Red vs. blue

Okay, every time I mention the Great Divide, I get email from liberals who live in Iowa or Arkansas or Texas, insisting that their very existence refutes the whole red America/blue America thing. And I’ll concede up front that it’s an oversimplification. Look, not only did I grow up in Iowa and Arkansas (with some time in Georgia and Florida as well), but my very livelihood as an adult has depended for many years on the fact that my work runs in newspapers all over the damn place, probably in more red states than blue.

(And just glancing at my Cafe Press stats, in the last few weeks, I see I’ve received orders from Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, Colorado, Louisiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Utah, Alabama…I could go on, but you probably get the point.)


Because I did grow up in Iowa and Arkansas, I also know that being a liberal in those places — even when you are sequestered in a college town — is a substantively different experience from being a liberal in San Francisco or New York. And anyone who writes me and tries to pretend otherwise, tries to pretend that there is absolutely no difference, that rural Arkansas is every bit as enlightened and tolerant as San Francisco or New York, and only an out-of-touch East Coast elitist would think otherwise — well, you may be kidding yourself, but you’re not kidding me.

In short, I think it’s foolish to deny that there are regional cultural differences — but I also think they’re not always as clear cut as the easy media stereotype would suggest. Which may be why Frank Rich chooses to emphasize the difference in red and blue culture:

The blue ascendancy is nearly as strong among Republicans as it is among Democrats. Those whose “moral values” are invested in cultural heroes like the accused loofah fetishist Bill O’Reilly and the self-gratifying drug consumer Rush Limbaugh are surely joking when they turn apoplectic over MTV. William Bennett’s name is now as synonymous with Las Vegas as silicone. The Democrats’ Ashton Kutcher is trumped by the Republicans’ Britney Spears. Excess and vulgarity, as always, enjoy a vast, bipartisan constituency, and in a democracy no political party will ever stamp them out.

If anyone is laughing all the way to the bank this election year, it must be the undisputed king of the red cultural elite, Rupert Murdoch. Fox News is a rising profit center within his News Corporation, and each red-state dollar that it makes can be plowed back into the rest of Fox’s very blue entertainment portfolio. The Murdoch cultural stable includes recent books like Jenna Jameson’s “How to Make Love Like a Porn Star” and the Vivid Girls’ “How to Have a XXX Sex Life,” which have both been synergistically, even joyously, promoted on Fox News by willing hosts like Rita Cosby and, needless to say, Mr. O’Reilly. There are “real fun parts and exciting parts,” said Ms. Cosby to Ms. Jameson on Fox News’s “Big Story Weekend,” an encounter broadcast on Saturday at 9 p.m., assuring its maximum exposure to unsupervised kids.

The Stranger, on the other hand, argues that the Great Divide is ultimately between city mice and country mice:

It’s time to state something that we’ve felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion — New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on. And we live on islands in red states too — a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida. Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland “values” like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country.

There’s more, and I don’t agree with all of it, and I’m sure it will annoy a lot of you, especially if you happen to be a liberal living in a rural setting. But, sorry — your existence does not negate the larger point they are making, the thing that a lot of people trying to grapple with right now: there are two sets of values in America. And to be blunt, ours are better. So how do we win this fight next time around? Figuring out who “we” are seems like a better place to start than wasting time wondering how to appeal to knuckle-draggers who worry that gay marriage will lead inevitably to matrimony between men and animals, if not kitchen appliances.

Or so it seems to me. But what the hell do I know? I’m just an out-of-touch Northeastern elitist.