November 17, 2004
Mr. van Veen passes along this spirited postelection urbanist rant from the (Seattle)Stranger with a well merited request for comment. So here we go.
One part of me really wanted to hear what the Stranger had to say. Compared to 2000's red state vs. blue state, coast vs. center conceptions, the urban vs. rural rings far truer. A step or two towards accuracy. And as a lifelong urbanite, it makes for an easy fuck you explanation. But hating the rural America I all too rarely visit isn't going to win any elections, nor will it really help understand what's going on in national politics.
Fact is while the Stranger is essentially correct that cities voted for Kerry and rural areas for Bush, the line just isn't nearly as sharp as they slice it. Even in the "bluest" cities Bush still got 20% percent of the vote, and often he got more like 40-49% of it. And Kerry actually won a small but not insignificant amount of rural counties, especially in the Appalachias and Southwest. The urban/rural interaction is one of gradated tendency not sharp divide.
The same county by county map the Stranger writers use to craft their urban argument (a slightly better version is here), also shows large regions that just don't map to their ultra urbanist agenda. Most intriguing to me is what could be called the hidden coast, up and down the Mississippi River. A thin stretch as blue as either the Atlantic or Pacific coast. Then there's an echo of blue hitting the ports of the Great Lakes, and the hefty areas of Texas and the Southwest along the Mexico border. What about Columbus Ohio, Lawrence Kansas or that blue chunk of Idaho?
What's at work here is not as much a function of urbanism, but of a related but not attached concept of cultural flow. What ideas flow through a space? What sort of diversity is there? Does the world end on the horizon line outside of which are barbarians or does its spread out in a gorgeous meshwork? These are not thoughts bounded by geographies, rather they ideas that are attracted unevenly to geographies. Oceans, massive rivers like the Mississippi and populated national borders generate a natural flow of people that pushes the population towards diversity. But the same forces generate reactions and contractions, people who hide from or hate that cultural diversity.
Humans themselves can also generate these forces of flow. Universities circulate a world of people through them on a year by year, semester by semester. They become their own strange attractor independent of geography. Rural areas themselves have this capability, the ski resorts and idealized landscapes of Vermont and Sun Valley Idaho circulate people in a similar manner. And then again, one solo human can generate there own flow. A library, the internet, a DVD, or just a imagination can enough to enter a person into the space of cultural flow.
Now its essential to point out that I am NOT crafting an argument that maps the left to those open to cultural flow and the right to those outside or against it. Political leaders and funders on either side are almost by definition fully emerged in the flow of the world, tapped deep into the charges of capital, politics and resources. There are plenty of "conservatives" sitting deeply entrenched in the flows of culture. And plenty of "liberals" isolated from these flows (see again the Appalachias and Southwest). Rather what has happened over the past 30 years or so is that the right has realized that its far easier to construct new realities in the areas of low cultural flow. And all the meanwhile the left has forgotten these areas even exist.
This brings us to the infamous reality based community. The right wing has claimed large swathes of rural America as spaces that it can construct its own reality unimpeded. Spaces that once where constructed in deeply progressive manners. One space on the map that keeps calling my attention is the Appalachias an area I don't know enough about, but paints itself strongly blue. I suspect this is a remnants of a different reality, one constructed by the left. A reality born of hand me down marxism and populism in the hands of labor union organizers working the coal mines. A hidden reminder that the left once too played the reality construction game.
November 11, 2004
Fear of Seduction
Something to think about for the 08, although I'm not saying its truth or gospel (more like vast oversimplification): Republicans are comfortable with violence and can't come to grips with sex. They win via fear. Democrats are down with sex but can't get a handle on violence. They win via seduction.
Both NY and the blogsphere still seem to be freaking over last weeks election and it leaves me somewhat mystified. I mean I dislike Bush as much as next human, but its not like we have a new president. We have the same president we had 2 weeks ago. Yet somehow 2 weeks ago when there was still time to influence things no one was freaking out except me and a few other heads trekking out to Ohio. Now all of a sudden we have the same president we've lived with for 4 years and everyone is bugging out. WTF? Talk about bad timing..
November 10, 2004
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
That all dropped in the NY Times Magazine a few weeks before the election, caused a bit of blognoise and has been reduced to a soundbite. A soundbite by which the American left tries to feel superior those that are now cracking political whips across their backs. But the truth is that this unnamed "senior adviser" (Rove?) gives perhaps the best explanation yet of why the Republican's won this election. And it brings back too me with full force just how much I disagree with much of the left, despite my frequent tactical alignment
The truth is the American left is in many ways as conservative (if not more so) then the right. While I may align with them in opposition to baby fascisms and banana republic stylistics of the current Republican party, in the end I have a hard time seeing anything but reactionaries and utopians out there struggling with me. There are exceptions of course, but the fact that so many on the left are completely incapable of understanding just how much of "reality" is constructed out of human faith, belief and stubbornness, is absurd. I'm now left in fear that their faith in an unmutable reality amounts to something close to a surrender towards the propaganda mills of Karl Rove and the Christian right.
Compounding it all in frustration is the fact that Rove and company borrow freely from the Hollywood/Madison Avenue terrain dominated by core cultural leftists. They dominate the non political storytelling of our age, yet fall utterly flat when it comes to the construction of the political narrative. Why? Perhaps they know too well how potent their magic is, and refuse embrace the black arts the GOP embrace so readily (cue the Swift Boat ads for reference).
I wonder how much this difference stems from the urban vs. rural/suburban divide that seems so clear in the past election. Perhaps urban space is so overloaded with conflicting constructions of reality that the population becomes immune, and sees only the concrete. Meanwhile out in horizontal, the low-flow, low-density, landscape the evangelicals and friends are busy building new realities just like any other religion of the past milleniums. And here in the cities my compatriots it seems don't quite know what hit them. The reality based community has yet to wake up to the reality of faith, have they?
November 05, 2004
Man what the fuck is up with people? Everywhere I turn people are talking about moving to Canada, despite the fact that they couldn't even make it to Ohio for a few days of election work. Which one is more work? Shit was sooooooooo freaking close. A few thousand more boots on the ground would have flipped the election, no lie.
I've got zero patience right now with my fellow New Yorkers talking about how depressed they are and looking for foriegn passports while blaming middle America instead of themselves. People don't magically vote how you want them too, but if you actually talk to them they just might. And god knows how many Bush voters I met in Ohio that where one conversation short of a Kerry voter. Everyone out there knew how bad Bush was fucking things up, they just didn't know how Kerry would be better. The misinformation and lies were so thick in the air it was sickening, but perhaps not as sickening as the various antidotes walking the blue states who never bothered to go where it counted and are now ready to flee.
update: Let me add that I'm in no way exempt from the above criticism, I was there in the home stretch, but I could have easily been there months before. Bottom line is we got out played and could have easily won this election if we where on point.
November 04, 2004
Going Back From Ohio
I'm back in my hometown of New York after what feels like a month in Ohio. In reality it was 6 long hard days as a foot soldier in the Get Out the Vote effort. Bottom line is that the Republicans just plain outplayed the Dems in this popularity contest. Close game, but not quite close in the right way.
What's fucked up is that the Dems actually won on the issues game. But they failed miserably on the popularity game. No one likes Kerry on any personal level. Out in Ohio nearly all the Bush supporters I met were actually better aligned with Kerry on the facts and issues. But it was clear that many just felt better personally about Bush, even if they couldn't explain it. Empathy is the word and Kerry had none. Zero. He's a stone cold motherfucker and he never quite could sell that right. The left needs to wake up the fact that the president is first and foremost a figurehead. He (or just maybe she) needs to be likable and he needs to inspire passion. Its way better to be loved by half country and hated by the other (ala both Clinton and Bush) then to be modestly regarded by all.
And me personally? I'm a bit shell shocked. I feel a bit like a Vietnam vet coming home to a world that doesn't quite understand what its like out there in the battlefield. Luckily no one died on this battle field, so I'll be alright in a minute I presume. Let me amend though, no one has died yet, god only knows what happens when Bushco gets their hands on the Supreme Court.
Arlen Specter at least gives me some hope. If there is going to be light in the next four years of US politics I'm looking for it in internal conflicts within the Republican party. If the religious/social conservatives wind up at odds with the old school fiscal conservatives we might be able to squeeze through this era ok. And yeah the rumors of Ashcroft stepping down give me more hope indeed. It's probably just the denial stage of grief, but I somehow have a strange feeling Bush '04 won't be quite as bad as Bush '00. Lets see how quickly that feeling lasts..