Saturday, October 11, 2008

Culture wars and the rural-urban divide

--> David Brooks' column in the New York Times yesterday is a terrific, spot-on analysis of shifts in the Republican Party in recent decades, shifts that have embraced and revived class warfare. He closes with these comments on the role of Sarah Palin in the phenomenon that has become known as the culture wars:
Palin is smart, politically skilled, courageous and likable. Her convention and debate performances were impressive. But no American politician plays the class-warfare card as constantly as Palin. Nobody so relentlessly divides the world between the “normal Joe Sixpack American” and the coastal elite. 
She is another step in the Republican change of personality. Once conservatives admired Churchill and Lincoln above all — men from wildly different backgrounds who prepared for leadership through constant reading, historical understanding and sophisticated thinking. Now those attributes bow down before the common touch.
I'm troubled by at least one of Brooks' short cuts in making his point – the short cut that relies on geography. In several places in the column, Brooks essentially contrasts "small town values" with "urbane values, sophistication, and the rigorous and constant application of the intellect." He says the "Republican Party has driven away people who live in cities, in highly educated regions and on the coasts." While bothering to list all three groups – city dwellers, the highly educated, and those who live on the East or West coast – suggests that the three are not synonymous, it also suggests that the three are similar, that they are associated with one another, situated on one side of the culture wars binary. It also reinforces the idea that those outside cities – let’s call them rural— are among the unclean on the other side of that ever-widening chasm. (By the way, elsewhere Brooks says that the Republicans are also driving away these rural voters, the Joe Sixpack Americans, but that's unrelated to my point here. Nevertheless, I hope he's right).

In short, Brooks – while rightly condemning Palin’s role in the culture wars – perpetuates the phenomenon himself, pitting small-town rubes against the urbane and cosmopolitan. He makes geography a proxy for values and attributes in a way that ultimately is destructive.

I understand that it it difficult to talk about someone or something without labeling it. Nevertheless, having the liberal media embrace such line-drawing, talking down to the rustics in the fly over states as they do so, only amplifies the gap between “us” and “them.”

Didn’t Judith Warner make this point a few weeks ago when she wrote here about attending the Palin rally in suburban DC? Warner concluded that liberals are “dangerously blind” in “feel[ing] contempt for the conservative moral view.” This greatly angers conservatives, she wrote, which fuels their Republican loyalties. Warner also suggested that “liberals need to start working harder at breaking through the empathy barrier.” Was no one listening?

Who started these culture wars anyway? and who first linked the warring factions to the rural-urban axis?

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