I was born in a big town …
OK, actually I was born in Albany, and grew up on Long Island. But here’s my question: I understand why it’s political poison to show disrespect for small-town values — dignity is precious to all of us, and often trumps material interest. But why is it OK to disrespect big city values, even to suggest — as Bush has — that big-city dwellers aren’t part of the “real America”?
I mean, I get a lump in my throat when visiting the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The big-city immigrant experience is as much a part of what made America as the rural, small-town experience. It deserves the same degree of respect
I was born in San Francisco, lived in the Bay Area long enough to be tear gassed several times by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, and grew to adulthood in a rural area of Washington state. I did travel around the country quite a bit and even took a long trip to Europe while in high school (putting me one up on Barry), but mostly it was mailboxes, ditches at the side of the road and riding the horse everywhere.
I was never happier than when I ditched that backwater and went to New York City. Culture shock doesn't begin to describe what I felt, at first revulsed and then fascinated and finally in love with this incredible hodge-podge of humanity. I might have acclimated sooner had I not been attending grad school (a soul killing experience in any location), but I love New York in a way that goes beyond the rational. I was there, watching the smoke and hearing the sirens the first time those bastards attacked the WTC, and I sat, glued to my computer, sobbing, when the second attack happened, outraged at the assault on my city.
New York, capital of the world.
Krugman touches on something in his post that I think gets to the heart of what it means to be a Democrat and a way of understanding particularistic values that does not denigrate, though it darnwell is going to judge. The disdain we've been reading lately from the Obamacan crowd, the dismissal of non-Obama voters as nothing but racist, ill-educated, narrow minded, parochial idiots who are not quite fully human is the inverse of the bile spewed by the Right against dirty cities with their "dangerous underclass", its welfare queens, the vile and perverted sybarites, the wicked liberals who deserved the punishment of 9/11 raining fire and brimstone down from the heavens upon their Godless heads.
There is a reason for the phrase "city air makes free," and that is where there is urbanity, the combination of proximity and anonymity, where wealth can be garnered and the world made anew through imagination and perspiration, there is a place for those who don't fit or can't make it back home. A place for gays and feminists and people of fluid origins and inchoate beliefs. You learn to hold your own in the hurly-burly of the city. I want to be sure in our criticism of elitism that we do not thoughtlessly fall into uncritical valorization of the "heartland" that strengthens Republican demonization of that urbanity. Lest we forget, Matthew Shepard was crucified on a fence in Wyoming, James Byrd was dragged to his death in Texas. Those states are red with the blood of their own citizens.
Pulling in the threads of Krugman, Lind and Somerby, what binds them into a coherent Democratic narrative is respect for the person without giving anyone a pass for denigrating others. It's giving people enough respect to say that what they think is wrong, and not condescend to some kind of vulgar Marxist dismissal of them as ignorant rubes, or else rail against them as immoral and irredeemable and make them the scapegoats for the sins of an entire nation. That applies as much to stereotypes of urban dwellers as rural ones.
In Lind's article, he talks about a kind of elite arrogance that confuses its location with its substance:
Should anyone doubt that dissing rather than flattering the "rubes" is an aberration, examples of liberal snobbery are not hard to find in progressive publications. Sometimes it's genteel, sometimes it's raw. In an essay titled "The Urban Archipelago" a few years ago, the editors of Seattle's alt-weekly the Stranger wrote: "It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion -- New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on ... And we are the real Americans. They -- rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs -- are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers ... We can secede emotionally ... by turning our backs on the heartland ... We're everywhere any sane person wants to be. Let them have the shitholes, the Oklahomas, Wyomings, and Alabamas. We'll take Manhattan."
Manhattan. Home to the Lower East Side, the Meat Packing District, Harlem, East Harlem, Hells Kitchen. Some of the roughest, most blue collar, most in-your-face, least namby-pamby effete locations America ever produced. When I lived there in the 90s, you didn't go walking around after dark by yourself in these places, unless you were tough. "Fuck" is a four syllable word in these neighborhoods, the speaker drawing out every dram of invective from each letter. These are the ethnic enclaves that were instrumental in converting the Democratic Party from nothing more than a revanchist, brutal power elite in the South into a national party that defended working class interests, however imperfectly. These blue collar workers and the rest spread throughout the industrial belt of the US and whose grandchildren and great grandchildren are now being dismissed as racist Archie Bunkers because they vote for their class interest, the ungrateful bastards.
See, the country doesn't break up so neatly into the hip urban elites and the troglodytes outside the cities. That hip urbanity has its roots in the union organizing of the Ladies Garment Worker union after the Triangle Factory Fire in SoHo. The blue collars that built up the Democratic Party machines in the cities are a part of the liberal democratic tradition, and deserve better than the two-faced pandering offered by Obamcans.
No party can afford to be an island, even in an archipelago.