A tale of two ladies
The first of the two ladies in question being Ann Coulter, a frighteningly rightwing television person, and exactly the kind of racy blonde1 that I don’t hang around with any more since I set up home with the second, my own dearest Tess. (edit: Oh all bloody right then, I never used to hang around with racy blondes).
As far as I can tell, Ms Coulter is chiefly famous for writing a scurrilous book called “Slander”, in which she makes the point, at length, that the intelligent, well-groomed and personable Americans we see on our TV screens and in newspapers are by no means typical of that country, and that the vast majority of American citizens are less well-educated, more insular and in most respects nastier. I don’t know quite why she wants to portray such a bleak picture of that great land; perhaps she is a fifth-columnist of some sort. In any case, she’s always banging on about the subject, and has become quite a popular hate figure among my American lefty chums. I dare say that if you click on the Maxspeak link in my right column and then click on any of his links to lefty weblogs (the ease of doing this is the main reason why I haven’t bothered updating a proper link list of my own; sorry), then you’re more likely than not to come across at least one post by an angry male American leftist explaining why she’s absolutely horrible and they don’t fancy her one tiny bit. All good clean fun.
But anyway, what I’m concerned with here is the main thesis of Ms Coulter’s book, an idea which goes back to HL Mencken, that there are two Americas; a decent, intelligent, civilised one which is based in the great metropolises of the two coasts, and a horrible, stupid semi-human rabble organising Anti-Saloon Leagues and lynchings in the vast wasteland in the middle. Personally, I don’t think it’s that clear-cut; I’ve known a fair few Texans, and I spent a year growing up in Oklahoma, and there were lots of rather intelligent and good-natured people there. But let’s for the sake of argument assume that Mencken and Coulter are right, and that the majority of the low-population density states are full of what Karl Marx (who agreed with Coulter and Mencken on this issue) called “the idiocy of rural life”.
This would be the basis for the single most intelligent thing I’ve heard said about the 2000 presidential elections, which was said by Tess on the night itself. The points about whether the election was “stolen” or not, or whatever, are by the by. The really interesting and worrying thing about the 2000 elections was that, for the first time in a long time, the guy who got elected as President did so without winning a single one of the states where I, as a reasonably well-educated and Yankophile foreigner, might possibly want to live. The glamour of California? Blue state. The hustle and bustle and sophistication of New York? Blue. The quiet and scholarly elegance of Massachussetts? Blue. The go-getting, can-do spirit of Illinois? Blue. A whole lot of grass and cow shit? Almost exclusively red. The nearest that the Republicans came to a “nice place” was Florida and even then, a) it was a bloody marginal victory if it was a victory at all, and b) it’s not exactly Biarritz, is it? Say “Florida” to ten Brits and you’ll get ten replies of “cheap package holidays”.
So in other words, one has to view American politics now through the lens of the fact that the Stupid Party is in control, and that a lot of the policies we are seeing (as well as being motivated by the War Party in full effect), are motivated by what Mencken called “the yokel’s congenital and incurable hatred of the city man–his simian rage against everyone who, as he sees it, is having a better time than he is”. It strikes me that this is a profoundly important fact for anyone deciding how they are going to vote in the next American election; now that the Republicans know that they can win the nation without tackling such “enclaves” as New York City or Los Angeles, it’s not just a matter of the pro-abortion rightwing capitalist party versus the anti-abortion rightwing capitalist party. The 2004 race can quite simply be seen as a battle for civilisation itself, on a par with the Scopes Monkey Trial. So I may have to drop my usual strict rule of neutrality and insouciance when it comes to American politics, when it gets nearer the date. Of course, this is all conditional upon Coulter, Marx and Mencken being right about how horrible and stupid the inhabitants of “flyover country” are, which I don’t necessarily believe.
Thinking about it, there may be deeper things at work here. Although Ms Coulter clearly dresses like a metropolitan sophisticate of exactly the type I’d like to see running the country, I get the suspicion that “Coulter” is an Irish name. And a quick search reveals I’m right. Specifically, it’s a Scots Irish name with links to Lanarkshire in Scotland and to the unfashionable end of Ulster. “Bog Irish” rather than “Mick Irish”, for those who are au fait with insulting epithets for our Hibernian pals. It’s not a name that you’d expect to find attached to a silver-tongued, blarneying, cheerful Oscar Wildeish, Bernard Shavian, James Joycey happy-go-lucky Irish type. It’s more of a Lambeg Drum type of name, associated with a group of people, the Protestant Ulstermen, who while they have many admirable qualities, are not exactly known the world over for open-mindedness or cosmopolitanism. Which suggests that being a bit on the stubborn and opinionated side is probably in the blood, and that there’s not necessarily all that much that anyone can do about it.
My own dear Tess, of course, is a Cockney Sparrer a city girl through and through, and speaking as a Welsh yokel myself (with ancestry in the hardly swinging County Mayo), I don’t think I could love anyone who wasn’t.
1The link appears to be to “Jewish World Review”, but as I mention, I’m pretty sure that she’s not Jewish. I suppose she could be like Jennifer Aniston or something, but it’s an Irish name. Maybe the Jewish World Review has an affirmative action programme for Gentiles or something. In any case, whether or not she is, obviously no anti-Semitic implication is intended.
edit: There is something of a controversy over whether states which voted Democrat should be coloured “blue” or “red”. The current reading of the article is supported by USA Today. Please make allowances if you disagree.