I picked up a copy of The Stranger this weekend (Seattle's largest, and arguably best, indie newspaper, for those who don't live here), and found a compelling article on what they refer to as the Urban Archipelago. This article is now online, and contains some pretty interesting observations:
- Take a look at the second map. This map shows a county-by-county red/blue breakdown, and it provides a clearer picture of the bind the Democrats finds themselves in. The majority of the blue states--Washington, Oregon, California, Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware--are, geographically speaking, not blue states. They are blue cities.
Look at our famously blue West Coast. But for the cities--Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego--the West Coast would be a deep, dark red. The same is true for other nominally blue states. Illinois is almost entirely red--Chicago turns the state blue. Michigan is almost entirely red--Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo turn it blue. And on and on. What tips these states into the blue column? Their urban areas do, their big, populous counties.
It's time for the Democrats to face reality: They are the party of urban America. If the cities elected our president, if urban voters determined the outcome, John F. Kerry would have won by a landslide. Urban voters are the Democratic base.
It's time to state something that we've felt for a long time but have been too polite to say out loud: Liberals, progressives, and Democrats do not live in a country that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to Mexico. We live on a chain of islands. We are citizens of the Urban Archipelago, the United Cities of America. We live on islands of sanity, liberalism, and compassion--New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, St. Louis, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and on and on. And we live on islands in red states too--a fact obscured by that state-by-state map. Denver and Boulder are our islands in Colorado; Austin is our island in Texas; Las Vegas is our island in Nevada; Miami and Fort Lauderdale are our islands in Florida. Citizens of the Urban Archipelago reject heartland "values" like xenophobia, sexism, racism, and homophobia, as well as the more intolerant strains of Christianity that have taken root in this country. And we are the real Americans. They--rural, red-state voters, the denizens of the exurbs--are not real Americans. They are rubes, fools, and hate-mongers. Red Virginia prohibits any contract between same-sex couples. Compassionate? Texas allows the death penalty to be applied to teenaged criminals and has historically executed the mentally retarded. (When the Supreme Court ruled executions of the mentally retarded unconstitutional in 2002, Texas officials, including Governor Rick Perry, responded by claiming that the state had no mentally retarded inmates on death row--a claim the state was able to make because it does not test inmates for mental retardation.) Dumb? The Sierra Club has reported that Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee squander over half of their federal transportation money on building new roads rather than public transit.
- To all those who live in cities--to all those depressed Kerry supporters out there--we say take heart. Clearly we can't control national politics right now--we can barely get a hearing. We can, however, stay engaged in our cities, and make our voices heard in the urban areas we dominate, and make each and every one, to quote Ronald Reagan (and John Winthrop, the 17th-century Puritan Reagan was parroting), "a city on a hill." This is not a retreat; it is a long-term strategy for the Democratic Party to cater to and build on its base.
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. We're going to battle our bleeding-heart instincts and ignore pangs of misplaced empathy. We will no longer concern ourselves with a health care crisis that disproportionately impacts rural areas. Instead we will work toward winning health care one blue state at a time.
When it comes to the environment, our new policy is this: Let the heartland live with the consequences of handing the national government to the rape-and-pillage party. The only time urbanists should concern themselves with the environment is when we are impacted--directly, not spiritually (the depressing awareness that there is no unspoiled wilderness out there doesn't count). Air pollution, for instance: We should be aggressive. If coal is to be burned, it has to be burned as cleanly as possible so as not to foul the air we all have to breathe. But if West Virginia wants to elect politicians who allow mining companies to lop off the tops off mountains and dump the waste into valleys and streams, thus causing floods that destroy the homes of the yokels who vote for those politicians, it no longer matters to us. Fuck the mountains in West Virginia--send us the power generated by cleanly burned coal, you rubes, and be sure to wear lifejackets to bed.
Wal-Mart is a rapacious corporation that pays sub-poverty-level wages, offers health benefits to its employees that are so expensive few can afford them, and destroys small towns and rural jobs. Liberals in big cities who have never seen the inside of a Wal-Mart spend a lot of time worrying about the impact Wal-Mart is having on the heartland. No more. We will do what we can to keep Wal-Mart out of our cities and, if at all possible, out of our states. We will pass laws mandating a living wage for full-time work, upping the minimum wage for part-time work, and requiring large corporations to either offer health benefits or pay into state- or city-run funds to provide health care for uninsured workers. That will reform Wal-Mart in our blue cities and states or, better yet, keep Wal-Mart out entirely. And when we see something on the front page of the national section of the New York Times about the damage Wal-Mart is doing to the heartland, we will turn the page. 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. Most cities have strong gun-control laws--laws that are, of course, undermined by the fact that our cities aren't walled. Yet. But why should liberals in cities fund organizations that attempt, to take one example, to get trigger locks onto the handguns of NRA members out there in red states? If red-state dads aren't concerned enough about their own children to put trigger locks on their own guns, it's not our problem. 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 won't demand that the federal government impose reasonable fuel-efficiency standards on all cars sold in the United States. We will, however, strive to pass state laws, as California has done, imposing fuel-efficiency standards on cars sold in our states.
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. We're going to demand that the Democrats focus on building their party in the cities while at the same time advancing a smart urban-growth agenda that builds the cities themselves. The more attractive we make the cities--politically, aesthetically, socially--the more residents and voters cities will attract, gradually increasing the electoral clout of liberals and progressives. For Democrats, party building and city building is the same thing. We will strive to turn red states blue one city at a time.
From here on out, we're glad red-state rubes live in areas where guns are more powerful and more plentiful, cars are larger and faster, and people are fatter and slower and dumber. This is not a recipe for repopulating the Great Plains. And when you look for ways to revive your failing towns and dying rural counties, don't even think about tourism. Who wants to go to small-town America now? You people scare us. We'll island-hop from now on, thank you, spending our time and our money in blue cities. If an urbanite is dying to have a country experience, rural Vermont is lovely. Maple syrup, rolling hills, fly-fishing--everything you could want. Country bumpkins in red rural areas who depend on tourists from urban areas but vote Republican can forget our money.
You've made your choice, red America, and we urban Americans are going to make a different choice. We are going to make Seattle--and New York, Chicago, and the rest--a great place to live, a progressive place. Again, we'll quote Ronald Reagan: We will make each of our cities--each and every one--a shining city on a hill. You can have your shitholes.
The only problem is, of course, that they won't be content with only fucking themselves, they'll want to come and fuck us as well. Which is why I still think the seperate country thing is a good idea. I should flesh that out some more, to respond to some (excellent) reader points about my plan.