I was born in a small town. I went to high school in the same small town. But I dont plan on dying in one, or ever living in one again. During the course of my 22 years, it has become apparent to me that I am a city girl, bred if not born, and one just as uncomfortable in the sticks as the city mouse visiting its country friend.
Since the age of 5 when my family took the first of many trips to visit my aunts in the Windy City, I have known my rightful place in the world. Vacations spent in my hometown of Ludington did nothing to dissuade this vision, nor did four idyllic years of high school crammed full of every stereotypical teen-age rite of passage you thought only Hollywood dreamed up.
But I confess my mind does occasionally wander home again. I sometimes long for the security that comes from living in a place where everybody knows your name - even the police - and the streets are so familiar you can navigate them in a drunken stupor. Since I have had the dubious good fortune to experience life on both sides of this spectrum, I feel acutely the growing division between rural and urban values as evidenced by our recent election.
Last November voters turned out in dismal numbers, most resigning themselves to an unpalatable choice between two equally unappealing candidates. After the votes were counted, or not, depending on your point of view, and the pretty color-coded maps printed, a trend was clearly visible. The talking heads are seeing red, and lots of it.
Every county in Nebraska, Wyoming and Utah went to President George W. Bush. Kansas and Nevada escaped the same fate by only one county (Viva Las Vegas!). Former Vice President Al Gore claimed 676 counties, compared to Bushs 2,477, and still managed to win the popular vote. To my mathematically challenged mind, this hardly seems plausible, but it is when you consider where the Democratic constituency resides. Gore took almost every major city and most of their surrounding suburbs, while Bush staked claim to nearly every notch in the Bible Belt and, according to Newsweek, every small town on a straight line from Redding, Calif. to Springfield, Ill. Thats a lot of map, folks.
The rift evidenced by these numbers encompasses nearly every pressing social issue of the day. Abortion, the death penalty, welfare rights, sentencing for nonviolent criminals, gun control, school prayer - you name it, your opinion will likely be shaped in part by where you grew up. The divided attitudes buried underground by former President Clintons unfortunate focus on moderate politics at the expense of dealing with the issues came roaring to the surface after the spectacle that was our last election.
So what gives? How did we come to this pretty pass? I cant decide if its the fault of Columbine, which polarized socially conscious suburban moms against the Herculean special interest of the NRA and its army of trigger-happy constituents; or the sex scandals of the Clinton presidency, which made glaringly obvious the difference between those in this country who know they live in glass houses and act accordingly and those who think their belief in a Christian God gives them the right to pass judgment on anyone and anything passing through their narrow scope of vision.
Of course the rural-urban rift is really nothing new. It can be traced all the way back to the turn of the 18th century, when Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson debated the virtues of federalism. Then, as now, there was much discussion of why we should or should not allow the federal government jurisdiction over certain aspects of state government.
In my humble opinion, Hamilton and the federalists had the right idea. They envisioned a country in which separate states were united under a strong federal government that protected each individuals basic rights with the Constitution. This helps protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority by ensuring that inherent rights - free speech, freedom of religion, the right to privacy and yes, the right to bear some arms - are the same in every state. Each state should control the logistics of its local government and set community standards to aid in enforcement of federal laws.
Despite this seemingly simple rationale, it seems we the people are more suspicious of each others motives than at any time since the Civil War. I dont see this current division as being quite on par with the bones the North and South had to pick with each other, but Dubya is still going to have to be a uniter in the most Lincoln-esque sense of the word. Compromise will have to be his watchword, not compassionate conservatism.
While I wait for President Bush to fall magnificently on his admittedly handsome face, Ill be dreaming of Chicago