Salon readers debate whether liberals should embrace states' rights.

By Salon Staff
Published November 18, 2004 11:22PM (UTC)
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[Read "If at First You Don't Secede," by Michelle Goldberg.]

I've read the various "secession" opinions, and heard many people argue that the red and blue states just live in different countries and don't understand each other. Liberals live on the coast, and rednecks live in the center.

Well, here are some things to consider: One of the bluest counties in the U.S. is Shannon County, S.D. Shannon County voted for Kerry by about 85 percent. Check the "purple map" and you'll see a very, very blue box in the heartland. Where else will you find blue? The Texas-Mexico border. The Rio Grande Valley voted for Kerry in numbers greater that Austin's Travis County -- supposedly the "liberal oasis" in Texas.

What does Shannon County have in common with South Texas? Rural people of color, and poverty. Shannon County is almost entirely American Indian, the Rio Grande Valley is significantly Spanish speaking. I wonder how many of your opinion makers who talk about leaving the U.S. are rural people of color. Probably not many.

The problem with the Democratic Party is not the "values gap" or Bush's folksiness, it's Salon. It's Slate. It's the liberal blogs who populate the Internet. The insularity of these media is amazing! And who reads these media? The same people. Coastal urban white people who assume that the only "progressives" in the world are just like them. It ain't the case, folks. And until the left realizes that, FDR's big tent will continue to grow smaller and smaller. Go ahead, leave the country. I'm happier fighting for the welfare of people here in the middle without condescending "Coasties."

-- Skooter Scotte

Certain enclaves in this big country are de facto their own progressive nations by virtue of their local politics. Consider Cascadia, composed of Washington, Oregon and Northern California. The thousands of political and cultural gestures of their millions of residents continue to make the region a kind of gradualist, eco-topic secession if not in constitution, then certainly measured in salmon protections, organic grocers, marijuana law, transit-oriented development, urban growth boundaries, dam removals, environmental groups, obesity study results, public school sex education, local Democratic voting numbers, and liberal immigrants seeking asylum. The presidential election results are just the most obvious outcome of these local facts. Though the rural/urban split makes itself felt every day in Cascadia as land use laws pinch capitalists and property rights folks, the fact that the environmental agenda is even on the table speaks volumes about local Cascadian politics.

From stem cells gone wild and fuck-you-auto-industry emissions controls in California, to the rights of the dying in Oregon, to the nation's cleanest air in northern Washington, much is being done to define this region away from a red state majority ethos and toward what we can proudly and unoriginally call European progressivism.

-- Susan Bourland

Before we get too carried away with talk of the progressive blue urban areas ceding the countryside to the reds, let's pause for a moment and consider this may be exactly what Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich and the brains behind the conservative reaction want. If we join them in mortaring up the bricks they created that divide Americans, they will happily hand us the trowel, because in our system national power trumps state and local power every time. Instead of further retreat, we ought to be strategizing how to expand the beachheads we still have in rural America, and win it back.

-- Dean Apostol

In discussing (blue) states' rights Peter Cannavo is partially right when he says, "You're talking about withdrawing tax dollars from the red states and punishing people, punishing people who do not deserve to be the target of this wrath."

He's right that this would be a betrayal of much of what we stand for. The notion of stranding poor people, and poor women and girls (because the rich ones will get their abortions no matter what) or gay people in George Bush's version of America is heartbreaking. Because being a liberal means caring about the disenfranchised.

The problem is these people know they're disenfranchised, and they insist on believing Republicans who tell them it's us making their lives so bad. Mr. Cannavo misses the point that this whole election was about them targeting us with their wrath. Any attempt to point out that we didn't outsource their job, or bankrupt their Enron 401K, or send their child off to die in Iraq was met with charges that we're arrogant. And condescending. And immoral. My belief that I shouldn't have any right any gay person can't have became the proof of my degeneracy and corruption.

The part that's condescending is our belief that Republicans are hoodwinking credulous red staters. People in Texas and Arkansas have access to the same information I do. If they believe what George Bush says, and that he's a competent and moral president, it's because they choose to do so. If they choose to vote for him to show how anti-American liberals are for standing up for the rights of every American, it's because they choose to do so.

So sign me up for all the underground railroads for gays and women and girls with unwanted pregnancies. But I'm tired of hearing that my belief in protecting the rights of all Americans is un-American. I'm tired of being told compassion is weakness. I'm tired of people telling me that their zip code makes them more of an authentic American than me.

I have come to believe that part of what makes a person a liberal is the deep understanding that bad things happen to good people. That misfortune and injustice aren't God's righteous punishment, just harsh facts of many people's lives. Being a liberal means understanding that the person it happens to has been me and could be me again. And feeling pain seeing someone else's pain.

But I don't think it means making yourself someone's punching bag endlessly. Maybe if the red states got to experience "compassionate" conservatism unfiltered by blue state money, and liberals fighting for their rights as well as our own, they might stop measuring our human value by how often we go to church.

They might even start to get a little blue around the edges. Either way, thank God I live in California.

-- Katherine Eisenhauer

I agree with Michelle Goldberg's article that we must work to preserve liberal values in the blue states because as liberals, we are locked out of influencing the federal government for the foreseeable future.

However, I see a weakness in her argument: When the blue states have preserved abortion rights, when there is close-to-universal healthcare, when benefits for the sick and the poor are more generous, when the educational system is superior, when the air and water are cleaner, when the minimum wage is higher, those folks in the red states may decide that they want to live in the blue states to obtain those benefits, and will bring their right-wing "values" with them. If this election taught us one thing, it is that people did not vote their pocketbook -- they voted their prejudices, their fears and their hatreds. So will that change the character of the blue states to purple -- or red?

-- Marsha Epstein

Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! In these damn red states there are just as many heartbroken liberals as there are foolish conservatives in the blue states. Stop talking about red states as if every citizen is a lunatic. Granted, most of my neighbors probably are. My area voted 98 percent for Bush. But the liberals out here had a much tougher battle than you can imagine. This is the front line in the culture clash. The red states are not nice to liberal-minded people who live and work here.

Help us instead of cursing us. Get fair news stories out. Petition the government for openness. Call on the news networks to stop slanted reporting. Tell these misled conservatives that the media isn't liberal, it is extremely conservative. Swamp our newspapers with letters to the editors, nice ones, but talk issues.

Get us some damn help! We are sick of all the abortion fanatics parading up and down our streets. The conservatives will succeed in reversing Roe vs. Wade -- as well as many other of your liberties -- very soon if you don't help.

Most of my family is Christian. They e-mail me nice Jesus stories daily. When I send them anything slightly negative, even if it is totally true, about this administration, they go nuts. Send them a negative article about the war, they go nuts! Yet, they constantly send me Christian literature and think I am a horrible sinner when I point out the irony of that. They are convinced I am going to spend an eternity in hell just for questioning this president.

Conservatives don't even ask about religious beliefs anymore. How we liberals long for the good ole days when the big religious discussions were whether or not the new family in town were Baptist or Methodist. How quaint. Now arguments are about just whether or not someone is for Bush, because for Bush equals for God. Against Bush means against God. The people who have it the worst are the Christians out here who are liberals. Blasphemy.

Stop the name calling. Get off your liberal butts and help. We need you. Prove that the words "liberal" and "elite" are self-exclusive.

-- Carol Ruth

Democrats now calling for a resurgence of states' rights in response to the 2004 election outcome have the right idea, but for the (sort of) wrong reason. States' rights are the backbone of this country, and for that reason alone they should be brought back to the forefront of American political power. How very ironic that the term "federal government" has come to mean the 800-pound gorilla who sleeps wherever it wants, when the word "federal" itself refers to this country's original, intended nature: a federation of independent states.

Who the heck was asleep at the switch while the gorilla was coming into his own, anyway? The answer, I'm afraid, is that we all were.

-- Maribeth Pittman

Way to go. I proudly tended my Kerry-Edwards lawn signs and discussed liberal politics with many of my small-town Indiana neighbors who watch my husband leave for work in his U.S. Army uniform. I now feel politically homeless as the rhetoric of my fellow liberals consistently becomes about "fuck you, anyone but us in the blue states."

I feel shame that so many indeed turned out to be the "latte-sipping snobs" that I argued Dems were anything but. As if it weren't bad enough to feel at the mercy of those poised to strip me and my children of our future and our rights, now I can't even feel a passion rise in me about wanting to defend liberal idealists either.

So many of you -- right and left -- were obviously just using people. That "fuck-you" rhetoric doesn't come out of nowhere -- you secretly must have thought it all along and things didn't go your way so now the insults fly. Maybe Nader was right -- they're all alike.

-- Andrea Small

Salon Staff

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