Monday, May 07, 2007

Concerning Ourselves

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!


Anonymous said...

O very nice post, Phila. And thank you. I've had more than all the goddamn identity politics I can take. The thought that we are starting another campaign - o jeez.

Thers said...

Good grief, I live in the country. Whatever am I to do with my ignorant self?

Savage's screed seems oddly out of date; I could sympathize with it more if it had emerged in the post '04 election bitterness. But one of the things '06 showed was that in many rural districts (like several here in upstate NY, which can be as conservative as rural Wyoming), a good, smart, tough Democratic candidate can win if she or he just makes the effort, and it's supported.

There's another way forward, and Savage seems behind the times.

Anonymous said...

My impression here is that Savage just thinks rural people are dumb hicks (like Thers), and he's translating his personal dislike into a political argument.

Anonymous said...

I believe that piece ran in 2004, after Bush was re-elected. So it was a 2004 piece, not a 2007 or 2008 piece. He was pissed. We were all pissed Cut him some slack.

Phila said...

I believe that piece ran in 2004, after Bush was re-elected. So it was a 2004 piece, not a 2007 or 2008 piece. He was pissed. We were all pissed Cut him some slack.

You're absolutely right. I saw it linked today, and assumed it was new.

Not gonna cut him any slack whatsoever - I would've had no more sympathy with his argument then than now - but there was no need for me to attack it today, obviously.

Sheesh. Smart boy wanted!

olvlzl said...

Three Words: Fifty State Strategy.

Four More: We Won With It.

Dan Savage can kiss my country bumpkin. I've known plenty of people who live in the country who are as sophisticated and left of center as anyone in Manhattan. And there are a lot of country locations that didn't elect Rudoph Giuliani as mayor or Pataki as governor. Political analysis out of stereotype was tried and it failed. I'm on on a kick against reductionism and abstraction. You might be able to make a career in the social sciences or journalism that way but it is a stupid and lazy way to do politics.