Monday, June 20, 2005

The New Radical Federalism and Last Acceptable Prejudice

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon links to a post at Tennessee Guerilla Women, reproducing an anonymous yahoo group posting that makes polemical use of statistics to suggest that the red states get all things worth having from the blue states:
We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.

We get Harvard. You get Ole' Miss.

We get 85 percent of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get Alabama.

We get two-thirds of the tax revenue. You get to make the red states pay their fair share.

Since our aggregate divorce rate is 22 percent lower than the Christian Coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of single moms.

It goes on; you get the point. A lot of policy-wonk bloggers have indeed pushed the inequitable tax-benefit relationship between blue and red states, but they've generally pulled up short before consigning the red states to wasteland--or suggesting that all people living or voting in red states who contributed nothing to US culture, will never contribute to US culture, and are stuck in perpetuam in their places, voting distincts, or cultures.

Amanda makes an important comment in response to this silly meme:
We Texas progressives are probably more accustomed to being asked why we don't leave job, family and everything we love in order to move to another part of the country where a slightly higher percentage of the population shares our political view than we are accustomed to being congratulated for fighting the good fight in a hostile enviroment.

I've seen loads of reasonable-ish conservatives make the federalist argument that if some states (like Texas or Kansas) want to write laws that force women to bear all fetuses to term or force science teachers to explain the possibility of God to their students, then those residents who disagree with these laws can simply move to another state. This quickie solution is perhaps the most inhumane political shortcut I've ever seen left unrebutted on genuinely argumentative blogthreads.

Yes, the US tends to have a more mobile population than do similar land-masses, and that trend seems to be increasing, but any real cultural conservative should be more finely attuned to the costs of such uprooting: isolation, cultural confusion, lack of family resources for young parents (Dr. Laura made an exception for her moms-should-be-chained-to-the-child rule if a grandmother was around), less affection for local institutions, etc.

Our country is huge. Moving from Texas to, say, Oregon is geographically and, increasingly, culturally roughly equivalent to moving from Turkey to Scandinavia. You would leave your home, family, culture, local accent, climate to undertake a very new kind of life in a place that is likely to be more expensive (especially since rents tend to be more expensive for the person who doesn't know the area), less friendly (because why would people who don't know you personally be especially friendly to you), and, as the relationship between the red and blue states disintegrates, a place that would treat you as either a victimized refugee or a slobbering reactionary.

Oh yeah, just let Texas, Kansas, and Alabama go to hell, stigmatize people working to improve their local communities, send the message that anyone who deserves legal protection against creeping reaction should get the hell out of Dodge and relocate to NYC: you're enabling some kind of ideological cleansing. There's a message I won't get behind.

And to bring this over-long comment back to the yahoo-group post and its broad-brush tarring of southerners.

About a year ago, I had a Texan in my freshman composition class. I'll call her A. She had a broad twang and, I soon learned, a husband in the Air Force. I was fairly paranoid about political expression of any sort in the classroom and didn't want to make politics an issue, in any event, but I'll admit to a slight oh-don't-make-any-assumptions warning signal going off in my hindbrain when I first heard that accent. A. turned out to be the most politically engaged student in my class--years of being the only progressive and populist in her small town in Texas had sharpened her sense of why, for example, sex education really mattered--and besides her politics, a general delight of a woman. So it nearly broke my heart to hear from her that one of her instructors in my Northeastern university had sneeringly asked her to repeat her remark in a seminar, "because your accent is so thick, it's sometimes difficult to penetrate." A. knew full well that the remark was a thinly veiled insult, as in "you're a hick, and probably a troglodyte."

As a progressive, I want this student to get a good education, which maybe she'll find here in the NE. I want her to get the opportunity of knowing that she's not crazy to think that the rates of teen pregnancy in her home town are not only shocking--but, most importantly, preventable, if only people would look facts in the face. (As a "snooty liberal elitist intellectual academic," I saw my job in this particular case as 1. improving her grammar, logic, and rhetoric, of course, and 2. convincing her that her opinions weren't crazy or marginal.) And there's a big part of me that wants this wonderful firebrand of a Texan populist to go back to Texas, armed with confidence, trained with rhetorical judo-skills, and to kick her local town into shape.

Because that local Texas town can ill-afford to alienate smart young things like A.

And because progressives will continue to lose elections if we continue to demonize more than half of the electoral college.

Generosity of spirit wins elections? Well, there's my local childhood culture (Berkeley, CA) showing through the culture of my adopted home (NYC).


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