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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.


Posted by John McIntyre at 5:51 PM | | Comments (8)


Bravo! I am usually a fan of Ms. Parker's writings, but that particular column was a crashing disappointment. Let it indeed serve as a thudding example of how we all should take care to avoid stereotyping. Thank you for the resounding response.

Thank you for this accurate summation. I am growing quite weary from repeated opinions on how more we the people can be categorized. My grandad would have said, " We all deficate out of the same opening." - Well that's not exactly what he said.

I have to say that rules against blocking the fire escape, which may keep you or your neighbor alive one day, are entirely sensible; they are the analogue of not lighting fires in Western forests during the dry season (or ever). What's more, that rule and most certainly the one about birthday candles are imposed by her co-op or condo, an entirely voluntary association, and not by the City of New York at all. Complaining about government bureaucracy in such a case is nothing but bloviation.

New Yorkers like trees too, and we have a lot of them: a little over five million, including a nice one in front of my building.

I wonder what Ms. Parker makes of that Great American Compromise--the suburb? None of the benefits of the city and none of the beauty of the rustic landscape. Perhaps she'd like to retire to a McMansion in, say, some subdivision in southern York County and blessedly sink into surburban invisibility? Now that's something I could applaud!

When Ms. Parker says "City dwellers will never understand the folks who prefer the company of trees," I wonder if she's ever been to the Pacific Northwest.

Fortunately, not all cities are New York City: some are smaller and therefore more manageable. To judge all American cities by New York is probably a bad comparison.

To build upon what Patricia has said, I find that a great many New Yorkers I have met have an arrogance unique among themselves and those from Los Angeles. There are plenty of us who live in other, lovely cities. Yours is actually not the standard by which all others ought be judged, so from my perspective from Milwaukee, you can just shut it.

My goodness, is she really implying that there are no Republicans in cities, and no Democrats in small towns? Can she not observe the world around her?

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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