Friday, October 10, 2008

Must we equate "small-town" with "anti-intellectual"?

David Brooks' column in the New York Times today is a terrific, spot-on analysis of shifts in the Republican Party in recent decades, shifts that have embraced and revived class warfare. He writes in closing:
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.

And so, politically, the G.O.P. is squeezed at both ends. The party is losing the working class by sins of omission — because it has not developed policies to address economic anxiety. It has lost the educated class by sins of commission — by telling members of that class to go away.
But I'm troubled by at least one of Brooks' short-cuts in making his point. In several places, 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 those three groups suggests that they are not synonymous, it also suggests that the three are similar. It reinforces the idea that people in rural places are not highly educated. Education levels in rural America are, in fact, significantly lower than those in urban places, so I must acknowledge some basis for the stereotype.

I am nevertheless concerned that Sarah Palin and the Republicans are not the only ones engaging in "culture wars." Having the liberal media also embrace such line-drawing, talking down to the rustics in the fly over states as they do so, only perpetuates this problem.

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