May 03, 2005
Look Ma, I'm a Populist
Maybe this isn't new. Maybe I'm just too young to recognize one of the book's older tricks. But since the election, there seem to be quite a number of Democratic pundits, columnists, and luminaries leveraging home purchases deep in Virginia for populist cred. Could we, you know, stop? Meeting 50 folks in rural Virginia doesn't strike me as quite enough down-home experience to claim credentials as a channeler of America's "jes' folks" contingent. And, more to the point, wouldn't it be great if we didn't buy into this pundit-propagated fiction that some swaths of America are somehow more real than others and experience, even glancing experience, in said territories imbues the cow-milker with special wisdom, insight and understanding?
I may be just an out of touch California kid but even I wouldn't presume to generalize the character and political desires of my neighbors. The conservative kingdom of Orange County, where I grew up, is worlds different politically than Los Angeles, where I live. Both vary wildly from Santa Cruz, and all allow for almost infinite variation in county boundaries. I could no more tell you what these people want and how they experience the world than I could accurately convey the feeling of growing up an aborigine. And, even were I to ignore my inadequacies and try, I certainly wouldn't tout whatever cockamamie judgment I arrived at as some transcendental truth of urban electorates, equally applicable to New York and Seattle. Virginians don't represent all other Virginians, not to mention inhabitants of West Virginia, or whole other states. And hell, if you want some information on what makes them tick, get one of Gov. Warner's staffers to write you an essay. But otherwise, let's end the race for the redder real estate. You want to live somewhere rural, that's terrific and I hope you do. But don't make it into some personal attribute or quality. It's a lifestyle choice, as American as any of the others, and it shouldn't be touted as initiation to some secret society of red state values or used as trump card in various arguments.
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But since the election, there seem to be quite a number of Democratic pundits, columnists, and luminaries leveraging home purchases deep in Virginia for populist cred.
There are? Who's moving here?
Posted by: Waldo Jaquith | May 3, 2005 2:29:08 PM
I assume you are referring to that sniveling piece in TNR by Lawrence Kaplan http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20050502&s=diarist050205. I just about gagged on the worshipping at the alter of red rural America bullshit. The sad thing is that he even knows he's full of shit as he writing it.
Posted by: JTN | May 3, 2005 2:34:59 PM
I deleted the examples from the post because it didn't seem worthwhile to pick fights who folks I read and respect. In any case, TNR has an example of it, and if you keep your eyes open, I guarantee you'll find others...
Posted by: Ezra | May 3, 2005 2:35:00 PM
Ha! This dude thinks he's a local 'cuz he's lived here (well, just a little west of here) for a year. The mechanics are taking a dump in his gas tank and he slips 'em a fiver for being so friendly. You wanna be a local in Virginia? Start working on gettin' born here.
the "implants," as locals call them
Um. No. No we don't.
Land is a farmer's 401(k), and farmers in the area have been cashing in, selling their farms to developers who erect McMansions in their place. The trend frightens me, because I'm following in the footsteps of an uncle who left the city for a nineteenth-century farmhouse on a gorgeous piece of land.
Growth rates in the northern Shenandoah Valley are at 1.4%. Consequently, property assessments are soaring, forcing farmers and old ladies to sell off their homesteads and move into crappy apartments in Harrisonburg or Luray. Exurbanites are heading ever farther from D.C.: south of Culpeper and west on 81. The transportation infrastructure isn't designed to handle this new traffic, and the funding doesn't exist to expand that "one lane road" (WTF?) that winds through the woods for 25 miles. Worse still, when the infrastructure is expanded to handle the capacity, even more people will choose to live in the country, transforming it into part of the vast, hideous Northern Virginia sprawl. The guy's a part of the problem. Congratulations.
Posted by: Waldo Jaquith | May 3, 2005 2:51:38 PM
That is the most awful fucking story I've read. This man drives 3 hours into work? All that gasoline, wasted. He whines about "outside interests" "changing the land", and a few paragraphs ago testified to his being new to the town? I sincerely doubt he's living in a double-wide on a 1 acre lot. I sense McMansion in Mr. Kaplan's life, the very same McMansions that are threatening his precious open space if people follow his bad example. What a fucking hypocritical tool.
I don't care what his take on politics is, he's part of the problem in America today, and deserves no "respect".
Posted by: verplanck colvin | May 3, 2005 2:54:15 PM
The beauty of it is that this "home" in the country is clearly just a weekend home - Kaplan says - "twice a week, I commute from western Virginia" - He must also have a place in D.C. for during the week. But he sure is getting in touch with the country, I'll tell you what! He probably clears brush and everything. You would think he would be embarrassed to write this drivel.
Posted by: JTN | May 3, 2005 3:02:23 PM
Waldo, you simultaneously made my point. My apologies for living so close to the hypocritical asshole.
As a person living in a rural state, I know you can't call yourself a "local" unless your roots are 3 generations deep at a minimum. Someone should cue Mr. Kaplan into this. Maybe not, as the mechanic that works on his Lincoln Navigator probably likes pissing in his gas tank and charging $25/gal for "fuel additive". I know I would.
Posted by: verplanck colvin | May 3, 2005 3:03:16 PM
I deleted the examples from the post because it didn't seem worthwhile to pick fights who folks I read and respect.
I guess you respect Kaplan, and maybe you've met him. I haven't, but I sure don't respect what he writes. He's a dreadful hack. I don't think I've ever read anything by him that I thought was worth the time it took to read.
Posted by: Haggai | May 3, 2005 3:16:37 PM
When I first read this I just about busted a gut when I read:
"The trip takes three hours in both directions, brief as far as interplanetary travel goes. But the drive home illuminates plenty of cultural terrain. It usually begins at The New Republic, where I regale my soft-handed colleagues with tales of pastoral life--the sumptuousness of chicken-fried steak; the hand-dug well that pumps the occasional tadpole into my sink; the subcontractors whom I routinely discover drinking beer in my bathtub."
Kaplan has bought all the b.s. the Republicans, David Brooks, and now Tierney are shoveling about red state/blue state differences. Its arguably even worse than Brooks because Kaplan actually admits that he is just looking out the window of his car making what he thinks are wry observations - "my, but its different here!" After all this bloviating, he ends with "In the breadth of their civic attachments, it seems to me that they, more than most of their critics, most faithfully embody the American ideal." Yeah, make me hurl. He's just like a sophomore college kid who steps off a plane in London, Paris, Rome, fill in the blank foreign city - who thinks he is the first to discover Shangra-la. Its so predictable that you would expect someone like Kaplan would catch himself before he made a fool of himself in print. And the saddest part is that you just know that he has been itching for the past year to be able to write this piece to demonstrate his street cred. Pathetic.
Posted by: JTN | May 3, 2005 3:18:51 PM
I wonder if these nouveau country folks ever watched Green Acres?
Posted by: suzan | May 3, 2005 3:20:27 PM
And speaking of street cred, what ever happened to Laura in the 'Hood? Wasn't Lady Bush supposed to be talking jive with the gangstas or something this year?
Love those Republican sitcoms.
Posted by: suzan | May 3, 2005 3:24:37 PM
I'm not sure what it means when you eat your own, but it can't be good......
Posted by: Robert Zimmerman | May 3, 2005 3:33:10 PM
I didn't read the column the commenters are talking about, and it sounds like it is drivel.
That being said, I think there are very valid reason's for these columnists, luminaries, and pundits to try to gain a better understanding (and share that understanding) of rural society. Obviously, facile observations are useless in this, but a serious effort could be beneficial.
Because so much media originates in, and is about, our urban centers, rural people have a better understanding of the urban lifestyle than the reverse. For a political party whose primary strength is urban, this represents a serious liability.
Posted by: Dave Justus | May 3, 2005 3:41:43 PM
Kaplan was the guy who got all angry when Kerry started trotting out retired generals who supported him, so much for venerating military service (or perhaps just Democrats who wear the uniform). He works for an uber-insider beltway political magazine. He's a certified neocon. Jesus, we're now reduced to carbon copies of David Brooks? The real thing was awful enough.
As someone who shares Waldo's area code, and perhaps Kaplan's new one (though he's probably still 703 or 202) I resent the hell out of that article for so many reasons, even if it was partly tongue-in-cheek. What's with the implication that everyone who isn't within walking distance to the metro can't possibly share progressive values? And the implication that conservative, rural values are somehow more American? A hint for Kaplan; if they meant anything, they couldn't just be adopted as a lifestyle choice by some poseur. What a damn atrocity; intellectuals sucking up to their own stereotypes. Pathetic.
Posted by: SamAm | May 3, 2005 3:49:55 PM
You make a good point, Dave J. Unfortunately, all we're getting is this horrible nonsense from the likes of Kaplan.
Posted by: Haggai | May 3, 2005 3:58:23 PM
"In the breadth of their civic attachments, it seems to me that they, more than most of their critics, most faithfully embody the American ideal."
The gentle chimps of Gombe have created an idyllic society here in the heart of darkest Africa. Though their simple brains cannot possibly comprehend it, their culture is, in a way, far more advanced than our own.
Posted by: Waldo Jaquith | May 3, 2005 4:21:44 PM
If this guy is, as I suspect, living in Rockingham County, that'd put him, more'n likely, in the 26th District. "The heart of red America," as he describes it. That's Weatherholtz (R), who is returning. Lowell Fulk is running for his seat. Fulk ran against Weatherholtz two years ago, too. In "the heart of red America," Fulk racked up 45.4% of the vote (50.04% in Harrisonburg.)
Not so red, is it?
You'll have to go a little farther southwest for "the heart of red America." Try something a little closer to Sugarland.
Posted by: Waldo Jaquith | May 3, 2005 4:44:44 PM
And to think, just a few years ago, Nantucket was Pundits' Paradise....
Posted by: Ara Rubyan | May 3, 2005 4:47:37 PM
Actually, Kaplan is just one example of this, and he's not even the most egregious. Since there are others, and I like them in other contexts, I've no real interesting in picking such a small fight, but let's just say that this is a trend rather than an outlier, and my piece is aimed at the mindset, not Kaplan.
As for Dave's point, more rural experience is fine, but let's hire some rural writers then, not just get some beltway boys to parachute into small town Virginia and talk about what they see. But that's not quite my problem, what I really hate are writers who mention, namedrop, and anecdotalize their weekend homes in order to claim cred on other issues. Irritates the hell out of me.
Posted by: Ezra | May 3, 2005 4:48:24 PM
Posted by: praktike | May 3, 2005 5:09:07 PM
I'd second Ezra and challenge Dave J a little - I'm not sure that there aren't good rural voices out there - I think the media may be very lazy in only looking within to find information on the rural areas they don't know anything about. But still, there are other reasons around this - the fact is movement is still towards the cities, suburbs, end exurbs, away from rural farms.
Part of the yuppie second home/life in the country storyline is nostalgia for a thing that doesn't exist/never was. And part of it is describing a world as it vanishes right before their eyes - as their second homes drive up land valuations and send locals away. I suspect that what's also at play here - as annoying as the yuppies in the countryside are - is a sea-change in the lifestyle of the south, bringing it more in line with other states where life is built around an urban core. I'm thinking of this because you don't get much of that "I know life in the country from my summer home in Vermont" up north here - People are more savvy than that, and farm life isn't quite so romanticized. And much like the undoing of CBS' rural/older base, it may yet prove to be the Republicans' tactical mistake, as more of the country faces the urban problem set that Dems are simply more experienced with (and a love of country life that can be washed away with a soupcon of quaint nostalgia for country life in a Martha Stewart yuppie haze that is also something Dems do quite well, a la those weekend Vermonters).
Posted by: weboy | May 3, 2005 6:31:37 PM
I'm a transplant from California to West Virginia. Been here 25 years. My folks and I decided we were tired of wall-to-wall people. They bought this farm and invited me to join them. We never regretted the move. That being said, we remained liberal Democrats and landed in the midst of good GOP territory. I make no apologies for my lifestyle choice but neither do I lionize it. Not everyone wants to live as I do, which is fine. But commuters are coming in and buying up land on speculation, driving up the prices and making it difficult for those of us with limited incomes to remain in the homes we love. Then they continue to write about it and more come in who don't understand that there are tradeoffs to living in the country. It isn't like the city and if you try to make it so, you change the whole environment and then have to move to find another pastoral scene to destroy leaving those of us who moved here to enjoy life to deal with the messes they left.
Posted by: Nora L. Ingram | May 3, 2005 7:28:54 PM
Hell, Santa Cruz varies wildly from *Redwood City* ... and they share the same state Senator!
Posted by: aphrael | May 3, 2005 9:20:56 PM
And then again maybe they're just fleeing D.C. for a regular break and trying to make something of the expense to justify it. Hiho the retirement home is ready in an appreciating realty market.
Posted by: opit | May 4, 2005 12:44:42 AM
I understand and respect what you are saying, but my take is that the people we are talking about aren't moving to the country to gain any understanding. They are doing it because they are posers, and because it makes them feel better about themselves.
Are you sure that rural people have a better understanding about urban dwellers than the reverse? How do the rural people acquire that understanding? From television? From their churches? From shitheads like Brooks?
Are people really that different just because they live in small towns or rural areas? If so, in what ways, and why would that be so?
Posted by: James E. Powell | May 4, 2005 1:05:46 AM
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