Monday, September 08, 2008

Small Towns

I love this video from The Daily Show:

The cowboy? Queerer than a three dollar bill in Confederate money.

I grew up in a town about the size of Wasilia, Alaska. Waverly sits on the border of PA, and there are three boroughs - South Waverly, Sayre, and Athens, PA - all of which run in to one another. The area, physically formed by the junction of the Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers, is simply called The Valley by locals (I still refer to it that way, even though there are other valleys in the world). As an adult, I have lived in both small towns and two cities, one medium sized (Rochester, NY) and one large (Washington, DC). I'm still scratching my head over the whole "small towns are better" thread running through the Republican convention.

Of course, I recognize the politics of it. This is a kind of dog-whistle - it's all about "values". No gay, abortion-loving anti-Christians in LaMoille, IL, South Waverly, PA, or other "towns under 10,000". Except, of course, small towns are as diverse as large cities. The differences are largely that the power structure is inert, in place for generations. The Republicans interviewed by TDS represent the problem with small towns. Inarticulate, narrow-minded, these men and women are caricatures of what is wrong with those in power in small towns. In fact, there are many, diverse and distinct groups living in small towns. People of color, sexual, religious, and other minority groups have their own little enclaves. Some areas have different smaller groups than others. For example, not just Waverly, but the whole Finger Lakes area of western New York State, has a scattered but large population of Jehovah's Witnesses.

Recognizing the politics of such rhetoric is one thing. Cutting through the rhetoric, however, to reveal the hollowness of it is not only a wholly different matter, but necessary. Small Town USA no more provides a moral backbone to the country than do cities undermine them. The only good thing about this kind of rhetoric is that it is about a century too late. In 1896, William Jennings Bryant ran a campaign similar to this; we all know how much of a landslide he won . . . oh, wait, that's right.

Bryant lost to Ohio Sen. William McKinley.

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