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Crazy Hate

by Stephen Leon on March 15, 2012

Rick Santorum doesn’t like cities.

At least, he doesn’t like New York and Los Angeles. Speaking in the Midwest and making vague appeals to voters’ Heartland values, he said, “. . . you don’t live in New York City. You don’t live in Los Angeles. You live like most Americans in between those two cities, and you know the values you believe in.”

I suspect he doesn’t care for San Francisco or Boston, either. Then again, he’s no more likely to carry California, New York or Massachusetts in a general election than he is to invite Dan Savage out to dinner.

Of course, Santorum isn’t the first conservative politician to express disdain for coastal America, its inhabitants and their presumed values. Barry Goldwater once said that “sometimes I think this country would be better off if we could just saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.” And Sarah Palin, in an obvious dig at major East and West coast cities, suggested that small towns and the Heartland in general were the “real America.”

As offensive as the comments might be to some of the people who live in these supposedly un-American cities, they could also be passed of as bluster from candidates who know they are too conservative to win elections there. Still, there are deeper cultural fault lines lurking beneath remarks like these, and it almost doesn’t matter whether the candidates who make them fully believe what’s coming out of their own mouths. They are appealing to the perceived dislikes and fears of a constituency; it’s the culture war, and as the Tea Party pulls the Republicans further to the right, conservatives’ dislikes and fears seem to get all the loonier.

And by the way, some right-wing ideas make perfect sense to me.

On many issues that define the divide between conservatives and the rest of us, I rarely agree with the right’s positions, but I understand the logic behind them. Many issues come down to whether you have a greater preference for the public or private sphere; conservatives generally tilt toward private because they believe it’s in their self-interest, and while I’ll argue over what’s best for the country as a whole, I won’t deny their party logic. Other things I don’t agree with—wars, and Republican attempts to disenfranchise poor, minority and student voters—I understand as purely strategic actions. Even when you get to the culture wars, I won’t deny that some people who oppose abortion or same-sex marriage may do so out of deeply held religious faith or, in the latter case, an unshakable belief that it is simply not normal.

But there are some things Tea Party types hate that don’t make any sense because there is nothing gained in hating them, or because the thing they’re hating might actually be helping them. I made a list.

1. Cities. Maybe it’s the poor, the minorities, the fear of crime, or the scarcity of parking spaces. But cities also are melting pots of ideas, intellect, innovation, art, architecture, culture, etc, etc. When conservatives poke fun at New York or Los Angeles, I sense just a wee bit of cultural inferiority complex. Stop hating, go home and check on your stock portfolio, then relax and pop in a movie.

2. Mass Transit. Have you noticed the barely concealed glee with which Republicans announce that they’re killing a transit project? Mass-transit haters, most of you are not working for oil companies. And contrary to what the anti-transit spin machine has told you, transit is not too expensive. The auto infrastructure is vastly more expensive. Besides, everyone riding that train is making your car commute that much easier.

3. Bicycles. What is it about a Critical Mass ride that makes some cops want to club a poor guy riding a bike? Granted, CM riders are more in-your-face than the average person saving gas, staying in shape, and not adding to GDP by bicycling to work. But they’re not taking anything away from you.

4. Renewable energy. OK, maybe this is a real threat to the mainstream energy industry. But deep down, everyone knows that if we don’t develop more renewable energy, we’re all fucked.

5. Natural/healthy/locally grown food. Michelle Obama plants a White House garden, and to the Tea Party, it’s just more proof of the Obamas’ socialism. Come on now, it’s almost noon. Do you know what your school is serving your children?

6. Soccer. Just one more link in the chain of European socialism’s takeover of America. If we aren’t more vigilant, the World Cup will become more popular than the World Series. . . .  Um . . . I mean . . .

7. The French. They eat rich food, drink lots of wine, and keep the pounds off better than we do. We should be learning, not hating.