Gated-Community Liberal Sneers at Fellow Dems


I agree with Matt Yglesias on most things.  We seem to have very similar outlooks.  Where I most commonly disagree with him is on issues related to what I’ve called gated-community liberalism.  His “Memphis Democrats Cheer for Local Plutocrat’s Right-Wing Ideology” post, today, is a classic example, and one that happens also to tread on my toes as a Memphian.

Basically, Yglesias doesn’t like the warm reception that FedEx CEO Fred Smith and his conservative, business-oriented, free-market-cheerleading message got from the Memphis City Council, which is composed mostly of Democrats.

Am I fan of Fred Smith’s politics?  I don’t really know them, but probably not.  I’m not a fan of plutocrats, in general.  Would it be nice if Fred Smith and the Dems on the Memphis City Council understood and were mindful of world political history at all times?  Sure.  Would I prefer the City Council not to fawn over Smith quite so much?  Yes.

But here’s the thing, and it’s the thing Yglesias and 90% of the highly educated, urban liberals in this country forget.

Fred Smith is here, and they’re not.

All the educational opportunity, all the networking opportunity, all the creative, political, financial, and entrepreneurial talent represented by Yglesias and his urban, ivy-leagued cohort is right where it has always stayed closeted: coastal urban centers.

The people creating jobs and providing opportunity and incomes in Memphis are the Fred Smiths, not the Matthew Yglesiases.  The companies generating economic development — meager as it may seem from New York or D.C., and meager as it actually is — in the South are the FedExes and Wal-Marts and Nissans and Weyerhausers, not to mention the United States military.

So when Fred Smith speaks to the Memphis City Council, you bet they’re going to be attentive and complimentary.  Or when the Waltons pressure Arkansas senators to oppose EFCA or propose a huge cut in the estate tax, you bet they’re going to respond.  Arkansas can’t afford to piss off Wal-Mart.  Memphis can’t afford to piss off FedEx.  If those home-grown companies go elsewhere, who’s going to take their place?  Probably nobody; not for a very long time, anyway.  And certainly not an influx of talented, urbane ivy-leaguers.  They’re going to stay right where they’ve always stayed.

So while politically I’m on the same team with Yglesias and Josh Marshall and Ezra Klein and Rick Hertzberg and George Packer and Scott Horton, etc., I also think they very often miss the fact that the same liberal critiques they often level at conservatives also apply to them.

From where Yglesias sits, Fred Smith is a plutocrat.  From where most Southerners sit, so is Yglesias.  The “global South” may be a popular cause for gated-community liberals to take up, but the American South is not.

If he would like to see actual change in the South — in other words, if he would like to see this country actually move in a more progressive direction — he would do well to remember that.


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3 Responses to “Gated-Community Liberal Sneers at Fellow Dems”

  1. jazzbumpa Says:

    Well, usually I agree with you. But this sounds so much like “might makes right” that I find it pretty darned off-putting.

    In fact, it kind of reminds me of feudalism. Piss off William the Bastard, and he’ll cut off your hands and feet. So you kiss his ass, and go on about your daily routine.

    What this really emphasizes is the need for publicly financed elections. This is not as off-topic as it might appear.

  2. urbino Says:

    My point isn’t to justify what Smith says or Wal-Mart does. I have no interest in justifying what they say or do; I don’t agree with it.

    My purpose is to point out that Yglesias’s kind of post is counterproductive on The Big Issue progressives face: how to move the South in a progressive direction, thereby reducing congressional roadblocks and making it possible for the country — the whole country — to move in a progressive direction.

    Why is it counterproductive? Because it a) is fundamentally wrongheaded, and b) reinforces southerners’ negative impression of liberals, thereby making it harder, not easier, to change the South.

    Here’s how it looks to the average southerner:

    Fred Smith lives here, in the South, and he’s building a business and creating jobs and wealth here; Matt Yglesias is sitting comfortably atop his Harvard education in a condo in a big, wealthy, northeastern city (yes, to most southerners D.C. looks both wealthy and northeastern), berating the behavior of a southern city’s gov’t with no knowledge of the South in general, no knowledge of Memphis in particular, no sweat invested in the outcome, and no exposure to the risks involved in doing what he evidently wishes the Memphis City Council had done. He looks to the average southerner like the neocons who cheerleaded for war but wouldn’t get their hands dirty look to him; a fighting keyboardist.

    My goal, as a politically engaged liberal, is to move this country in a liberal direction. The single most obvious fact in American politics is that the primary obstacle to that is the South. Ergo, the way to move the country leftward — forward, from my point of view — is to move the South leftward/forward. That’s harder work than changing the electoral rules for the presidency or eliminating the filibuster or whining about the fact that every state has equal representation in the senate. It’s harder and it takes longer and it’s way more expensive. But it is the task at hand if you want a more liberal United States.

    If you want to change the country, don’t change the rules; change the country.

    I’m not saying Smith is right. I’m saying Yglesias — and gated-community liberalism in general — is wrong.

  3. jazzbumpa Says:

    Well, that’s a pretty darned good answer. I think the root problem is ignorance. People in the south don’t realize how Wallmart is damaging to local economies. They don’t realize that the Republican agenda is harmful to middle and lower income class people. They don’t realize that patriotism and liberalism aren’t diametrically opposed. in large measure this is because Fox and Rush Limbaugh control the airwaves.

    Matt Yglesias is not doing significant damage because the population in question is probably not even aware of his existence. The key enabler for the right wing noise machine is the law passed in ’93 or so that allowed consolidation of ownership in media. We can thank famous liberal Bill Clinton for that (and so much more.)

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