Forget red vs. blue states — it’s urban vs. ex
: Staring at more molecular red vs. blue maps, it became obvious:
This isn’t about state vs. state. This is about urban vs. everybody else. Urban is blue, everybody else is red.
But it’s more than politics. It’s about culture and pride and judgment and snot.
I was thinking this as I took my intolerable commute this morning: Two hours and 15 friggin’ minutes — with no visible accidents or rational explanations for the traffic jams — to get from my house to the Hellish Hilton in New York for the Ad:Tech conference. And I’m asking myself, “Is this worth it?” and, “Is this anyway to live?” and, “How come I have to do this?” Well, because it’s New York, of course, center of the universe.
The New Yorkers I know treat the fact that I live halfway to Cleveland as something they don’t talk about out of deference to me. It’s like Martha Stewart’s friends not mentioning jail or felonies or stock or crab apples around her. I live in the ‘burbs — the suburbs, the exurbs, somewhere out there. But they like me anyway.
And this, I saw, was the real divide in America. Most of America lives in the suburbs now, but we don’t talk about that, we don’t admit that. We in the media elite still act as if they’re going to go away: Levittown will crumble. We act as if cities are still the center of the action in America and as if farms are what’s left. No, most Americans are suburbanites today. And proud of it. Almost.
I will admit that I never thought I’d live in the ‘burbs. In fact, I wrote that in an email to a long-long-lost friend just the other day, as in: Imagine that, me, in the ‘burbs. We grew up in them and thought we’d never return. Go figger.
But here I am and I like the ‘burbs. I have land and trees around me and convenience and places to park my car and good schools and quiet and stores and malls and a big house, nya, nya, nya.
Do I sound defensive? Sure. I’m a suburbanite.
When the majority of the country who voted for Bush talk about being demeaned it’s not really about religion (we’re not a nation of Bible-thumpers), it’s about being from the boonies. The city slickers look down their noses at us ‘burbans. They don’t venture out here. They act as if it’s a wasteland when it’s our home. They are out of touch with the majority of America. The cultural reality yields the political reality.
And on the train — the third train I take after a long drive — I read David Brooks’ column, one of his good ones, about just this:
Ninety percent of the office space built in America in the 1990’s was built in suburbia, usually in low office parks along the interstates. Now you have a tribe of people who not only don’t work in cities, they don’t commute to cities or go to the movies in cities or have any contact with urban life. You have these huge, sprawling communities with no center….
Movies from “The Graduate” to “American Beauty” have reinforced the idea that the suburbs are bland, materialistic, ticky-tacky boxes in a hillside where people are conformist on the outside and hollow within. The stereotype is absurd, but it closes off fresh thinking….
On the one hand, people move to exurbs because they want some order in their lives. They leave places with arduous commutes, backbreaking mortgages, broken families and stressed social structures and they head for towns with ample living space, intact families, child-friendly public culture and intensely enforced social equality. That’s bourgeois.
On the other hand, they are taking a daring leap into the unknown, moving to towns that have barely been built, working often in high-tech office parks doing pioneering work in biotech and nanotechnology. These exurbs are conservative but also utopian – Mayberrys with BlackBerrys.
The Republicans won in part because Bush and Rove understand this culture. Everybody is giving advice to Democrats these days, and mine is don’t take any advice from anybody with access to the media – including me, just to be safe.
Get out into the sprawl, into that other conversation. Take your time. It’s a new world out there.
There’s still a touch of snoot in even this sympathetic piece, as if the ‘burbs are still a strange place rather than the true center of the action and culture and politics in America. Nonetheless, Brooks is right.
And I ended my day hearing an unnamed major media executive (unnamed because it was at an off-the-record event) talking about this very same phenom: Big media isn’t so much liberal as urban, he said; there’s a different world view and the election revealed that. New Orleans went for Kerry; Louisiana went for Bush; St. Louis went for Kerry; Missouri went for Bush; urban vs. ex.
The best thing the Democrats can do is move out to the ‘burbs. You’ll survive, believe me. I did.