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Turn Up the Heat
"We're moving to Canada," screamed several friends of mine last week, after learning that Pat Buchanan won the New Hampshire primary. "It's a sign," opined one, "that this country is out of control."
Well, maybe so. But I live in San Francisco, and tend to take such dire screams of liberal doom and gloom with a healthy dose of salt. Don't get me wrong, I'm the furthest thing from being a fan of the racist, populist, anti-semitic, demagogic former talk show host. But I don't take Buchanan's victory in New Hampshire as a sign of the apocalypse.
New Hampshire doesn't come close to representing America as a whole. New Hampshire is overwhelmingly rural, 98% white, disproporionately conservative and very, very cold. With Tuesday's election, Buchanan proved his ability to play on their fear and distrust. Fear of "immigrants." Distrust of "big government," and "corporate greed." And just barely under the surface, it seems to me, fear and distrust of diversity, free thought; fear of what they don't know.
In Thursday's New York Times, Joyce Purnick lamented the fact that none of the candidates in New Hampshire dealt with any issues that had anything to do with urban life. She wrote...
It would have been nice if just one Republican candidate in New Hampshire had at least mentioned the word "city." ... Or even acknowledged that cities existed -- other than the mythical "shining city on a hill."
A friend of mine who used to work in the Clinton administration (but now lives in New York) says I shouldn't be surprised about this. She wrote me this week saying...
If you look at all of the Republican hot-button issues (welfare reform, anti-immigrant rhetoric, taxes, state's rights, etc.) all of these things are geared towards non-city voters who think that people on welfare are lazy, "foreigners" are taking American jobs away, their tax money should not be spent educating or feeding someone else's kids, and big government is bad for the little guy.
I figure it's in New Hampshire's nature (and thus, in the candidates' nature) to distrust cities. Cities are about an immense congregation of people; people with different (and sometimes conflicting) backgrounds, politics, races, religions, viewpoints. 80% of the US population lives in what's defined by the US Census Bureau as a "metropolitan area" -- the area in and around a city. I'm not certain that there's a single piece of land in New Hampshire that qualifies as a "metropolitan area."
There's some synchronicity floating around me on this topic. Thanks to a friend, I'm re-reading Don Delillo's White Noise, and in it, I came across this gem...
It is the nature and pleasure of townspeople to distrust the city. All the guiding principles that might flow from a center of ideas and cultural energies are regarded as corrupt, one or another kind of pornography.
Ahhh, maybe this is why the politicians distrust the Internet. Because through dialup modems and high speed T1 lines it is constantly speeding the flow of corrupt ideas, sending pornographic cultural energies through the ether in quick bursts of zeros and ones. Because it quickens the spread of urban desires.
One of the main characters in White Noise is a professor of Elvis studies who recently moved to the bucolic campus setting of the novel. As early as page 10, he describes perfectly what makes places like New York -- as well as Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia -- different from places like New Hampshire. (The links are mine, of course.)
Heat. This is what cities mean to me. You get off the train and walk out of the station and you are hit with the full blast. The heat of air, traffic and people. The heat of food and sex. The heat of tall buildings. The heat that floats out of the subways and tunnels. It's always fifteen degrees hotter in the cities.
The politicians (and New Hampshire residents) seem to be afraid of letting a little heat escape out of the city. They must like the cold.
Us city folks (and I mean that in the broadest sense) need to turn up the heat.
Other pieces about politics: