Saturday, September 6, 2008

Guest Authors

Gentlemen named Eric and John have left comments on my post expressing skepticism about Palin's real contribution to preserving small town life. They are so good they deserve marquee billing:

Eric wrote:

It is for the reasons offered here that I cannot in good faith understand the glowing reaction to Palin's speech. As a lifelong South Carolinian, gun owner, hunter, fisher, evangelical Christian, small town married guy with kids, I am an admirer of all the things that Palin is claimed to represent. But, other than identifying herself as such, what did Palin say that would help preserve this way of life? What Republican policy would further it?

The specific policies mentioned here (restrictive zoning, gas taxes, public transportation) are all Democratic territory, are they not? I work for local government and, at least at that level, they are. When we try to restrict land use to encourage infill development and prevent suburban sprawl, it's the republican land rights absolutists that are against us. When we try to move the county farmers' market to local, sustainable produce, our supporters are democrats. When we try to force the local Wal-Mart to stay in its existing building, rather than move two miles further out and leave another deserted strip mall behind, the local Chamber of Commerce republicans wear us out. When we complete a public transportation center to get people to work, the disgruntled residents are republican tax hawks. And so on, on things from afterschool mentoring to sidewalks to green space in low-income neighborhoods. The point is that whenever we take action to create a uniquely local, self-sustaining, pedestrian accessible community, it's Palin's party that obstructs us. And I didn't hear anything in her speech to make me think she is different.

All of which is why, in the end, I remain puzzled. I can see two things that today's republicans, even with Palin, offer to traditionalists like me. First, I am pro-life, and this may well be determinative. If that decides the entire issue, fine, but we need not cede every other issue in the immensely complex welter of political discourse to this republican party. Second, and I sadly think that for many people this carries the day, they offer an aesthetic affirmation of a cultural identity. This is where Palin excelled, of course, in presenting an authentic and most likely sincere testament to the virtue of such a culture. But I worry that this testament is being deployed in service of the party that has impaired that culture. It is for this reason that I find myself liking Palin, but still unpersuaded to vote for her ticket.

And John wrote:

I can echo Eric's post.

As someone who lives in an infill house in a historic, but neglected, urban neighborhood in Macon, GA, I have a little experience with some of the issues he raised..

The city I live in is controlled by Democrats who have done an admirable job trying to bring new business and housing to the downtown area. The city government has partnered with private corporations, foundations, and my employer to provide subsidies for people to build infill housing or restore older homes. So far the results have been mostly positive--crime rates are down, derelict housing is disappearing, homeownership is on the rise, and the neighborhood is pleasant and walkable. Yet, the local Democratic party is rife with corruption and fiscally irresponsible, thus undercutting much of the good they have done.

On the other hand, the Republicans who control the county surrounding our city have no interest in the city's revitalization. They give property tax breaks to any developer that wants to build a big box mall next to an interstate exit. Each one of these malls siphons away business from the city and encourages exurbs to follow in their wake.

The result--I live in a great neighborhood where I walk my kids to school and myself to work, but I have to drive to buy food, clothing, or gasoline. Church is 20 minutes away. When I tell people from the suburbs where I live, I am greeted with shock and misplaced pity.

I bring all this up to say that the Republican party, for whom I have voted most of the time, is the chief culprit in supporting an economic system that is the enemy of real places that are inhabited by people with roots in that place.

The dilemma for me is that the other side is not much better. If Republicans are guilty of bleeding traditional culture to death through their mindless support for the "global economy", more oil drilling and the exurbs, Democrats seem to be militantly in favor of destroying that same culture albeit for different reasons.

I have real problems with some of the reasons that McCain nominated Palin (her inexperience, the loose ends that she has in Alaska, her lifelong membership in the NRA), but when those who identified themselves as liberal commentators mocked her family size, her pro-life stance, her faith, and her small-town origins, it touched a nerve. So much so that I will probably be voting for John McCain in the fall, despite the fact that I share most of Patrick's concerns about the McCain/Palin ticket.

I am beginning to think that those of us who value places and connection and an unhurried family life are pretty rare or too silent. We have no natural political allies and we are unlikely to get any soon.

So the best we can do is join the PTA, neighborhood watch, community garden, etc., and keep faith with our families, friends, and neighbors. I know that is not much but it might be enough, for now.

Thanks, both, for these thoughtful and category-breaking comments.

I wonder how many there are like this? Maybe more than we think...


brierrabbit said...

Both commenters said what I wanted to say, only better. Sarah Palin is an atrractive person, but still pushes the same line. "Lets get bigger, more consumption, more development, etc." I grew up in Arizona, so I am familiar with McCain. I saw the Sonoran desert, the biologically richest desert in the world, overrun with sprawl around Phoenix, and Tucson. Wasteful water use, etc. Obama uses crooks to buy his house,goes to church with preachers who seem to preach bigotry, etc. I don't want perfection, just someone who loves the individual places of America, not just the IDEA of it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

If you want your area to grow - and thus employ plumbers, surveyors, contractors, etc - I don't see the alternative to what is called "sprawl." I live in southern NH, an area that has had economic growth parallel its increased population. Places I knew as forest as a child now have houses. But with the national population still growing, what is the alternative? Artificially supporting living and business arrangements that cannot sustain themselves ultimately ends in disaster.

I hear and understand the wistfulness. But is it reasonable?

Ventura City Manager Rick Cole said...

There is a party for all of you . . . the Congress for New Urbanism! Seriously, many of us who support localism feel lost by the embrace of bigness by both political parties.