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Northeastern provincialism

Living in the New York City area during this election season has finally clarified what bugs me most about living in the Northeast: it's the provincialism.

I know that probably sounds nonsensically ironic coming from someone who spent most of his life in the Carolinas, but here's the deal. It's not so much the provincialism that troubles me, so much as the complete lack of self-awareness that accompanies it.

A religious fundamentalist living in the South or the Midwest, for example, may be rigid and close-minded, but chances are he doesn't pretend to be otherwise. Not so among the Northeastern provincials. They fancy themselves tolerant and open-minded, when the fact is that many of them reject anyone who doesn't think exactly as they do. The religious fundie strikes me as more honest than the Manhattan liberal, quick to disparage provincialism in red-state America, while oblivious to its pervasiveness here.

I can't tell you the number of times when people in New York or Hoboken have simply assumed that I'm supporting Kerry, merely because... well, because I live here, I suppose. Because I happen to be talking with them at that instant, and they can't fathom the possibility that there could be actually Bush-supporters living in their midst and moving in their circles.

Here's an anecdote to help illustrate my point. A Hoboken schoolteacher approached my wife a few days ago, and told her of a recent conference she'd had with one of her student's parents. The teacher was aghast with horror that the girl's father had shown up wearing a Bush/Cheney button (mind you, Kerry/Edwards buttons are very nearly regulation attire in Hudson County these days).

"It just goes to show you what kind of people they are," the teacher said. "It's really colored the way I view the entire family -- even the girl, although I know it's not her fault." The girl in question is in the first grade! Now granted, my wife is a Kerry supporter, but this woman didn't know that. It was an assumption, based (I believe) on a narrow-minded form of soft bigotry. This is but one example of the kind of thing we experience every day.

I suppose I shouldn't be insulted when these people assume I'm a Kerry man. I take it for evidence that they don't view me as either

  1. evil, or
  2. stupid,

which to their minds, are the only conceivable reasons anyone would vote for Bush. Think I'm exaggerating? You'd be amazed at some of the pronouncements I've heard coming from otherwise intelligent people regarding this election:

  • "If Bush wins this election, we may never have another one."
  • "Bush has declared war on women, and if he gets re-elected, we'll probably all have to wear burqas."
  • "A second Bush term will complete our transition to a fascist country."

Please, people. You don't have to like the guy, but this kind of hysteria is unbecoming. I know you consider this an important election, but these breathless assertions that the fate of Christendom hangs in the balance is simply crap.

So when I classify this attitude as provincialism, I'm not being hypocritical. Rather, as a Southerner, I know provincialism when I see it. Many conservative members of my own family do exactly the same thing. They act as if homosexuals, people who have had abortions, or people who occasionally smoke marijuana, for example, are some kind of aliens or something. They are absolutely convinced that they've never even interacted with such people, because it's inconceivable that such people would exist amongst their friends and their family.

I try to tell them to wake up. I try to convince them that these people are, in fact, all around them. They work with them, go to school with them, and go to church with them, whether they realize it or not. They are real people, just like you and me, and the sooner you learn and accept that, the better off you'll be. Your horizons will expand.

And I have the same advice for Northeastern provincials. Wake up, people. We Bush supporters are all around you. We are not some fringe, extremist group, but, by any measure, half the goddamn country. Even in Hudson County, even in Manhattan, we are all around you: we are your friends, your neighbors and your co-workers. We may not admit it, given the current climate, and we may in fact deny it. But we are here, and we're not aliens. We are not all stupid, and we are not all evil. Many of us are quite educated, and highly informed. Even (dare I say it?) "enlightened."

Take your blinders off. It's time to expand your horizons, and shed that "big city" provincialism.

It'll be good for you.


Try wearing a "W 2004" on the Upper West Side of Manhattan some time. Fortunately, I look a lot more dangerous then I actually am, so I never get physically assaulted. But the verbal assaults can be astonishing.

I've had old men stop to scream "Hitler, Hitler, Hitler" at me and old ladies scream strings of obscenities at me that even my wife would never think of.

Younger guys will often take the time and trouble to stop, and try to persuade me to their point of view by yelling some mindless slogan at me and some of the braver ones will even spit in my direction, although they seldom actually try to hit me unless they are speeding by on a bicycle.

I get the most interesting reactions from young women, but some will make dramatic gestures of fright and disgust at the sight of my W-cap -- I get the same reaction even when I'm not wearing the cap, so I'm not sure if it is actually a political statement.

I'm glad to see someone else write what I've always thought. As someone who lives in the west, I've always viewed the east coast as very provincial, even though I'd never thought to use that word. Whether it's the liberals in the north or the conservatives in the south, that "our way is the only way" notion is very much prevalent. Out here, we may be politically conservative, but there is much more emphasis on people's individuality, and their freedom to choose what works for them.

The Upper West Side, like Cambridge in Massachusetts, is so far to the left that most liberals find themselves on the right of many discussions. I remember one time sitting in on a discussion and they were discussing "true socialism." I listened for some time, then I asked one model of socialism they wanted to bring to the United States. The answer was a system used by some aboriginal tribes in Australia. (I was the only dissenter. I kid you not.)

The Northeast is as segregated as any other region in the country. New Jersey towns are most often strongly identified by politics, race, or national origin. I happen to now live in a town that will probably vote 3:1 for Bush. For weeks, Bush signs were everywhere and I only this past weekend grew the courage to put out a Kerry sign when I saw my neighbor put out one. Although I have to say, this town is pretty much like where I grew up. No one talks about politics much -- or, if politics comes up at in the line at the local library, views are hinted at very subtly. (People are more concerned with real bears than any metaphorical bear in a campaign commercial.)

That said, as mush as I insist that Manhattan is part of this great country, it is definitely unique in that there to be weird is to be normal. Yes, that is true on many college campuses and even Texas has Austin, but Manhattan is built in such a way that one doesn't need a car so one never has the impetus to leave the island. So it does become kind of a Never-Never land. (Going to Hoboken or Brooklyn doesn't count. If you want to leave the libs behind, you got to get in a car and drive.)

Welcome to Hudson County, Barry.

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