As regular readers will know, I am not a fan of culture war arguments brought up over disagreements about high speed rail or, well, much of anything. Too often, when people drag out the culture war arguments, it’s a thinly veiled way of saying “If you don’t agree with me and my democratic preferences, you must be some ignorant bohunkus who spends his Saturday nights jumping over clods of dirt, shooting holes in stop signs, and trying to impregnate his 16 year-old girlfriend in the back of his pickup.” I also hate histrionic headlines that use “war on” when what the author means, if people were acting like grown-ups, is “opposition.”
Gingerich has certainly indulged in this type of politics with his comments about Manhattanites and “going on the metro” and I read a bunch of conservative papers, like the Washington Times, that like to trade on similar cultural imagery about “the chattering class” and “the cocktail class.” What, Republicans don’t drink cocktails? (If not, they really should. Cocktails are one of mankind’s best inventions, like foot massages and shampoo that smells like strawberries. If you don’t drink alcohol, then get a Shirley Temple. Yum.)
In general, I’ve always enjoyed Will Doig’s writing, but his entry for Salon.com rather falls into the “TEA partiers should stop manipulating the ignorant bohunkuses by trading in stereotypes about city dwellers and start seeing the wisdom inherent in our priorities and democratic preferences” tactic in political arguments. Go check it out and see what see what you think.
That stuff doesn’t strike me as being particularly useful, and I also think Doig is a bit wrong in painting the House actions as simple TEA party politics, and I also think he’s misinterpreting Reagen’s actions in creating the Mass Transit Fund. (As I argued yesterday, that might have been just as easy a way to keep transit funding restricted as it was a “boon” to transit. See arguments about scattered light rail investments rather than larger, separately funded mass transit investments.)
More than anything, a lot of the culture war imagery just reminds me of how debased the discussion about social class is in the United States. It’s a discussion polluted by these stupid stereotypes about who eats what, who reads what, who lives where–and not about wealth, racism, and power. And please. The big questions in cultural difference deal in matters of oppression for those who, unlike Doig and urban dwellers like him, are actually victims of cultural violence: women who are punished for being rape victims, girls bought and sold, etc. The fact that some people don’t want to pay for your transit strikes me as, well, less of a pressing intercultural difference than whether your husband can murder you for failing to produce sons.
Who lives where in the US is not unrelated to wealth and power, certainly, but I doubt that the issues about how to provide public transit fall into that discussion.
Mostly, culture war arguments are lazy. Both sides use culture war arguments to whine and accuse rather than getting off their butts and constructing principled arguments. For example, I have yet to hear one compelling reason why the Federal government is a better funder of sidewalks and bike lanes than states or cities, other than the typical arguments that “those things are good for us!” Of course they are. Why can’t you fund them at the city, or in the case of transit, the state level?
(Tomorrow, I’ll try to construct a principled argument for federalism in transit, I promise, now that I’ve played devil’s advocate for a bit.)