How ya gonna keep 'em
Kathleen Parker has had to spend time in New York City, and it isn’t pretty to contemplate.
New York, it turns out, exemplifies “the appeal and horror of centralized government.” New Yorkers are regimented and hemmed about with regulations, and apparently they like it. And this, to no one’s surprise, is where Democrats and Republicans differ. The people who live in “more-open spaces” are people who “see little need or benefit for government management of their lives.” She’s not sure that the two parties can be reconciled: “City dwellers will never understand the folks who prefer the company of tress, and country folk will always resent the imperious presumptions of urbanites who think they know best.”
You know this one, right? It’s the one about the corrupt city and the virtuous countryside, a device that was wheezing with age when Quintus Horatius Flaccus trotted it out. Thomas Jefferson took it around the track a few times, too. And for Ms. Parker, they fit snugly within party labels.
As it happens, I am well qualified to take the measure of Ms. Parker’s argument. I spent eighteen years in my youth in Elizaville, Kentucky, which qualifies in almost anyone’s categories as rural: a crossroads of about a hundred people, two general stores, two churches, a gas station, and a funeral home. (The last time I was there, a year ago, only the funeral home and one of the churches continued to enjoy custom.) For the past twenty-four years, I’ve lived in Baltimore, a city whose reputation David Simon has done so much to burnish.
We are indeed a freedom-loving people, and one of the things we love is the freedom to select from a range of choices. That is why, over the past century, we have voted with our feet and moved from the farm to the cities or their environs.
I myself enjoy the company of trees occasionally, though I generally prefer people. I remember the things I enjoyed about life with my parents and grandparents in eastern Kentucky, before the hardy yeomen discovered that they could supplement agricultural income with meth labs. But I have chosen to live in the city, even with its many inconveniences and restrictions, for the sake of what it also has to offer my family and me.
I think it does a disservice to our people to publish articles suggesting that we are virtually different species, antlike city dwellers and freedom-loving country folk. It does a disservice to suggest that it is no longer possible for people to make themselves understood to one another across party lines.
We should certainly talk about the limitations of government regulation and try to determine where the search for the common good has unintended and negative consequences, but perhaps we could do so with a little less oversimplification and stereotyping.