Oklahoma and the “conservative life”

Last Thursday the Washington Post had a big feature article–on the front page, no less–about Washington, Oklahoma, which is just down the road from where my wife’s father and brother live.  The article was focusing on Oklahoma as a Super Tuesday state and as one of the most consistently Republican states in the union, voting for George W. Bush at a rate of 65.6% and for John McCain at the exact same rate of 65.6%.   The little town of Washington, population 600, was targeted, I guess because it has the same name as our nation’s capital, and it was presented as exemplifying “the conservative life,” whatever that is.

The stereotypes and condescension abound, presenting the folks of Washington as an exotic tribe, as in a National Geographic special.  But the reporter, Eli Saslow, has a way with description, and his details made me nostalgic for my own Oklahoma roots growing up:

What you see is Sid’s Easy Shop opening downtown each morning at 6, where Sid will sell you gas, rent you a movie, make you a new set of keys or bring your soda to one of the classic red booths preserved from the 1950s. The post office, its roof painted red and white to reflect the stripes of the American flag, opens for business a few hours later. Next door to that, Casey operates her coffee shop with the help of her husband and five kids, who take turns working the register, Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am, and sell T-shirts imprinted with the phrase “Make God Famous.”

What you see is a parade of several dozen well-wishers lining the street and stretching out their hands to the bus every time one of the varsity high school teams leaves to play a road game, and a few hundred people gathering for community workdays to fix up the Little League field so Washington doesn’t waste money on parks and rec. Almost all of the houses in town are single-story ranchers, and more than 70 percent belong to married couples — few Hispanic, fewer black, none Muslim and none openly gay.

What you see are calves dropping in the spring, coyotes circling at night, shooting stars, roaring tornados and thick flocks of birds migrating across skies that round over the horizon.

And yet, the article itself has details that show the folks of Washington are more complicated than he lets on.  The town has no diversity, with few Hispanics and Blacks and no Muslims, the article complains, but it turns out that the rancher being interviewed is Chickasaw, whose ancestors came to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  I suspect the same could be said for many of the other Washingtonians.   So Native Americans don’t count in the diversity requirements?

It also turns out that the rancher, described riding his pickup to check on the cattle, went to college, worked in St. Louis, and now telecommutes with a financial company.  The preacher in the story with the alarmingly conservative congregation turns out to be from Chicago.

As for Oklahoma being so Republican, the fact is, just a few decades ago, Oklahoma was purely Democratic.  When I was growing up, there was not even a Republican party organization in the county.   All local elections were decided in the Democratic primary.  I don’t think I ever saw  a Republican, except on TV, until my cousin married one.  (There were some in the family who thought such a mixed marriage would never work, and we were all surprised to learn what a nice guy he was.) Back in the 1960s, Oklahoma was famous for its “Yellow Dog Democrats,” meaning that people would vote for a yellow dog if he was a Democrat.

The people condescended to in this article used to be the base of the Democratic party.  Judging from other liberal rhetoric, I thought “the conservative life” was represented by “the 1%,” the rich, the corporate oligarchs.   The people presented as primitive and retrograde in this article are closer to poor.  I thought liberals championed the poor.  Why are they making fun of them?

The Democratic party would do well to ponder why states that were once solidly in their pocket have gone Republican.  The hints are in the article. The people here are zealously against abortion.  They worry about moral values.  Their families are central to everything they do.  They know about family breakups, their teenagers using crystal meth, and crime problems from bitter experience, and they hate the breakdown in social order that these represent and that have reached even Washington, Oklahoma.  But they are proud to be Americans, volunteer to fight their country’s wars, are fiercely independent, and are ardent in their faith.  There was a time when you could be a Democrat, a liberal even, and hold to all of this.

Why has Washington, Oklahoma, become so strange, so alien, regarded as both scary and comical, to today’s liberal establishment?

via To residents of another Washington, their cherished values are under assault – The Washington Post.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Erik

    In answer to your question:
    It might be xenophobia, which is something we all carry, at least to a certain extent.
    Maybe it’s a fear of something that they realize could defeat them politically, since such beliefs on the part of conservatives provide a kind of steadfast spirit that generally cannot be moved.
    That imperviousness might also, at the same time, be making liberals jealous somewhere deep inside them. They would hardly admit it, but their own values are rootless and unattached to any real meaning in life. That void must leave them longing for something, and jealous that others have found it, a jealousy that manifests itself in ridicule and mockery of the very thing they know they lack.

  • Erik

    In answer to your question:
    It might be xenophobia, which is something we all carry, at least to a certain extent.
    Maybe it’s a fear of something that they realize could defeat them politically, since such beliefs on the part of conservatives provide a kind of steadfast spirit that generally cannot be moved.
    That imperviousness might also, at the same time, be making liberals jealous somewhere deep inside them. They would hardly admit it, but their own values are rootless and unattached to any real meaning in life. That void must leave them longing for something, and jealous that others have found it, a jealousy that manifests itself in ridicule and mockery of the very thing they know they lack.

  • Michael B.

    When I visit some of my relatives who live in a very conservative and rural area of the country, I actually feel like I’m visiting another country. We may share a common language, government, and currency, but that’s about it. So it might as well be on National Geographic. And yet I agree with Gene that there is this sense that people are condescending when discussing another culture, as they are often treated as a group instead of as individuals.

    However, let me give you just one example of how “strange” this group appears to outsiders: Consider Sarah Palin. If we were to go to any other Western nation and get every person, right-wingers, left-wingers, moderates, and just line every one up — and you were to ask the question, “Is Sarah Palin qualified to be president?” — you probably couldn’t find 5% of people to give a “yes” answer.

  • Michael B.

    When I visit some of my relatives who live in a very conservative and rural area of the country, I actually feel like I’m visiting another country. We may share a common language, government, and currency, but that’s about it. So it might as well be on National Geographic. And yet I agree with Gene that there is this sense that people are condescending when discussing another culture, as they are often treated as a group instead of as individuals.

    However, let me give you just one example of how “strange” this group appears to outsiders: Consider Sarah Palin. If we were to go to any other Western nation and get every person, right-wingers, left-wingers, moderates, and just line every one up — and you were to ask the question, “Is Sarah Palin qualified to be president?” — you probably couldn’t find 5% of people to give a “yes” answer.

  • John C

    Your values are bigger and better than my values?
    You hardly know me, Erik.

  • John C

    Your values are bigger and better than my values?
    You hardly know me, Erik.

  • #4 Kitty

    As for Oklahoma being so Republican, the fact is, just a few decades ago, Oklahoma was purely Democratic.

    That does not astonish me nearly so much as how their mindset is so uniform. The world would look on this as a form of indoctrination or groupthink. We Lutherans would consider it good catechism. A less charitable perspective would use the word sheeple.

    Yesterday they were uniformly Democrats; today they are all Republicans. Yesterday we’ve always been at war with Eurasia; today we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

  • #4 Kitty

    As for Oklahoma being so Republican, the fact is, just a few decades ago, Oklahoma was purely Democratic.

    That does not astonish me nearly so much as how their mindset is so uniform. The world would look on this as a form of indoctrination or groupthink. We Lutherans would consider it good catechism. A less charitable perspective would use the word sheeple.

    Yesterday they were uniformly Democrats; today they are all Republicans. Yesterday we’ve always been at war with Eurasia; today we’ve always been at war with Eastasia.

  • Cincinnatus

    #4 Kitty:

    Eh, no indoctrination involved. The parties merely switched labels, not the people. I.e., contemporary Republicans are mostly identical to the Southern Democrats of the early twentieth century on the issues that matter to citizens of Oklahoma. The rural South (and Oklahoma: not really a Southern state, but similar politically speaking) has been a one-party state since the Civil War at least.

  • Cincinnatus

    #4 Kitty:

    Eh, no indoctrination involved. The parties merely switched labels, not the people. I.e., contemporary Republicans are mostly identical to the Southern Democrats of the early twentieth century on the issues that matter to citizens of Oklahoma. The rural South (and Oklahoma: not really a Southern state, but similar politically speaking) has been a one-party state since the Civil War at least.

  • Cincinnatus

    Oh, and if you want real groupthink, come to Madison, WI. A real echo-chamber.

  • Cincinnatus

    Oh, and if you want real groupthink, come to Madison, WI. A real echo-chamber.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    The article is just another example of how the coasts do not get fly-over country. Once again I am reminded of relatives who were surprised to see grass and trees in Texas and no we didn’t know the Ewings.

    I don’t know if anybody noticed that the article defined the opposite of “Hope and Change” is no change. It doesn’t even consider the idea that their hopes for change differ from the current administrations vision.

    Also note how they treated Lisa Billy the state representative. The article sets her up in a way that will cause people to look down upon her and cause them to see her as less intelligent. The comment about her preferred manner of dress while it may be accurate is one to cause others to scoff and dismiss.

  • Dr. Luther in the 21st Century

    The article is just another example of how the coasts do not get fly-over country. Once again I am reminded of relatives who were surprised to see grass and trees in Texas and no we didn’t know the Ewings.

    I don’t know if anybody noticed that the article defined the opposite of “Hope and Change” is no change. It doesn’t even consider the idea that their hopes for change differ from the current administrations vision.

    Also note how they treated Lisa Billy the state representative. The article sets her up in a way that will cause people to look down upon her and cause them to see her as less intelligent. The comment about her preferred manner of dress while it may be accurate is one to cause others to scoff and dismiss.

  • Erik

    #3 John C-
    Question one: are you saying all values are equal, that no values are better than others?
    Question two: What are your values?

  • Erik

    #3 John C-
    Question one: are you saying all values are equal, that no values are better than others?
    Question two: What are your values?

  • SKPeterson

    I’ve always said (at least to myself) that if Arkansas had been a monolithic Republican one-party state instead of a Democrat one, Bill Clinton would be hailed as one of the greatest Republican presidents ever. Arkansas just made the switch later than Oklahoma and Texas.

    The comments on the WaPo are enlightening, though. You just gotta love a slew of D.C. bureaucrats and their hangers-on who go around imposing their will upon the masses complaining that the people of Washington, OK are dangerous because they want to impose their own ideas on people. The obvious self-satisfaction of having someone to look down upon is so clear, and the writer’s obvious obliviousness to it, goes a long way to explaining why people in Washington, OK think the people in D.C. are in a different world.

    Like Michael B. says – same words, but different meanings, different context, essentially almost a different language despite the verbal and syntatical similarities. If we can’t speak to each other without derision or contempt, should we really even try to stay together?

  • SKPeterson

    I’ve always said (at least to myself) that if Arkansas had been a monolithic Republican one-party state instead of a Democrat one, Bill Clinton would be hailed as one of the greatest Republican presidents ever. Arkansas just made the switch later than Oklahoma and Texas.

    The comments on the WaPo are enlightening, though. You just gotta love a slew of D.C. bureaucrats and their hangers-on who go around imposing their will upon the masses complaining that the people of Washington, OK are dangerous because they want to impose their own ideas on people. The obvious self-satisfaction of having someone to look down upon is so clear, and the writer’s obvious obliviousness to it, goes a long way to explaining why people in Washington, OK think the people in D.C. are in a different world.

    Like Michael B. says – same words, but different meanings, different context, essentially almost a different language despite the verbal and syntatical similarities. If we can’t speak to each other without derision or contempt, should we really even try to stay together?

  • SKPeterson

    Dr. L @ 7 – notice as well that they downplay her Native American-ness. She’d be touted to the extreme if she was advocating as a Native American or “indigenous” person on environmental concerns, but if she strays from the reservation (almost literally in this case) and advocates for a pro-life position or anti-shari’a, she becomes just some backwoods redneck hick out to impose her outdated moralisms on the enlightened people of America.

  • SKPeterson

    Dr. L @ 7 – notice as well that they downplay her Native American-ness. She’d be touted to the extreme if she was advocating as a Native American or “indigenous” person on environmental concerns, but if she strays from the reservation (almost literally in this case) and advocates for a pro-life position or anti-shari’a, she becomes just some backwoods redneck hick out to impose her outdated moralisms on the enlightened people of America.

  • Bob

    Poor Cincinnatus.

    Still stuck in Madison.

    I pray you’ll be liberated soon.

  • Bob

    Poor Cincinnatus.

    Still stuck in Madison.

    I pray you’ll be liberated soon.

  • Cincinnatus

    Bob@11,

    Why? I like it here. But there sure is a political groupthink, and since progressives in general seem to enjoy “politicizing” more domains of human life more often than ordinary folks, it can be intellectually stifling. I grew up in a place like Washington, OK–small, insular, socially conservative, etc.–though party affiliation was largely Democratic due to a strong industrial union presence. But, despite the implicit unanimity, the groupthink was far less oppressive, even though I often disagreed.

  • Cincinnatus

    Bob@11,

    Why? I like it here. But there sure is a political groupthink, and since progressives in general seem to enjoy “politicizing” more domains of human life more often than ordinary folks, it can be intellectually stifling. I grew up in a place like Washington, OK–small, insular, socially conservative, etc.–though party affiliation was largely Democratic due to a strong industrial union presence. But, despite the implicit unanimity, the groupthink was far less oppressive, even though I often disagreed.

  • Cincinnatus

    Anyway, the point of my last comment@12 is that these “xenophobic” yokels in Oklahoma and other rural locales, despite their seeming insularity and “groupthink,” are far more “open,” in a way, than the progressive elites who dwell along the coasts and in places like Madison. These elites are at least as parochial and provincial as my erstwhile Appalachian fellow-citizens, and their fears are utterly unfounded and paranoid: rural conservatives are a small and shrinking proportion of the American population, and they’re no longer meaningfully represented by either major party. Not the Republicans, and certainly not the Democrats.

  • Cincinnatus

    Anyway, the point of my last comment@12 is that these “xenophobic” yokels in Oklahoma and other rural locales, despite their seeming insularity and “groupthink,” are far more “open,” in a way, than the progressive elites who dwell along the coasts and in places like Madison. These elites are at least as parochial and provincial as my erstwhile Appalachian fellow-citizens, and their fears are utterly unfounded and paranoid: rural conservatives are a small and shrinking proportion of the American population, and they’re no longer meaningfully represented by either major party. Not the Republicans, and certainly not the Democrats.

  • Bob

    Cincinnatus,

    Yeah, I get it.

    I made friends with a guy from Va. probably 15 years ago, who was a Democrat. After getting to know him, I remember thinking that his political beliefs and POV were more like that of a moderate Republican in Wisconsin!

  • Bob

    Cincinnatus,

    Yeah, I get it.

    I made friends with a guy from Va. probably 15 years ago, who was a Democrat. After getting to know him, I remember thinking that his political beliefs and POV were more like that of a moderate Republican in Wisconsin!

  • Cincinnatus

    Bob,

    I’m not sure you do get it. Yes, it’s probably true that the average Virginia Democrat is more “conservative” across a spectrum of issues than the average Wisconsin Republican (though having traversed the backroads of this fine northern state, I’m not so sure). But that’s not my point. My point is that whatever xenophobia, unanimity, and epistemic closure allegedly persists in small towns and rural communities is nowhere nearly as oppressive, intellectually-speaking, as the progressive groupthink that utterly dominates Madison, for example, or editorials like the one posted above. In Madison, the substance out of which one’s shopping bags are constructed becomes a question of dogmatic, explicit political orthodoxy. In my “insular” and “homogeneous” hometown, on the other hand, things are actually much more libertarian (not governmentally but socially) than in Madison, even though cars here are emblazoned with bumper stickers proclaiming “Coexist” and “I know my rights man!” Coincidentally, the drivers of said cars are almost always lily-white progressives who agree on 99.9% of all interesting political and philosophical questions.

  • Cincinnatus

    Bob,

    I’m not sure you do get it. Yes, it’s probably true that the average Virginia Democrat is more “conservative” across a spectrum of issues than the average Wisconsin Republican (though having traversed the backroads of this fine northern state, I’m not so sure). But that’s not my point. My point is that whatever xenophobia, unanimity, and epistemic closure allegedly persists in small towns and rural communities is nowhere nearly as oppressive, intellectually-speaking, as the progressive groupthink that utterly dominates Madison, for example, or editorials like the one posted above. In Madison, the substance out of which one’s shopping bags are constructed becomes a question of dogmatic, explicit political orthodoxy. In my “insular” and “homogeneous” hometown, on the other hand, things are actually much more libertarian (not governmentally but socially) than in Madison, even though cars here are emblazoned with bumper stickers proclaiming “Coexist” and “I know my rights man!” Coincidentally, the drivers of said cars are almost always lily-white progressives who agree on 99.9% of all interesting political and philosophical questions.

  • Rose

    Washington sounds wonderful.
    Much like my hometown in Michigan.
    The real news is that those who can work away from urban areas, often prefer to. And from these places, a remnant will return.

  • Rose

    Washington sounds wonderful.
    Much like my hometown in Michigan.
    The real news is that those who can work away from urban areas, often prefer to. And from these places, a remnant will return.

  • Kirk

    @Cinn

    Eh, I think you’re erring in the opposite direction, a bit. I do agree that the bigotry of small town America is no greater than in the cities but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s worse in one place or the other. The examples you cite are differences, not degrees.

  • Kirk

    @Cinn

    Eh, I think you’re erring in the opposite direction, a bit. I do agree that the bigotry of small town America is no greater than in the cities but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s worse in one place or the other. The examples you cite are differences, not degrees.

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk@17,

    No, I insist on making a distinction of degree as well as difference. Madison votes in lockstep by a margin of 4 to 1 for Democrats, and that remainder of “1″ isn’t necessarily going to conservatives. These electoral results are reflected in public, social life generally. Progressive elitists like these politicize everything.

    Meanwhile, my hometown was more ideologically diverse–and quiet, thus tolerant. I was seldom assaulted by various political campaign, boycotts, protests, movements, etc. Not that these things are bad in themselves, but a) they are tiresome; not everything needs to be ground up and formatted to fit the Procrustean bed of ideological politics and b) they are here unanimous. There are few, if any, meaningful outlets for opinions that diverge from the party line, as it were.

    Consider also that, while Washington, OK, like most of the South, is and was, as I said, a one-party state, this party was actually very diverse, full of competing factions, essentially serving as a party system in itself.

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk@17,

    No, I insist on making a distinction of degree as well as difference. Madison votes in lockstep by a margin of 4 to 1 for Democrats, and that remainder of “1″ isn’t necessarily going to conservatives. These electoral results are reflected in public, social life generally. Progressive elitists like these politicize everything.

    Meanwhile, my hometown was more ideologically diverse–and quiet, thus tolerant. I was seldom assaulted by various political campaign, boycotts, protests, movements, etc. Not that these things are bad in themselves, but a) they are tiresome; not everything needs to be ground up and formatted to fit the Procrustean bed of ideological politics and b) they are here unanimous. There are few, if any, meaningful outlets for opinions that diverge from the party line, as it were.

    Consider also that, while Washington, OK, like most of the South, is and was, as I said, a one-party state, this party was actually very diverse, full of competing factions, essentially serving as a party system in itself.

  • Kirk

    So, you’re saying that in the State Capital, where the governor lives and the state legislature sits, things are more political than in your more rural town? Sure. I live in Washington, DC and things are more political here, too, than in any small town I’ve ever lived it (and trust me, conservatives politicize everything too). But that has more to do with the local industry (politics) than it does with the nature of liberals or city folk. I’m sure people in your town have divisive opinions about whatever industry prevails there than people in Madison do. Does that make your town more divided and bigoted? No, it just makes your town different. Again, differences, not degrees.

  • Kirk

    So, you’re saying that in the State Capital, where the governor lives and the state legislature sits, things are more political than in your more rural town? Sure. I live in Washington, DC and things are more political here, too, than in any small town I’ve ever lived it (and trust me, conservatives politicize everything too). But that has more to do with the local industry (politics) than it does with the nature of liberals or city folk. I’m sure people in your town have divisive opinions about whatever industry prevails there than people in Madison do. Does that make your town more divided and bigoted? No, it just makes your town different. Again, differences, not degrees.

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk,

    I’m not talking about the politicos who inevitably inhabit a capital city. I’m talking about the average citizens, the yokels, the local politics, the local dialogue. In fact, the comportment I reference probably has more to do with the fact that Madison is a university town than with the fact that it is a political town. After all, the politics here at the state level are Republican at the moment; the city is not, nor are local politics, nor is the university. Which says something about academia in the United States I think.

    My point is that the politicization of all questions and issues is pathological and cognitively oppressive. Everything is rendered public and dogmatic. Get it? It’s not like that in Richmond, for example, another state capital where I’ve spent time. Degree and difference.

    Editorials like the one above are bloviating about a stifling xenophobia and bigotry they allegedly find (but fail to specify) in small towns, unaware that they are preaching to a choir in an echo-chamber. The fact that he wrote and found an approving audience for this sketch of Washington, OK, says quite a lot about his culture, no? Sure, there are a lot of snide jokes about “city folk” in small, rural towns, but they come from a place of tragedy (because they’ve lost so many of their productive industry and population to these cities) and justifiable disgust (the “city folk” “started it” when it comes to the insufferable condescension, etc.). And the city folk have all the power, so it’s really unfair to be picking on the small towns even if they were as horrible as the editorial suggests.

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk,

    I’m not talking about the politicos who inevitably inhabit a capital city. I’m talking about the average citizens, the yokels, the local politics, the local dialogue. In fact, the comportment I reference probably has more to do with the fact that Madison is a university town than with the fact that it is a political town. After all, the politics here at the state level are Republican at the moment; the city is not, nor are local politics, nor is the university. Which says something about academia in the United States I think.

    My point is that the politicization of all questions and issues is pathological and cognitively oppressive. Everything is rendered public and dogmatic. Get it? It’s not like that in Richmond, for example, another state capital where I’ve spent time. Degree and difference.

    Editorials like the one above are bloviating about a stifling xenophobia and bigotry they allegedly find (but fail to specify) in small towns, unaware that they are preaching to a choir in an echo-chamber. The fact that he wrote and found an approving audience for this sketch of Washington, OK, says quite a lot about his culture, no? Sure, there are a lot of snide jokes about “city folk” in small, rural towns, but they come from a place of tragedy (because they’ve lost so many of their productive industry and population to these cities) and justifiable disgust (the “city folk” “started it” when it comes to the insufferable condescension, etc.). And the city folk have all the power, so it’s really unfair to be picking on the small towns even if they were as horrible as the editorial suggests.

  • Kirk

    @Cin,

    But again, you’re talking about differences. The nature of large towns makes certain issues political. Take your bag example from earlier. Say your town has 2,000 people living in it (I have no idea if that’s true, it’s just a random number). If one percent of the population of your town litters their shopping bags around, that’s not such a big deal. 20 people litter, so what. In DC, where 700,000 people live (plus a million or so that commute in every day), 1% of the population littering is a way bigger deal. 7,000+ people dropping their bags on a regular basis puts a huge strain on city infrastructure and significantly impacts what little environment we have. Requiring people to have bio-degradable shopping bags (we actually make people pay for their shopping bags) has a large net benefit to our city, where in your town, it’s probably much more trouble than it’s worth. But it is an issue for us, and, as voters, we have to have an opinion on the matter.

    But, then there are political issues that you have to deal with that don’t really effect me, in my city. Poaching and trespassing come readily to mind. I don’t really have to worry about my neighbors coming on my land and mistaking me for a deer. That’s a different story in rural areas and I know it’s a concern for friends that I have out in Western PA and they’re in favor stricter laws punishing it. As for me, I don’t care. I don’t even know what penalties for trespassing are in DC.

    But please, provide an example of a political issue in Madison that shouldn’t be a political issue and is some how stifling the freedom of that city’s residents. I’m trying to respond to generalities and might not be understanding.

    Frankly, your last paragraph is just you identifying more with the people of Washington, OK, than with people from Washington, DC. Was this article silly? Sure. But so was Sarah Palin saying that small towns constitute “real America.” I’m not excusing this article. I’m saying that you’re committing the same error. False generalizations are stupid and inexcusable regardless of whether they’re made by East Coast journalists or small town Americans.

  • Kirk

    @Cin,

    But again, you’re talking about differences. The nature of large towns makes certain issues political. Take your bag example from earlier. Say your town has 2,000 people living in it (I have no idea if that’s true, it’s just a random number). If one percent of the population of your town litters their shopping bags around, that’s not such a big deal. 20 people litter, so what. In DC, where 700,000 people live (plus a million or so that commute in every day), 1% of the population littering is a way bigger deal. 7,000+ people dropping their bags on a regular basis puts a huge strain on city infrastructure and significantly impacts what little environment we have. Requiring people to have bio-degradable shopping bags (we actually make people pay for their shopping bags) has a large net benefit to our city, where in your town, it’s probably much more trouble than it’s worth. But it is an issue for us, and, as voters, we have to have an opinion on the matter.

    But, then there are political issues that you have to deal with that don’t really effect me, in my city. Poaching and trespassing come readily to mind. I don’t really have to worry about my neighbors coming on my land and mistaking me for a deer. That’s a different story in rural areas and I know it’s a concern for friends that I have out in Western PA and they’re in favor stricter laws punishing it. As for me, I don’t care. I don’t even know what penalties for trespassing are in DC.

    But please, provide an example of a political issue in Madison that shouldn’t be a political issue and is some how stifling the freedom of that city’s residents. I’m trying to respond to generalities and might not be understanding.

    Frankly, your last paragraph is just you identifying more with the people of Washington, OK, than with people from Washington, DC. Was this article silly? Sure. But so was Sarah Palin saying that small towns constitute “real America.” I’m not excusing this article. I’m saying that you’re committing the same error. False generalizations are stupid and inexcusable regardless of whether they’re made by East Coast journalists or small town Americans.

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk,

    You’re making some good points, but you’re still missing my point. In Richmond, for example, ordinary (or otherwise private, religious, moral, etc.) issues aren’t politicized in an ideological sense like they are in Madison. There’s an ethos of progressive elitism than feeds on an insular, ideological orthodoxy that doesn’t predominate in other big political cities (like, say, Richmond or Raleigh) and small towns.

  • Cincinnatus

    Kirk,

    You’re making some good points, but you’re still missing my point. In Richmond, for example, ordinary (or otherwise private, religious, moral, etc.) issues aren’t politicized in an ideological sense like they are in Madison. There’s an ethos of progressive elitism than feeds on an insular, ideological orthodoxy that doesn’t predominate in other big political cities (like, say, Richmond or Raleigh) and small towns.

  • Cincinnatus

    And, while, again, I sympathize/agree with some of your claims, I tire of the “but both sides do it, and it’s equally stupid!” routine. Let me say again: rural prejudices about city life are, in my opinion, more excusable than the supercilious provincialism of cultural elites. Why? Because the latter actually have power. Appalachian hillfolk, for example, aren’t engaging in legislation and cultural imperialism. They will, however, be exposed to progressive propaganda like Modern Family (a funny show, but oh-so-PC!) if they switch on the television. They’ll also find Fox News, who will communicate an ethos justifying, for example, mountaintop strip mining. Rural folks aren’t represented in any meaningful way in mainstream American culture these days–that’s my point. There is a qualitative difference between the “bigotry” allegedly rampant in small towns and the obvious bigotry evinced in the editorial above. And the alleged “groupthink” in rural areas–which doesn’t really exist, because these people are largely working class, etc., and haven’t the time to indulge in politics and alienation of unorthodox neighbors–is nowhere near as pathological as the groupthink in elitist havens.

  • Cincinnatus

    And, while, again, I sympathize/agree with some of your claims, I tire of the “but both sides do it, and it’s equally stupid!” routine. Let me say again: rural prejudices about city life are, in my opinion, more excusable than the supercilious provincialism of cultural elites. Why? Because the latter actually have power. Appalachian hillfolk, for example, aren’t engaging in legislation and cultural imperialism. They will, however, be exposed to progressive propaganda like Modern Family (a funny show, but oh-so-PC!) if they switch on the television. They’ll also find Fox News, who will communicate an ethos justifying, for example, mountaintop strip mining. Rural folks aren’t represented in any meaningful way in mainstream American culture these days–that’s my point. There is a qualitative difference between the “bigotry” allegedly rampant in small towns and the obvious bigotry evinced in the editorial above. And the alleged “groupthink” in rural areas–which doesn’t really exist, because these people are largely working class, etc., and haven’t the time to indulge in politics and alienation of unorthodox neighbors–is nowhere near as pathological as the groupthink in elitist havens.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Cincinnatus @ 20
    Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has often written in his “Impromptus” posts over the past few years of the need for “politic-free” zones in life. He grew up in Ann Arbor, MI (a city very much like Madison in it’s political sensibilities) and lives in the Washington D.C. area. He has noted the politicization of classical music (the snide political comments than conductors and musicians feel the need to make during performances – 99.9% of the time from the political left) and has wondered aloud, “Do not these artists ever think to themselves that a not insignificant portion of the audience may be of a different political persuasion and may not attend performances wanting to be insulted”? Apparently not.

    The irony of these kinds of articles, where a knowing “elite” condescend to the yokels somewhere in flyover country (without even having the self-awareness to know that they are condescending), is pretty rich. My experience in a small town is similar to yours. There is more diversity, more tolerance for the eccentric or idiosyncratic in these towns than most who have never lived in one imagine. As a pop culture example, I always thought that the cast of characters who lived in the town of Radiator Springs in the movie “Cars” captured something of the culture of the small town better than 1,000 of these kinds of articles ever could. There is certainly more than a fair share of prejudice and ignorance in these communities (they are, after all, populated by human beings) – but there is also plenty of acceptance, tolerance and space given to be different. And politics are certainly not all-encompassing in the same way it can be in towns like Madison, Ann Arbor or Washington D.C.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Cincinnatus @ 20
    Jay Nordlinger of the National Review has often written in his “Impromptus” posts over the past few years of the need for “politic-free” zones in life. He grew up in Ann Arbor, MI (a city very much like Madison in it’s political sensibilities) and lives in the Washington D.C. area. He has noted the politicization of classical music (the snide political comments than conductors and musicians feel the need to make during performances – 99.9% of the time from the political left) and has wondered aloud, “Do not these artists ever think to themselves that a not insignificant portion of the audience may be of a different political persuasion and may not attend performances wanting to be insulted”? Apparently not.

    The irony of these kinds of articles, where a knowing “elite” condescend to the yokels somewhere in flyover country (without even having the self-awareness to know that they are condescending), is pretty rich. My experience in a small town is similar to yours. There is more diversity, more tolerance for the eccentric or idiosyncratic in these towns than most who have never lived in one imagine. As a pop culture example, I always thought that the cast of characters who lived in the town of Radiator Springs in the movie “Cars” captured something of the culture of the small town better than 1,000 of these kinds of articles ever could. There is certainly more than a fair share of prejudice and ignorance in these communities (they are, after all, populated by human beings) – but there is also plenty of acceptance, tolerance and space given to be different. And politics are certainly not all-encompassing in the same way it can be in towns like Madison, Ann Arbor or Washington D.C.

  • Cincinnatus

    And here’s what I mean about issues being externalized and politicized in an ideological sense in Madison. I’m not talking about local laws and local political debate. As you say, that happens everywhere.

    I’m talking about the fact that our city council is 100% progressive in a rigid, non-progressive sense. I’m talking about the fact that I have no neighbors who share even a few of my political perspectives. I’m talking about empty churches. I’m talking about a place where I have actually, literally been actively ostracized by colleagues because I appear to harbor views that are “regressive” and non-orthodox (I don’t actually air these views, for obvious reasons; perhaps they’ve seen me reading a book that isn’t approved, for example). This never happened to me in my hometown (or in other large towns I’ve lived), even when I sharply and explicitly disagreed with my neighbors.

  • Cincinnatus

    And here’s what I mean about issues being externalized and politicized in an ideological sense in Madison. I’m not talking about local laws and local political debate. As you say, that happens everywhere.

    I’m talking about the fact that our city council is 100% progressive in a rigid, non-progressive sense. I’m talking about the fact that I have no neighbors who share even a few of my political perspectives. I’m talking about empty churches. I’m talking about a place where I have actually, literally been actively ostracized by colleagues because I appear to harbor views that are “regressive” and non-orthodox (I don’t actually air these views, for obvious reasons; perhaps they’ve seen me reading a book that isn’t approved, for example). This never happened to me in my hometown (or in other large towns I’ve lived), even when I sharply and explicitly disagreed with my neighbors.

  • mikeb

    Cincinnatus & Kirk-

    Small town Southwest Missouri isn’t much different than OK. We have intra-party battles within the Republican ranks that are much more interesting than any general election where a token Democrat will always lose the race for county [insert functionary office here]. Nevertheless, we’re quite diverse, but people like those who work at the Post don’t see it because the Left has defined diversity in terms of skin color (& now sexual activity) instead of diversity of thought and opinion.

    Rural folks tend to be more conservative, regardless of party identification. We are a hearty, self reliant type that is less likely to protest every perceived slight. We take it on the chin and move on; issues don’t become public and dogmatic because they’re being dealt with by a conservative, traditionally oriented people–we would say “grown ups” but that is condescending to progressives. I know some “conservative” liberals who lead lives where they keep to themselves and don’t impose upon others. They’re not ‘in your face’ and support a variety of political issues that they themselves might not actually partake of (i.e. someone who supports abortion rights but would never get one).

  • mikeb

    Cincinnatus & Kirk-

    Small town Southwest Missouri isn’t much different than OK. We have intra-party battles within the Republican ranks that are much more interesting than any general election where a token Democrat will always lose the race for county [insert functionary office here]. Nevertheless, we’re quite diverse, but people like those who work at the Post don’t see it because the Left has defined diversity in terms of skin color (& now sexual activity) instead of diversity of thought and opinion.

    Rural folks tend to be more conservative, regardless of party identification. We are a hearty, self reliant type that is less likely to protest every perceived slight. We take it on the chin and move on; issues don’t become public and dogmatic because they’re being dealt with by a conservative, traditionally oriented people–we would say “grown ups” but that is condescending to progressives. I know some “conservative” liberals who lead lives where they keep to themselves and don’t impose upon others. They’re not ‘in your face’ and support a variety of political issues that they themselves might not actually partake of (i.e. someone who supports abortion rights but would never get one).

  • Cincinnatus

    And, yeah, pace Steve Billingsley’s comments, I’m talking about a place where I must force myself to chuckle uncomfortably when friends and colleagues make offensive jokes about conservatives, Republicans, our current governor, et al., in otherwise non-political situations like dinner parties, movie outings, trips to the bar, work meetings, etc. These jokes are made because the speakers assume that everyone agrees with their rigid and comprehensive construction of the world. I don’t dare question the validity of homosexual marriage (must less homosexuality itself), the moral worthiness of abortion, etc. There are real, tangible consequences for saying such things, I’ve discovered.

    Meanwhile, in my hometown, political (or religious, etc.) eccentrics are welcomed. It’s socially conservative, but I knew plenty of folks who favored gay marriage and abortion, for instance. And I knew plenty who didn’t. Other matters in life took precedence over the claims of political dogma.

    I’m not playing the victim here. I have lots of (progressive–what else?) friends here, and we get along swimmingly. But the epistemic closure is almost palpable.

  • Cincinnatus

    And, yeah, pace Steve Billingsley’s comments, I’m talking about a place where I must force myself to chuckle uncomfortably when friends and colleagues make offensive jokes about conservatives, Republicans, our current governor, et al., in otherwise non-political situations like dinner parties, movie outings, trips to the bar, work meetings, etc. These jokes are made because the speakers assume that everyone agrees with their rigid and comprehensive construction of the world. I don’t dare question the validity of homosexual marriage (must less homosexuality itself), the moral worthiness of abortion, etc. There are real, tangible consequences for saying such things, I’ve discovered.

    Meanwhile, in my hometown, political (or religious, etc.) eccentrics are welcomed. It’s socially conservative, but I knew plenty of folks who favored gay marriage and abortion, for instance. And I knew plenty who didn’t. Other matters in life took precedence over the claims of political dogma.

    I’m not playing the victim here. I have lots of (progressive–what else?) friends here, and we get along swimmingly. But the epistemic closure is almost palpable.

  • John C

    Erik at 8
    ‘Are all values equal, that no values are better than others?”
    No.

    ‘What are your values?’
    I think they are probably similar to yours and the people in Oklahoma.

  • John C

    Erik at 8
    ‘Are all values equal, that no values are better than others?”
    No.

    ‘What are your values?’
    I think they are probably similar to yours and the people in Oklahoma.

  • kerner

    Wow. What kind of real and tangible consequences are you talking about for expressing such contrarian opinions? I mean, Milwaukee is hardly a hotbed of conservative ideals, but I still can find sufficient fellow travelers to not feel ostricized, or any other serious consequences. Even my wife, working for Milwaukee Public Schools, can make a few conservative noises without getting her head bitten off (not a lot, mind you, but some).

  • kerner

    Wow. What kind of real and tangible consequences are you talking about for expressing such contrarian opinions? I mean, Milwaukee is hardly a hotbed of conservative ideals, but I still can find sufficient fellow travelers to not feel ostricized, or any other serious consequences. Even my wife, working for Milwaukee Public Schools, can make a few conservative noises without getting her head bitten off (not a lot, mind you, but some).

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@29: Milwaukee is not Madison. Again, I’m not whining. I’m merely seeking to muster some evidence, even if only anecdotal, that this isn’t merely a case of every place having its own prejudices, all of them “equally” silly. There is something qualitatively different about the bigotry in a town full of latte liberals.

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@29: Milwaukee is not Madison. Again, I’m not whining. I’m merely seeking to muster some evidence, even if only anecdotal, that this isn’t merely a case of every place having its own prejudices, all of them “equally” silly. There is something qualitatively different about the bigotry in a town full of latte liberals.

  • kerner

    Cin:

    “Milwaukee is not Madison”.

    Nobody knows that better than someone who grew up in and around Milwaukee. But it was a serious question. What would they do to a known conservative?

  • kerner

    Cin:

    “Milwaukee is not Madison”.

    Nobody knows that better than someone who grew up in and around Milwaukee. But it was a serious question. What would they do to a known conservative?

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@31:

    Ostracism–the kind that may or may not be detrimental to career success, etc. I could elaborate autobiographically if you’d like from instances in my own life and that of my wife, but it might be boring, so I won’t unless you’re particularly curious.

  • Cincinnatus

    kerner@31:

    Ostracism–the kind that may or may not be detrimental to career success, etc. I could elaborate autobiographically if you’d like from instances in my own life and that of my wife, but it might be boring, so I won’t unless you’re particularly curious.

  • kerner

    Maaybe this is an unhealthy curiosity, and I don’t want to pry into your personal life. But I don’t know very much about the politics of academic life. Frankly, I think academia goes to great lengths to conceal that such politics exist at all.

    In my own profession, it takes some doing to shut down a lawyer just because other lawyers don’t like him. The lawyer can always operate independently.

    All I am really asking is: what sorts of things can a hostile academic establishment do to a dissenting young academic whose opinions the establishment finds offensive? I won’t think you are “whining” if you provide details from your own life or someone else’s. And I wouldn’t find it boring to hear a true story or two.

    On the other hand, I really do not want to pry into anything personal if you don’t want to go there. This is a public internet blog. Private things shouldn’t be revealed here.

  • kerner

    Maaybe this is an unhealthy curiosity, and I don’t want to pry into your personal life. But I don’t know very much about the politics of academic life. Frankly, I think academia goes to great lengths to conceal that such politics exist at all.

    In my own profession, it takes some doing to shut down a lawyer just because other lawyers don’t like him. The lawyer can always operate independently.

    All I am really asking is: what sorts of things can a hostile academic establishment do to a dissenting young academic whose opinions the establishment finds offensive? I won’t think you are “whining” if you provide details from your own life or someone else’s. And I wouldn’t find it boring to hear a true story or two.

    On the other hand, I really do not want to pry into anything personal if you don’t want to go there. This is a public internet blog. Private things shouldn’t be revealed here.


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