Washington Diarist

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APRIL 3, 2006

Washington Diarist

I blame George W. Bush's election for many ills, and, to that list,
I can now add the fact that I have been publicly shamed for not
owning a gun. My unwilling confession took place a month ago, while
I was being interviewed by the right-wing radio talk-show host Hugh
Hewitt. He asked me whether I owned a gun and whether I had ever
owned a gun (in what seemed to be consciously McCarthyite
language). Later, he proceeded with a lengthier inquisition into
whether I had friends or relatives in the military. He asked a
version of this question some half-dozen times. ("Is there anyone
that you want to bring up, like your aunt or your uncle, or the guy
down the street?") I volunteered that my next-door neighbor and
friend is a naval reservist, but this failed to mollify him. "Do
you know anyone who's been back and forth to Iraq and been deployed
there?" he asked. Sadly, I was unable to produce any evidence for
my defense. In the court of right-wing talk radio, I was convicted
of being a blue- state elitist.This is a very odd cultural moment we find ourselves in, where there
is a stigma attached to not owning a gun or not having friends
shipped out to Iraq. This isn't a moral question; military service
is obviously admirable, but knowing people who serve is no more
admirable than knowing people who donate to charity. It's a
cultural question. Since Bush's election, and especially since his
reelection, liberals have grown painfully aware of the cultural gap
with the white working class. The approved liberal posture is
cringing self- flagellation. We brought the catastrophe of the Bush
administration upon ourselves with our latte-sipping ways, and we
must repent. Conservatives are gleefully pressing their advantage.
Did you mourn Dale Earnhardt? Do you sport a mullet? Well, why
not?

David Brooks, in his 2004 book On Paradise Drive, taunted blue-state
liberals: "They can't name five nascar drivers, though stock-car
races are the best-attended sporting events in the country. They
can't tell a military officer's rank by looking at his insignia.
They may not know what soybeans look like growing in the field."
Meanwhile, The Washington Monthly has recently published cover
stories on how Democrats can save hunting and win the trust of
religious voters. You don't see liberals taunting nascar fans who
can't name the host of "Masterpiece Theatre" or conservatives
agonizing over their hemorrhaging support among intellectuals.
Instead, conservatives have indulged in an orgy of reverse
snobbery. Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review in the
summer of 2004, asserted, with his usual insight, that liberals
hate Bush because "he is an unapologetic twanger who likes guns,
barbeques, nascar, `the ranch,' and pick-up trucks." Actually, the
pickups don't bother us, because we realize that Bush primarily
rides in armor-plated limousines like most of us Democrats. But the
barbequing is indeed a real sore point. Damn that barbeque-eating
president!

In yet another nervous liberal attempt to placate the red-state
hordes, The Washington Post recently started a blog called Red
America. The blog's author, displaying a typical hair-trigger
sensitivity to blue-state elitism, used his first entry to flay his
Post editors for their unfamiliarity with the 1984 pro- gun action
flick Red Dawn. He also proceeded to declare, "Red America's
citizens are the political majority." Except that the blue states
accounted for more than half the population in 2000. Conservatives
cope with this inconvenient fact by redefining blue states as a few
urban enclaves and making a fetish of the political map, with its
misleadingly large, depopulated red states. To take a typical
example, a 2004 postelection Wall Street Journal column by Daniel
Henninger announced triumphantly, "[I]f you adjust the map's colors
for votes by county ... even the blue states turn mostly red.
Pennsylvania is blue, but, between blue Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,
every county in the state is red. California, except for the
coastline, is almost entirely red." This is a persuasive point if
you believe in the principle of one acre, one vote.

Tom Wolfe recently took this analysis a step further, declaring that
the blue-state elites are not part of the United States of America.
"They literally do not set foot in the United States. We live in
New York in one of the two parenthesis states. They're usually
called blue states--they're not blue states, the states on the
coast. They're parenthesis states--the entire country lives in
between." I wonder if Wolfe and his fellow travelers realize how
much their mau-mauing of blue staters is, well, Maoist. Mao, like
the contemporary American right, saw his country as divided between
the great virtuous, patriotic interior and the decadent, traitorous
coastal cities. Intellectuals-- or, in the Maoist parlance, the
"stinking ninth category," a phrase so pungent and catchy I can't
believe Bill O'Reilly hasn't picked it up yet--were forcibly
relocated from the cosmopolitan cities to the countryside to "learn
from the poor and lower middle peasants."

The contemporary GOP, thankfully, has yet to imitate this practice,
but my neoconservative friend Lawrence F. Kaplan has taken it upon
himself. Writing in this space last year, Kaplan described how,
after a lifetime of living in New York and Washington, he moved to
a small town in Virginia, where, at last, he found himself among
his ideological brethren. Delighted to leave behind his
"soft-handed colleagues" at The New Republic, he reported that the
national spirit indeed runs deeper among these simple village folk.
"Dozens of them are serving, willingly and proudly, in Iraq and
Afghanistan," he wrote. "In the breadth of their civic attachments,
it seems to me that they, more than most of their critics, most
faithfully embody the American ideal." And these unpretentious
patriots welcomed him. Sort of. After an awkward breaking-in
period, Kaplan was pleased to report, "No one pinches my fiancee
anymore; no one charges me

$500 to change the oil in my car; cops no longer pull me over for
fun." Grain production is way up, and sexual assaults,
price-gouging, and state- sponsored harassment have all plummeted,
thanks to the efforts of our heroic peasants. I bet San Francisco
and the Upper West Side can't match those achievements.

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