Dan Savage argues that Democrats and their ilk need to recognize themselves as essentially urban, and build a new, uncompromising identity politics around that fact.
I don't believe that what America needs is more identity politics, and I think Savage’s assumption that the American countryside is and will always be populated primarily by “hateful,” “bovine” “rubes” is wrongheaded and counterproductive. Demographics isn’t destiny, and as personally embiggening as identity politics may be, founding a new political order on current divisions would be a victory for the Right and its media enablers, which to a large extent have created these divisions. Savage’s prescription seems to me like capitulation tarted up as triumph.
Which is a shame, because he makes some excellent, heartfelt points, especially on the issue of wingnut-welfare states like Wyoming, and the decline of the federal government’s role in overcoming (instead of exploiting) racism, xenophobia, and ignorance.
Unfortunately, they’re buried under mounds of horseshit like this:
The only time urbanists should concern themselves with the environment is when we are impacted--directly, not spiritually….[I]f West Virginia wants to elect politicians who allow mining companies to lop off the tops off mountains and dump the waste into valleys and streams, thus causing floods that destroy the homes of the yokels who vote for those politicians, it no longer matters to us. Fuck the mountains in West Virginia--send us the power generated by cleanly burned coal, you rubes, and be sure to wear lifejackets to bed.I’m aware that being “outrageous” is part of Savage’s schtick, and I’m normally entertained by it. But this is just stupid. It’s not possible to limit environmental damage to states you don’t like, and to imply otherwise is both silly and unscientific. (I mention the latter point only because Savage elsewhere casts himself and his fellow urbanites as defenders of Science and Reason.)
There’s worse to come, though. Much worse.
We won't concern ourselves if red states restrict choice. We'll just make sure that abortion remains safe and legal in the cities where we live, and the states we control, and when your daughter or sister or mother dies in a botched abortion, we'll try not to feel too awful about it.Shouldn’t be too hard, right? They’re only women, after all.
For some reason, Savage’s daring manifesto doesn’t have a similar passage relating to red-state oppression of gays. Should we “try not to feel too awful” when rural gays are beaten or killed, or denied basic human rights? Should we shrug our shoulders and say, “Hey, if they didn’t want to be treated that way, they should’ve moved to the city”?
The notion that fatalities from botched abortions could comprise an acceptable level of collateral damage in this alleged “war” between rural and urban populations is contemptible, and belongs to no form of progressivism I recognize. We certainly don't need more people turning a blind eye to poisoned rivers and butchered women.
It’s also depressing that he issues his declaration of war at a time when prominent rural Republicans have risked their careers to support gay rights, and concern for the environment is increasingly transcending demographic and even psychographic boundaries. The potential for positive change in these areas and others is enormous (as is the amount of work and thoughtfulness it'll take to achieve and sustain it, natch). And it’s not astute or responsible to argue that the problems we face can be solved by reveling in division and hostility, especially when we’re winning the goddamn debate on any number of issues.
Savage himself makes this case inadvertently, when he sneers at non-urbanites for their failure to recognize "the fundamental interdependence of all citizens.”
Yeah, that's a pretty stupid mistake to make, alright.
UPDATE: Speaking of stupid mistakes, it turns out this essay actually ran in 2004. I missed it back then, and assumed it was new because I saw it cited today at Coudal. That doesn't change my overall take on it, of course, but I wouldn't have wasted my time griping about it if I'd known it was that old.
By the way, Bush says Rumsfeld is doing "a fantastic job." As if!