Are people who live in cities real Americans? NRO says no!

By Michelle Goldberg
Published October 27, 2004 4:20PM (EDT)

Of all the Republican arguments for maintaining the Electoral College, the one that Gary L. Gregg makes today in the National Review Online is both the most honest and the most appalling. Gregg's piece, titled a "Counting the Real People's Vote" argues that without the electoral advantage given to small, rural red states, American elections would be dominated by "a metropolitan elite who distain the cultures and values of middle America." In other words, the urban vote needs to be diluted because it's so Democratic.

It's perfectly fair to argue that the Electoral College is needed to protect the interests of minority voters against the tyranny of the majority. But Gregg's argument is more sinister. By separating voters into "real people," whose votes should be given extra weight, and the "secular urban base" who don't quite count as fully legitimate citizens, he reveals one of the driving forces behind the modern Republican party -- a party which professes to embody Americanism while hating a great part of America. "Al Gore demonstrated in 2000 that the national popular vote can be won by appealing to a narrow band of the electorate heavily secular, single, and concentrated in cities," Gregg writes. This is an amazing statement -- if this band is so "narrow," how can it also be a major part of a popular majority? The answer, in the right-wing imagination, is that only a certain kind of citizens constitute real Americans, and thus are implicitly deserving of power despite the fact that they're a minority.

"The electoral college is a democratic way of electing presidents that has produced good and moderate candidates in the past and gives some voice to the men and women who serve in the military, raise our families, and keep our communities of faith vibrant entities," he writes. Herein lies a central assumption that has infected America's political discourse -- that people in the so-called red states are somehow more virtuous, more hard-working and more patriotic than the decadent coastal elites. This assumption is why George Bush can so cavalierly insult Massachusetts -- a state that, as president, he ostensibly represents as much he does Alabama -- while John Kerry must genuflect before heartland culture of guns, NASCAR and beer. It's why the patriotism of people on the coasts is considered suspect while the loyalty of the red states is regarded as unquestionable, despite the fact that so much of Southern culture is devoted to celebrating the region's Confederate treason.

Although the self-loathing media perpetuates red-state chauvinism, there's no factual basis for it. As the Economist reported in 2002, despite the American heartlands reputation for self-reliance and entrepreneurial zeal, "Sadly, its true characteristics are not vigour and independence but economic decline and government handouts. The small communities that are supposed to embody the American spirit are, in fact, haemorrhaging jobs, people and wealth." Meanwhile, the kind of poverty and moral decay that the original neoconservatives lamented in Americas inner cities are even more endemic in the middle of the country. "What about the heartland's much-vaunted moral qualities? The Economist asked. "Here again the image of small-town piety bears little relation to reality in rural America. The states that Mr. Bush won in 2000 boast slightly higher rates for murder, illegitimacy and teenage childbirth than the supposedly degenerate states that voted for Mr. Gore."

But the argument that red staters deserve more power because of their virtue would be pernicious even if they were, in fact, virtuous. As Richard Hofstadter tells us his "Anti-Intellectualism in American Life," Hiram W. Evans, the Imperial Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, wrote in 1926 of the struggle between "the great mass of Americans of the old pioneer stock" and the "intellectually mongrelized 'Liberals.'" The language has changed, but the idea remains. Like other Republicans, Gregg seems to believe that some Americans, because of their racial or spiritual authenticity, have the right to rule others. There's a name for that, but it's not democracy.

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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