in Johnson County, and you have an extremely Democratic county in Jackson County, Missouri, this is where you come. All of these issues that are being played out in the country are being played out here most explicitly.

Unidentified Woman #5: Actually, to be from the middle, it's all about the people. I think like everyone is just genuinely kind and willing to help each other out.

Unidentified Man #6 (Resident, Kansas): It's cheap.

Gov. SEBELIUS: Well, it means a lot because we are part of this country.

Unidentified Man #7: L.A., I've been to L.A. It's too fast. And...

Unidentified Man #8: Friendship means maybe a little bit more. Family values mean a little bit more.

Unidentified Man #9: A lot of times you just want to say slow down. You're moving too fast, you know?

Unidentified Woman #6: I think they could learn from us as to getting along with others.

Unidentified Man #10: The quality of life is amazing.

Unidentified Woman #7: We in the middle of the country are very well grounded.

Unidentified Woman #8: Gives us an ability to see both sides of the coin.

Unidentified Man #11: Everyone seems to be like everyone else.

Unidentified Woman #9: You hear what maybe the East Coast thought, West Coast thought, and without having to be in the middle of all that allows you to process better.

Unidentified Woman #10: Peace is very important to us here.

CHADWICK: Senator Robert Dole, tell us - what does it mean to you to be in the middle, to come from the middle?

Mr. ROBERT DOLE (Former Republican Senator): It means independence, pretty high appreciation for values, basic values, you know, hard work. You know, I think we have a lot of common sense in the Midwest. The middle doesn't mean that you're without conviction, that you don't understand the issues. It doesn't mean you're going to compromise everything that comes down the middle of the road. But it does mean you have an open mind. You're willing to listen. And there are times when compromise is necessary. Sometimes things can't be compromised and you just have to fight it out. And so I don't want to leave the impression that being sort of middle of the road where I think most Kansans and Missourians are - particular in that area you're in - we have strong convictions, but that doesn't mean we can't get together and work things out.

CHADWICK: That's Senator Dole. We'll be hearing more from some of these people later in the program and this week as we broadcast from Kansas City.

BRAND: And we'll be hearing more from you later on in the program. Thanks, Alex.

CHADWICK: Okay. Talk to you again, Madeleine.

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