Volume 74, Number 28 | November 17 - 22, 2004

Talking Point


Blue and proud: Confessions of a cultural elitist

By Ted Rall

Democratic hand-wringing is surreally out of hand. No one is criticizing the morally incongruous Kerry for running against a war he voted for while insisting that he would have voted for it again. Party leaders have yet to consider that NAFTA, signed into law under Clinton, may have cost them high-unemployment Ohio. No, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, darling of the “centrist” Democratic Leadership Council, blames something else: the perception “in the heartland” that Democrats are a “bicoastal cultural elite that is condescending at best and contemptuous at worst to the values that Americans hold in their daily lives.”

Firstly, living in the sticks doesn’t make you more American. Rural, urban or suburban — they’re irrelevant. San Francisco’s predominantly gay Castro district is every bit as red, white and blue as the Texas panhandle. But if militant Christianist Republicans from inland backwaters believe that secular liberal Democrats from the big coastal cities look upon them with disdain, there’s a reason. We do, and all the more so after this election.

I spent my childhood in fly-over country, in a decidedly Republican town in southwest Ohio. It was a decent place to grow up, with well-funded public schools and only the occasional marauding serial killer to worry about. The only ethnic restaurant sold something called “Mandarin Chinese,” Midwestese for cold noodles slathered with sugary sauce. The county had three major employers: the Air Force, Mead Paper and National Cash Register — and N.C.R. was constantly laying people off. Folks were nice, but depressingly closed-minded. “Well,” they’d grimace when confronted with a new musical genre or fashion trend, “that’s different.” My suburb was racially insular, culturally bland and intellectually unstimulating. Its people were knee-jerk conformists. Faced with the prospect of spending my life underemployed, bored and soused, I did what anyone with a bit of ambition would do. I went to college in a big city and stayed there.

Mine is a common story. Every day in America, hundreds of our most talented young men and women flee the suburbs and rural communities for big cities, especially those on the West and East Coasts. Their youthful vigor fuels these metropolises — the cultural capitals of the blue states. These oases of liberal thinking — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Boston — are homes to our best-educated people, most vibrant popular culture and most innovative and productive businesses. There are exceptions — some smart people move from cities to the countryside — but the best and brightest gravitate to places where liberalism rules.

Maps showing Kerry’s blue states appended to the “United States of Canada” separated from Bush’s red “Jesusland” are circulating by e-mail. Though there is a religious component to the election results, the biggest red-blue divide is intellectual. “How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?” asked the headline of the Daily Mirror in Great Britain, and the underlying assumption is undeniable. By any objective standard, you had to be spectacularly stupid to support Bush.

Seventy-two percent who cast votes for George W. Bush, according to a University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes and Knowledge Networks poll, believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or active W.M.D. programs. Seventy-five percent think that a Saddam-Al Qaeda link has been proven, and 20 percent say Saddam ordered 9/11. Of course, none of this was true.

Kerry voters were less than half as idiotic: twenty-six percent of Democrats bought into Bush-Cheney’s W.M.D. lies, and 30 percent into Saddam-Al Qaeda.

Would Bush’s supporters have voted for him even if they had known he was a serial liar? Perhaps their hatred of homosexuals and slutty abortion vixens would have prompted them to make the same choice — an idiotic perversion of priorities. As things stand, they cast their ballots relying on assumptions that were demonstrably false.

Educational achievement doesn’t necessarily equal intelligence. After all, Bush holds a Harvard M.B.A. Still, it bears noting that Democrats are better educated than Republicans. You are 25 percent more likely to hold a college degree if you live in the Democratic Northeast than in the red state South. Blue state voters are 25 percent more likely, therefore, to understand the historical and cultural ramifications of Bush’s brand of bull-in-a-china-shop foreign policy.

Inland Americans face a bigger challenge than coastal “cultural elitists” when it comes to finding high-quality news coverage. The best newspapers, which routinely win prizes for their in-depth local and national reporting and staffers overseas, line the coasts. So do the cable TV networks with the broadest offerings and most independent radio stations. Bush Country makes do with Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity syndicated on one cookie-cutter AM outlet after another. Citizens of the red states read lackluster dailies stuffed with generic stories cut and pasted from wire services. Given their dismal access to high-quality media, it’s a minor miracle that 40 percent of Mississippians turned out for Kerry.

So our guy lost the election. Why shouldn’t those of us on the coasts feel superior? We eat better, travel more, dress better, watch cooler movies, earn better salaries, meet more interesting people, listen to better music and know more about what’s going on in the world. If you voted for Bush, we accept that we have to share the country with you. We’re adjusting to the possibility that there may be more of you than there are of us. But don’t demand our respect. You lost it on Nov. 2.

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