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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Urban Archipelago… How Quaint.

posted by on October 25 at 9:15 AM

I’m in Montana, working on a story for next week’s Stranger. It’s a story about the upcoming Congressional elections and it’s taken me east, into those bad, bad rural lands that the editors of this paper lashed out against after John Kerry’s defeat in 2004.

I’ve passed through places like Moses Lake, Spokane, Coeur d’Alene, and Butte. You know, places where people like guns and fiscal conservatism and… Democrats?

Here in red Montana, as even the conservative Weekly Standard has noticed, a new generation of rural Democrats seems ascendant. (In fact, in this state the close race between Democratic farmer Jon Tester and Republican Senator Conrad Burns could well determine whether Democrats control the Senate after November 7th.)

It’s a phenomenon not limited to Montana. As the Washington Post reported yesterday, rural Democratic Congressional candidates are gaining against Republicans in eastern Washington and Idaho — Idaho! — in a development that is freaking out Republican leaders.

All of which makes The Stranger’s extremely popular Urban Archipelago manifesto from 2004 seem… well… I know others have had harsher words for it, but since I work with a lot of the people who wrote it I’ll stick with quaint.

More on this topic in next week’s issue, but for now, a few selections from “The Urban Archipelago” that you certainly won’t hear seconded on the campaign trail by Tester — a pro-gun-rights organic farmer from Big Sandy (pop. 710) who doesn’t like the way the war in Iraq is going, doesn’t want the government interfering in a woman’s choices about her health, does’t bash stem cell research, and currently leads his Republican opponent (just barely) in the polls.

For Democrats, it’s the cities, stupid—not the rural areas, not the prickly, hateful “heartland,” but the sane, sensible cities—including the cities trapped in the heartland. Pandering to rural voters is a waste of time.
To red-state voters, to the rural voters, residents of small, dying towns, and soulless sprawling exburbs, we say this: Fuck off. Your issues are no longer our issues.
Wal-Mart is not an urban issue. Neither is gun control. Our new position: We’ll fight to keep guns off the streets of our cities, but the more guns lying around out there in the heartland, the better… If a kid in a red state finds his daddy’s handgun and blows his head off, we’ll feel terrible (we’re like that), but we’ll try to look on the bright side: At least he won’t grow up to vote like his dad…

We officially no longer give a shit when family farms fail. Fewer family farms equal fewer rural voters. We will, however, continue to support small faggy organic farms, as we are willing to pay more for free-range chicken and beef from non-cannibal cows.

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.

In short, we’re through with you people.

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As the dissenting member of the group that was forced to write the UA, don't think I didn't have a hidden agenda when I suggested you go to Montana to cover the Tester race.

Thank you. I've been wanting to say that shit for 2 years.

Posted by Josh Feit | October 25, 2006 9:48 AM

CNN had an interesting broken government segment of their series last night that discussed this very same issue. they made a distinction between the new deal and JFK democrats and the post-vietnam war democrats. david "mudcat" saunders summed it up best as "old timey" democracts that had two pictures on their wall, FDR and Jesus.

"Mudcat" also had something interesting to say about the democrats who live in the urban archipelago: "The only real tolerance that these people exhibit is for their own intellectual arrogance."

It was a pretty interesting perspective into the type of democrat the average urban liberal would assume are republicans. If this is the angle you are covering for your story, I'm really looking forward to reading it.

Posted by charles | October 25, 2006 9:58 AM

This doesn't really change the main point behind the UA concept: urban people should feel free to vote in a self-interested way. If rural folks agree and vote with us, great. The more people who want to keep their rights, the merrier!

Posted by Violet_DaGrinder | October 25, 2006 10:15 AM

well... except that as the last elections have shown, when you throw out the rural folks you lose elections. consistently.

Posted by charles | October 25, 2006 10:18 AM

another mudcat quote:

SouthNow: Why did the Democrats lose in 2004?

Mudcat: They can't fuckin count. That's the Democrats' problem. You don't get in the football game and punt on first down. You concede nothing. We condeded 20 states at first and then six more by Labor Day. That's 227 electoral votes. Bush only needed 18 percent of the remaining electoral votes to win.

Posted by charles | October 25, 2006 10:20 AM

Violet Dagrinder,
The UA posited a strategy for the Democratic party to craft a message that left the rural and exurban voters out. Is that what's happening in Montana? Nope.

Posted by Josh Feit | October 25, 2006 10:21 AM

What charles said in #4. Bill Clinton won both his elections by carrying many of those red states the UA suggests be given up and ignored, as have many, many Dem presidents.

Posted by Gomez | October 25, 2006 10:25 AM

Well, the Urban Archipelago piece was a response—a quick-turn, reflexive, emotional response—to how shitty and rejected we, as urban voters, felt after the election. If we feel positive and positively welcome now, I'm glad that UA is looking quaint. But that doesn't change the fact that urban values are real.

Or have you forgotten Andersen already? I hope Tester wins, but he's against gay marriage as well as gun control, and I don't intend to sign up for his agenda if the Democrats recapture the Senate any more than a rural Christian conservative would shrug and embrace Roe if that's what it took.

Posted by annie | October 25, 2006 10:25 AM

In 'true' Democrat fashion, Feit is our working-class hero.

Posted by rocktober | October 25, 2006 10:28 AM

oops, i meant 'zero' - goofy mistake, i stubbed my toe a minute ago, ouch!

Posted by rocktober | October 25, 2006 10:36 AM

Please save the mea culpa's for post-November 7th.

Posted by DOUG. | October 25, 2006 10:37 AM

Meanwhile in Tennessee, the Republicans are freaking out and putting out ads that are basically saying, "The blacks are going to take your white girls."

Posted by SeMe | October 25, 2006 10:51 AM

The UA was always bullshit. To cede rural America to the Republicans is stupid. There are many working class issues that resonate with rural voters. Urban residents that sneer at rural folks are no more noble than rural bumpkins that mock city values.

Yes--I know someone will say that folks shouldn't be living in small towns anymore. If life were a textbook that would be true, but people have their own deep roots everywhere. Time to get past the shallow charecterizations and to look for common causes to build progressive coalitions.

Posted by born in Spokane | October 25, 2006 11:26 AM

Being honest, reading the UA article was deeply satisfying after the 2004 election. And *some* of the points in it are still quite valid. Example: Urban areas still pick up the tab of most of the governmental spending, receiving back far less than is sent out.

Read as a response to the paternalistic "we know what's best for your sinful selves" rural right-wingers, it is understandable. (Any one else remember the "Out of the way liberal pussies. We'll protect you." posters from ca 2003?)

Most of us have moved on from the ugly morning after two years ago. Look at Howard Dean's 50 State strategy. His political support is primarily young and liberal urbanites. After getting control of the levers of power, he focused on re-building a nationwide Democratic party, including both Seattle and Montana.

Posted by golob | October 25, 2006 11:30 AM

It was also a response to "personal responsibility", "self-reliance" rural voters. Rural America takes more government hand-outs and is less self-reliant than Urban America.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 25, 2006 12:12 PM

Keshmeshi, true, but they believe that urbanites owe them. One of the contentious issues in New York, that got Pataki elected and has helped strengthen the Republican hold on the state, is the Albany argument that too many resources are wasted supporting the city. What they fail to mention is that, without NYC, the rest of the state would economically die.

Posted by dewsterling | October 25, 2006 12:36 PM

I was one of the non-dissenters who wrote a section of the UA, and while I certainly don't feel that way anymore, I don't feel any urge to disavow either the spirit or the letter of that crie de coeur (well, maybe a line or two), naive though some of it may have been. It certainly wasn't "Fuck the South," the piece that started circulating a week or so later. It wasn't Bertrand Russell, but goddamn. Bush's victory felt like a personal defeat. It still does, but the anger and disgust has evolved.

Like Annie said, that piece was an emotional purge, an attempt to claim some kind of righteousness (or, ok, self-righteousness) in the wake of an election that left many of us feeling utterly bereft, disenfranchised, and impotent.

And while Eli is a smart cookie whom I respect a great deal, I urge him to extend his little road trip a few 100 miles east or south (or west) and see if he still finds non-urban America to be such a bastion of unlikely liberalism. I love the idea that there has been progress, but rural types voting for a few democrats doesn't mean that America is getting any less fractious, provincial, conservative, or Christ-laden. It means that the dems may finally be learning how to effectively pander to them.

But really, D vs. R doesn't have much to do with it. Polls don't have much to do with it, either. People are coming no closer together, the world is getting uglier, and the people who run the government seem less interested than ever in working to remedy the situation in any meaningful way.

Posted by SEAN NELSON, EMERITUS | October 25, 2006 1:05 PM

Sean --

Speaking of catharsis, your cartoon in that same edition of the stranger is an all time classic. Perfectly encapsulated how many of us felt that night.

Posted by golob | October 25, 2006 1:19 PM

Hey Eli,

Make sure to ask around in MT about a comparatively little known scandal that I think played a major role in the collapse of the GOP in the state: Montana Power. It was the perfect example of a well regulated public benefit monopoly: built with taxpayer dollars, providing good jobs, some of the lowest electric rates in the nation, and paying a steady dividend that made it a classic "widows and orphans" stock.

Then in the '90s, the MT GOP caught deregulation fever and pushed through a bill written by industry lobbyists. Montana Power ended up selling off all the power plants that built the company to go into the fiber optics business at the height of the .com boom.

Needless to say, it didn't end well. Electric rates skyrocketed, retirees ended up holding a penny stock that owned nearly worthless assets, and only management and investment bankers made money. I think it turned a lot of Montana voters off the free market gospel the GOP likes to preach. 60 Minutes did a great piece on it.

Posted by Some Jerk | October 25, 2006 1:42 PM

Somebody's going to write a really funny book someday about all the governments that went into the fiber optic business like that. Millions of miles of forever dark fiber. We'll probably end up with a really great network of the stuff someday, but it'll be owned by private companies, and the stuff the cities and states laid will not be a part of it.

Posted by Fnarf | October 25, 2006 4:25 PM

I don't think governments were necessarily any worse than the private sector in foreseeing the changing market. Tacoma saw the real bottleneck wasn't going to be long distance fiber, but last mile connections. The Click! fiber optic network they built was a good investment in breaking the Comcast monopoly. I wish I could get 8 mbps for $55. Not to mention basic cable for $26.

Posted by Some Jerk | October 25, 2006 5:35 PM

I felt exactly the same after the last election. But the truth is, it's the Dems' fault. They have let the rural voter operate under the false assumption that Republicans care about them. Sure, they may win votes on certain social issues, like abortion, but (and Some Jerk did an excellent job of pointing this out) screw rural voters economically. Dems should be shouting off the rooftops that the GOP is for the rich and the very rich. They only claim to care about "family values" to get those votes.

Posted by Dianna | October 25, 2006 6:45 PM

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