I've got a box of Franzia ready, either way

Posted by jdg | Tuesday, November 04, 2008 |

There has been a lot of talk these last few weeks about Regular Folk, those rootin' tootin' Wal-Mart shoppin' self-hoisting (via-bootstraps) patriotic Americans from Main Street USA, goshdarn it. And there has also been plenty of disparaging talk about those Coastal Elites, the effeminate latte-sipping quasi-European urban foils of the Regular Folk. Every few years certain members of the latter group---journalists, politicians, pollsters---begin the Great Pandering to the former, which lasts a matter of months before they suddenly go back to ignoring the Regular Folk completely. This is what you call democracy.

I can't pinpoint precisely when it was that I left the ranks of the Regular Folk to join the provincial faction of the Coastal Elites. I was certainly raised to be decent, churchgoing Regular Folk. I was raised to think a tuna casserole is good eatin' and that a Burrito Supreme unwrapped on a purple laminate table (with swivel seats) was the pinnacle of ethnic dining. I would never have put myself in a position to be tempted by sushi or goat cheese.

To be fair, I was always something of an intolerable twit, but I think an inflated sense of worldliness brought back to the Midwest after one of those rucksack tours of the former Roman empire clearly amplified my intolerability quotient. My family began treating me like a pet squirrel who'd taught himself to speak, occasionally expressing shock at something he said but quickly growing annoyed at the way he pronounced the word "burrito" with that tongue-roll thing, sticking their noses up at his "green pasta sauce" and continuing to drink wine out of a box long after he explained how totally uncouth that was.

Often, moving to San Francisco destroys one's ability to ever connect with Regular Folk again. For some, ten minutes at the Folsom Street Fair must be like escaping from Plato's cave: how can you go back to the sunny streets of suburban Omaha once you've witnessed a paraplegic man drag around his well-hung slave in crotchless leather shorts by a leash attached to his motorized wheelchair? The personal freedoms found in places like San Francisco can be intoxicating. There are naked people everywhere. Consider Goiter Balls. The sushi, the modern furniture, the espresso drinks, the black-framed eyeglasses, the love for roasted beets sprinkled with chèvre: all of the liberal Coastal Elite crap falls right into place once you've slipped off the turnip truck into the welcoming arms of old Goiter Balls. Thomas Wolfe wrote a whole novel about this effect that boils right down to its title: You Can't Go Home Again, Asshole.

Those personal freedoms are, of course, part of what incite the Regular Folk to shout boos whenever the words "San Francisco" are dangled over their heads at rallies for particular political candidates. San Francisco is like a refugee camp for the weirdos, nerds and freaks from a thousand high schools across America who---over time---formed their own dogmatic sects in which I was dismayed to find they often followed the same patterns of behavior as the bullies from whom they'd fled. What Coastal Elites don't readily admit is that the allegations of elitism are generally true. These might have been my people, I realized in San Francisco, but god my people can be real dicks sometimes. I certainly still can be a real dick sometimes, too. It's embarrassing. At some point, though, I realized that I did not want to live the rest of my life in a paradise where nearly everyone agreed with me.

So I left.

I'm still an elitist prick. But I'm working on it. I swear.

I remember that night in November four years ago, watching Kerry concede from California and feeling so helpless: every one of us who'd voted in the biggest blue state of all held in the thrall of a bunch of Regular Folk from Ohio, ultimately held captive in this divisive nightmare for four more years. Four years seemed so long that night, but here we are again. Today and tonight we will focus on the battleground states, those places where people who disagree with each other still live alongside one another, where they share some common culture and regional pride and regional woes.

I have watched the candidates traipse about these landscapes and felt the tension rise again as the candidate from one party has (perhaps understandably) tried to exploit and reignite the passions of the Culture Wars, to exploit fear rather than hope, and to divide a segment of the population that I believe deep down inside wants to be united with their fellow countrymen, sick of both the elitism and the resentment. I have watched the other party's candidate consistently speak about a united America that I want to believe in. He has brought the battle to states where no one expected him to put up a fight. I need to shut up now. Your man Lincoln said it best back in his first Inaugural Address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

No, this nation's fate won't be decided in those places where people have fled to be with others more like themselves, or those places where people have driven away those who were different. Those few voters who are actually the stereotypical Regular Folk and the Coastal Elites will go to the polls. And so will the rest of us: the agnostic, latte-loving suburban mom who shops at Wal-Mart but also likes to go out for sushi now and then. The elitist pricks in flyover country who worry for the safety and future of their children as much as their neighbors do. The parents of this elitist prick who may enjoy an occasional glass of boxed wine but don't like where this country has been headed the past eight years. And I believe, and I pray, that the majority of the rest of us will choose the candidate who has appealed to the better angels of our nature, and that tomorrow he will stand ready to lead our country through these difficult times.