One of the reasons the Republicans have so thoroughly lost the urban vote is that they have spent the last 30 years demonizing the culture of big cities – from Reagan’s welfare queens to the recent scaremongering about San Franciscan Nancy Pelosi becoming speaker of the House. City dwellers, we’re told, are not part of “real America.” No doubt this division made more sense in the early days of the Republic, when the U.S. was more than 90 percent rural. But today, only 20 percent of Americans live in rural areas. And whatever you think about the culture of urban life, it is an undeniable fact that the big cities are footing the bill for the residents of so-called “real America.” Blue states consistently pay more in taxes than they receive in federal assistance; the opposite is true for the red states. Why? Because cities like New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco, despite their welfare queens, are tremendous engines of wealth creation. The right wing might still evoke gay marriage and beatniks when it slurs the “radical” Bay Area, but in terms of tax revenues – not to mention global brands – Apple and Google are much more representative of Bay Area values.
It’s one thing to celebrate the values of the American farmer and small-town civility. It’s another thing for city dwellers to be lectured about urban depravity and the “heartland” way of life, when cities are partially subsidizing that way of life.
I was born, raised, and educated through my college years in small Iowa towns; but, March 1, 2007 will mark my 10th year as a Manhattanite. My subjective experience supports everything Mr. Johnson has written in “Real America.”
In my parent's rural county in Iowa, an incumbent Democratic State Senator recently beat back a challenge from a Republican who seemed to feel that extending the socially, psychologically, and economically stabilizing benefits of marriage to committed couples of the same sex was the greatest threat to the Hawkeye State. Forget that Iowa’s hugely geriatric population suffers under unaffordable prescription drug plans; forget that from the candidates’ own district Maytag pulled up stakes and fled the state, forget that Iowa has lost a greater percentage of its natural habitat than any other state (less than 1% of Iowa is prairie ecosystem).
No, in rural America, warring against cosmopolitanism, diversity, the extension of civil rights, science education, and immigrants is not only common, but it is often framed as a battle against expressly urban culture—America’s cities, or at least what are perceived to be those cities’ values: the code words like “liberal elite” and “Easterners,” the names “San Francisco” and “New York City” used as shibboleths meaning, essentially, “not really America.”
It's time for that to stop. Rural and urban America need each other. Urban America would literally starve without rural America, and rural America forgets too often that the cities provide most of the horsepower of the republic's economy. Our cities' infrastructures are shockingly fragile, and in the event of major disaster need resources from rural areas. Rural America under-appreciates how dependent it can be on technological innovation birthed in urban environments. And both rural and urban America are to blame for grossly polluting our nation--pesticides, carbon-based energy, the destruction of natural habitat. Rural and urban America are in this together.