THE PLANK SEPTEMBER 10, 2009
Riffing on Norman Podhoretz's new book Why Are Jews Liberal?, Robert Stacy McCain offers these thoughts on what he calls the "town-and-country divide" in American politics:
Think of Reagan, riding horses and clearning brush at his ranch -- it is an image that appeals to the "country" side of the town-and-country divide, embodying as it does the antique ideal of the American frontier homesteader.
This "rugged individual" ideal, the self-sufficient property owner zealously guarding his freedom, is intrinsic to what American conservatism is all about, and it is an ideal quite alien to the urban lifestyle. The city-dweller is inherently dependent on public services. He doesn't draw his water from a well, doesn't go out with a chain-saw to supply firewood for the winter, doesn't augment the grocery budget by hunting deer or growing his vegetables.
Also, and I think this is an important point, city people can't drive worth crap. A country boy learns to drive by hot-rodding along winding backroads, often well before he's old enough for a license. Because his home is sometimes quite distant from the places where he works, shops or goes to school, the rural youth has typically driven many hundreds of miles before he turns 18.
The rural American's natural love for the internal combustion engine, and his pride in his automotive skill, has a lot to do with his active hatred of environmentalist wienies who want him to limit his fuel consumption by driving a hybrid or -- God forbid -- taking public transportation. "I drive, therefore I am" is the existential truth of the rural American, a truth that the city-dweller can never truly appreciate.
People tend to vote how they live and, despite the particular cultural differences that influence the politics of American Jews, I suspect that lifestyle has a lot to do with the persistence of liberalism in Jewish politics.
If Messrs. Podhorhetz, et al., wish to promote conservatism among American Jews, let them find some way to encourage Jewish families to move to small towns in the Heartland, where their kids can grow up hunting, fishing and hot-rodding the backroads. A guy with a gun rack in the back window of his four-wheel drive truck may occasionally vote Democrat, but he's extremely unlikely to be an out-and-out liberal.
Granted, McCain's little plan is problematic on about 15 different levels, but the part of it that really gets me is the totally jingoistic, outdated view of "rural America." Maybe it's because I just read Nick Reding's very good book Methland, but I have my doubts that "the small towns in the Heartland" exist as McCain describes them. A Jewish mom and dad who move to the Heartland today are probably more likely to see their kids grow up to be tweakers, not hunters. Also, McCain would do well to pay a visit to Postville, Iowa. The Jewish influx there didn't turn out so well.