Thursday, March 24, 2011

Half Beck and Half Maddow

Interesting article in the Economist here.Reading it gave me an uncomfortable twinge.

Because I'm one of those insular people he describes.

The last real prolonged contact I had with real red-meat conservatives was when I was in the service. And I should note that there I generally tended to keep my mouth shut unless something really unpassable came up.

The last really conservative friend I had was an engineer I worked with, and he and I haven't spoken since he took me out for a drink with his two fellow Red State pals and we spent most of the night arguing politics.

I know I've often observed about what I consider the dysfunction of my country in this place. And reading the article, I find the author's observations uncomfortably similar to those I've made and noting that his conclusion - that the "big sort" is making the United States ungovernable - is exactly what I've been fearing. But, also, realizing that his main thesis, that "...America is splitting into “balkanised communities whose inhabitants find other Americans to be culturally incomprehensible.” indicts me along with the rest of the country.

Portland is often protrayed as a blue city in a relatively blue state. But we're not, really. We're a VERY blue city, those of us clustered around the confluence of the Columbia and the Willamette. You get out to places like Oregon City and Scappoose, though, and you're in magenta country; mostly red with a tiny hint of purple. By the time you get as far as Corbett to the east, Canby to the south, or North Plains to the west, you're as Red as the Soviet banner. The entire eastern half of the state is as conservative as can be; nary a Democrat has been elected there since the repeal of the Sunset Laws back in the Sixties.And I'm as bad or worse than anything described in the article. I actively avoid Fox News, knowing that hearing the conservative take on events will produce a skeptical sneer in minutes and reduce me to incoherant rage after a quarter of an hour. I used to read conservative magazines such as American Spectator or National Review; now, I can't tolerate their worldviews enough to examine them for some traces of appeal. When I hear Beck, or Coulter, or Hannity, or Palin, entsichere ich meinen Browning.

If I'm any evidence - and I'm a well-educated white man, the very embodiment of the sort of person my society gives power to and trusts to rule - we're not even trying anymore.

The Economist review comes to the complacent conclusion that;
"Mr Bishop goes too far, however, when he says the “big sort” is “tearing [America] apart”. American politics may be polarised, but at least no one is coming to blows over it. “We respect each other's views,” says Mrs Wortendyke of the few liberals in the home-schooling movement. “We hate each other cordially,” says the liberal Mr Balis."
But I fear that that complacency is outdated. I find little remaining cordiality for conservative goals amid my neighbors and friends, while everything I hear and read, when I do stray into Fox News World, suggests that those who disagree with me and my friends do so violently.

Lincoln once said that a house divded against itself could not stand; that the nation could not exist half-slave and half-free. I wonder; can a nation half-Beck and half-Maddow long endure?But to preserve that house Lincoln had to fight a civil war. The half that was slave had to be beaten down. I have growing doubts that the Beck and Maddow nations can find any commonality. But I dread the possibility that the divide must be, not bridged, but conquered.

What can we going to do - can we do anything - about this? Or are we doomed, like the France of 1940, to tear ourselves apart until some foreign enemy enter to mercifully end our squabbling?


Pluto said...

You associate with a lot more right-wingers than you know, Chief. You just don't talk politics with them.

What are the politics of your average drill rig crew worker? Or the person who works in your gas station?

Back in the on Intel-Dump days I was concerned about this same issue and you, among others, pointed out that a person's politics are one small portion of their entire being.

Furthermore, although the article suggests that we are sorting ourselves by political flavor, it doesn't mention that there really aren't firm physical boundarys about this. I'm sure that there are sections of Portland that are very red, just as there are sections of Texas (Austin, for starters) which are very blue.

The politicians have just gerrymandered the situation to highlight one faction or the other.

I'm not at all concerned about the fact that we're kind of physically sorting ourselves out by political preference. I'm VERY concerned that we are using the internet to mentally sort ourselves out by political preference. This is a poorly understood process and is happening very rapidly.

Although I identify myself as a middle-of-the-road independant, I personally value high-quality thinking much more than political affiliation. It is why I come here and the Milpub. After listening to my comments about the Milpub, my wife calls the Milpub "the only masters degree in public policy thinking you can get on the internet." People may say stuff but they are challeneged to back up their thinking with quotes and sources.

That's GREAT! But most websites are all about reinforcing a particular point of view regardless of its validity instead of an honest give-and-take about ideas and policies and I find that very dangerous in the long run to the political health of our country.

Pluto said...

I was sure I left a pretty good comment here. What happened to it?

FDChief said...

Caught in the spamcatcher, my Pretty...

It's OK, I let it out to play.

So; I guess the point is that I don't really ASSOCIATE with those people. Funny thing - I work with a guy who is really kind of a western Washington County redneck. Nice guy, but he really believes the Death Panel and Deficit stuff the RedState and Freeper types make up. We talk while we're working, and generally after a while we pretty much come to an agreement that the working man gets fucked. We just disagree about who's behind the pecker!

The thing is we've always segregated ourselves mentally to some degree, only we used to do it in more physical ways. People joined the Communist Party, or the John Birch Society, subscribed to magazines like Mother Jones or The American Spectator. At one time there was usually a "liberal" and a "conservative" paper in every city (now we're lucky there IS a daily paper...)

And, of course, there was de facto/de jure segregation, the ultimate "big sort" for a whole chunk of the country...

But on the whole I think there were some leavening agents pre-1970 that made a difference. The draft, I think, was huge - it forced lots of people to rub shoulders with people they wouldn't have, otherwise. Losing that has hurt us in ways we don't recognize. Costs and admissions policies have shut off colleges to a huge chunk of the lower middle/working class.

And the other thing, I think, is that 1) those of us this age grew up in a period of really unusually freakish bipartisanship, the 1945-1975 era. We're returning the the vicious partisanship more typical of the U.S. between the Jacksonian period and WW2, but 2) its accompanied by a new mobility we didn't have pre-war. The auto has given us a LOT more freedom to choose our neighbors. So a redneck can live out in Clackamas County and still work in Blue Portland, while a latte-drinking liberal can live in Sellwood and work in Red Beaverton.

Lisa said...

"The auto has given us a LOT more freedom to choose our neighbors.:

And of course, physical location is mattering less as people withdraw into virtual communities. Most people don't even know their neighbors, I'd venture. So though we may rub shoulders, there is no prerogative to speak; we meet that need with our "fellows" online.