Posts Tagged ‘gated-community liberals’

Brain Drain in the Offing

October 8, 2009

There’s a health care reform proposal floating around to include a public option, but allow states to opt out if they choose.  Politically it’s great.  In policy terms, it’s also probably good; gives you a chance to see a comparison between the states that have a public option and the ones that don’t.  Who’ll turn out to be right?  The GOP death-panelers, or the Dems?  Which will people prefer?  (OTOH, how good an experiment it is depends greatly on the nature of the public option included.)

The only downside I see to it, really, is that it’ll create another round of brain drain out of Southern and rural states.  Those are the places that will opt out.  And when they do, the more educated, higher income office workers and professionals will leave for states that didn’t opt out.  As will new college graduates.  And some of their employers will have to leave, too, to find the workers they need.

Those places need more of those people moving in.  Their problems will just get worse if the few they have start leaving.

Madness and Distrust

August 11, 2009

In an interesting post about how the lunatic claims about health care reform evince how distant from and distrustful of government a segment of America has become, Ezra Klein concludes:

What we’re seeing here is not merely distrust in the House health-care reform bill. It’s distrust in the political system. A healthy relationship does not require an explicit detailing of the “institutional checks” that will prevent one partner from beating or killing the other. In a healthy relationship, such madness is simply unthinkable. If it was not unthinkable, then no number of institutional checks could repair that relationship. Similarly, the relationship between the protesters and the government is not healthy. The protesters believe the government capable of madness. There is no evidence for that claim, which means that there is no answer for it, either.

Except, unfortunately, that there is evidence that the government is capable of madness.  There’s no evidence that it has acted madly in the health care arena (not since the Tuskegee experiments, anyway), but it clearly did in the national security arena not so very long ago.  It tortured people.  It locked up American citizens without trial, attorney, or even indictment, and claimed the right to hold them indefinitely.

Which points out the larger problem with Klein’s argument.

When all that was going on, these same people making lunatic claims about ostensible future government madness in the health care arena were shouting just as loudly in support of that actual ongoing government madness.  They still are.

The problem isn’t, then, that a segment of the American public has become distant from and distrustful of government, and believe it capable of madness.  It’s that a segment of the American public has become distant from and distrustful of an other (not a typo) segment of the American public, and believe it capable of madness.

Conservatives and conservatism have crossed what used to be a sacrosanct line in American politics: they’ve gone from characterizing liberals as “opponents” to characterizing them as “enemies.”  Enemies not just of conservatism, but of America.  This has been gradually building for the last 20 years, if not longer, and now has come into full, horrific bloom.

These people are coming unglued not because they distrust government, but because they are alienated from — and therefore distrust and hate — Americans who disagree with them.

This is the point I’ve been driving at, lo, these many months in my posts about gated-community liberalism, the filibuster, the likelihood of renewed sectional, political violence, and so forth.  This is the problem I see no solution to other than coastal, urban, highly educated liberals (gated-community liberals) ceasing to congregate in those comfortable places and moving instead to, let’s face it, deep red America.

If somebody knows some way to reduce alienation that doesn’t involve closing the physical, social, economic, and educational/cultural distance between people, I’d love to hear it.

System vs. People

June 26, 2009

Ezra Klein shares his buddy Matt Yglesias’s low esteem for our system of government.  In response to a post saying Obama has taken the path of least resistance too often, Klein says:

On the other hand, you can say that taking the path of least resistance has left the administration with enough resistance to potentially kill health reform, cap-and-trade, and financial regulation. The least possible resistance, in other words, may still be enough to overwhelm the political system’s insanely poor tolerance for resistance. We have a political system that most observers can confidently predict will be completely unable to avert the fiscal or the climate crisis. That’s like a police force that can’t respond to emergency calls, or a fire department unable to put out fires.

I think that analytically honest political commentators right now should be struggling with a pretty hard choice: Do you try to maximize the possibility of good, if still insufficient, outcomes? Or do you admit what many people already know and say that our political process has gone into total system failure and the overriding priority is building the long-term case for structural reform of America’s lawmaking process? Put another way, can you really solve any of our policy problems until you solve our fundamental political problem?

As I’ve said before, it’s not at all clear to me that our inability to get big legislation passed is the fault of our system.  It looks very much more to me like a failure of the people currently in that system.

American history offers plenty of examples of our system producing huge legislation, sometimes by the fistful.  The system is the same, today.  What’s different is the people in it.

In short: the people from one party are political degenerates, and the people from the other party are inexplicably terrified of those degenerates. That’s why we aren’t seeing huge legislation passed, despite the Dems’ enormous political advantage right now.  The problem isn’t the system; it’s that the people populating the system, on both sides, are losers.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure the reforms that Klein and Yglesias would like to see would not be beneficial to the country.  They would result in round 2 of America’s sectional strife.

This country has made huge progressive leaps exactly 3 times in its history.  The first one took the bloodiest war in the nation’s history.  The second took 25% unemployment simultaneous with a catastrophic environmental anomaly.  The third took protracted, direct, person-to-person involvement on a tremendous scale and at great personal risk.

I’m pretty sure we don’t want to repeat either of the first 2 methods.  But tinkering with the rules in the ways I’ve seen Klein, Yglesias, Hendrik Hertzberg, and others advocate will, I believe, inevitably lead to a repeat of the first; because all of the changes they advocate boil down to greatly reducing the political representation of the South, the Mountain West, and rural areas pretty much everywhere, while greatly expanding the political representation of the coasts and large cities.

Look at those dividing lines and tell me: how do you think the folks on the losing side will react to having those folks on the winning side effectively shut them out of the political process?

Exactly.

No, if we want to make another huge progressive leap, the path to take is the third.  Tinkering with the rules is quick and easy, by comparison, but the price is much too high.

Gated-Community Liberal Sneers at Fellow Dems

April 24, 2009

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.

Welcome to the desert of the real.

February 12, 2009

George Packer catches a small, fleeting glimpse of the problem I talked about most recently in my filibuster post, but have talked about before.  Quoth George:

The landscape of the future seems more favorable to Democrats than Republicans. And the country seems at risk of dividing into wealthier, better educated, more liberal cities, where new populations will flow, and poorer, less educated, more conservative suburbs and rural areas, where the populations will grow sparser. This transformation might usher in a new era of liberal ascendancy, but it will bring new problems, new inequalities, new resentments.

Packer is one of those wealthier, better educated, more liberal city-dwellers.  He’s part of an entire class of such people, who don’t realize that the new problems, inequalities, and resentments he foresees won’t be new.  They’re already here.  They have been for a long time.

What I think Packer is right about is: they will get worse.

And the more the rules of governance — be it filibuster rules or electoral college rules or senatorial representation rules — get changed to better represent the large population centers peopled by Packer’s class, the more those poorer, less educated, more conservative people out in the hinterlands are going to feel shut out, put out, and pissed off.

Filibuster Buster Busting

February 8, 2009

Matt Yglesias has long argued for eliminating the filibuster.  It’s come up again in the context of the stimulus bill.  (Edit: In fact, he posted about it yet again while I was writing this post.)  He says it’s anti-democratic, and the American system of government has enough other veto points on legislation to keep either party from running away too far with the country.  To his credit, he was saying this even back when Bill Frist and the GOP were threatening the “nuclear option” on Democratic filibusters of Bush judicial nominees.  (I’m too lazy to go back that far to look up the links;  the search function at his site is atrocious.)  Yglesias is bipartisan in his filibuster busting.

But he’s bipartisanly wrong.

(more…)

Gated Communities

March 17, 2008

My fellow liberals sometimes tick me off.

It’s a commonplace in liberal circles that gated communities — you know, those suburban subdivisions with the brick streets that don’t lead anywhere and a few dozen brick and stone, ADT-equipped McMansions, all enclosed by brick walls and wrought-iron fences —  are bad.  They’ve come to stand for conspicuous consumption, unsustainable living, and, above all, hiding behind walls and locked gates from the nation’s (on a more personal scale, one’s own community’s) social problems, rather than addressing them.  Gated communities smack of pre-revolutionary French aristocrats, and worse: tacky, bourgeois pre-revolutionary French aristocrats.

Gated communities are, the conventional wisdom goes, the white, conservative, upper-middle class’s escape from reality.  It’s much easier to be conservative when you use your economic advantage to shut out the social problems created by conservative policies.  That’s how the theory goes.

Aside from the facile, self-congratulating tone with which it is said, the thing that ticks me off about all that is that most liberals live in gated communities.

Instead of “Wuthering Oaks” or “Shady Glen” or “Wickersham Heights,” the gated communities most liberals live in have names like “New York” or “San Francisco” or “Seattle.”  Coastal cities are liberals’ gated communities.  It’s where they collect and hide from the realities of the rest of the country — places with names like “Midwest” or “South” or “rural [fill in the blank].”

“Very clever, bucko,” they might say, “but there are no gates on New York or San Francisco or Seattle.”  Au contraire, sez I.  The gates are cultural and economic, rather than brick and iron, but they’re just as effective at excluding the riff-raff.  Given the cultural and economic realities of those places, the “riff-raff” is, primarily, anybody who isn’t highly educated; even better, anybody who isn’t both highly educated and the product of a highly educated family.  There are other mechanisms of exclusion in liberal gated communities, but most of them are related, to one degree or another, to those two.  Gated-community liberals, like people who live in literal gated communities — and, let’s face it, most people anywhere — want to be surrounded by people like themselves, and the cultural institutions people like themselves create.

Google “abolish the electoral college,” and the results will be almost entirely related to coastal liberals’ efforts to accomplish that deed.  Why?  Because they want their highly populous gated communities to not be penalized for being geographically tiny subdivisions of the nation.   They want to stay safely ensconced in their gated communities with other upper-middle-class liberals, and run the rest of the country from there.

How ’bout this, fellow liberals?  Instead of turning out the lights and cursing the darkness, how about helping to change the rest of the country?  Instead of holing up in a few locations at the continental margins, how about moving out here where the rest of us live, and making a commitment to a red-state community?  If you want to change the country, instead of taking the shortcut of monkeying with the electoral college, how about teaching at a rural high school in Mississippi, and being a liberal citizen of that community, a liberal friend of people in that community?  How about setting up your medical practice in suburban Kansas City or a small town in southern Illinois, and help bring a liberal voice to that community?  How about being a journalist for the Nashville Tennessean or the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, instead of writing for one of the New York-based fluff magazines?

If you’re not happy with the way the nation’s interior votes, try coming out here and changing it.  Instead of adding to the economic and educational divide between urban and rural America by being yet another highly educated coastal city-dweller, how about bringing your education and your cosmopolitan perspective where it’s needed?  You worked hard in school and got into a great college and maybe a top-notch graduate or professional school, and you worked hard there and succeeded.  That’s great.  Truly. However, the cold, hard fact is that until several generations of some critical mass of you decide to bring all that education and so forth out here where it’s rare, you’re not going to change the nation’s politics.

Ever.