PARDON ME, DO YOU SPEAK LIBERAL?
Congratulations to Eric Alterman for “Corrupt, Incompetent & Off Center” [“The Liberal Media,” Nov. 7]. Pulling the facts together like this is a service to the progressive community, as it helps re-instill hope that change is not only possible but on its way. I wonder, though, if we really need a new language for liberals or just a way to get the word out. I recently ran for County Council here in Whatcom County on a progressive “relocalization” platform and was surprised at the support I got from self-described conservative Republicans. They were as thrilled as anyone to hear someone actually talk about the issues. Of course, I didn’t make it through the primary. My $800 campaign was little match for the $17,000 spent by the incumbent. But it did start a conversation that had been missing, and many people thanked me for it. Columns like Alterman’s gave me the background information for these conversations.
RATTLE & HUMPH
U2 “bombastic”? Compared to who? Liszt? Gilbert and Sullivan? Marilyn Manson? Gilbert O’Sullivan? Doug Henwood [“Bono Meets Dr. Shock,” Oct. 31] should push the button on his radio–from NPR to music–occasionally. That way he’d know that U2 is “expansive” or “grandiose.” You need two guitars to be “bombastic,” man. C’mon.
New York City
Bombastic, yes. Pompous and bloatedly anthemic too. And I speak as someone who won the “Best Music on a Radio Show About Economics & Politics” from the Village Voice, in its Best of NYC 2005. By the way, I almost never listen to NPR. Too dull.
Producer, Behind the News
WBAI, 99.5 FM
LET’S HEAR IT FOR RUSSIA (& FDR)!
Eric Alterman’s self-satisfied attack on FDR (cum plug for his book) [“The Liberal Media,” Oct. 24] has the unpleasant smell of much American cold war writing: The United States won the war. Stalin was murderous, de Gaulle vainglorious, Churchill unreasonable and so on. Actually, if any one nation defeated Germany, it was, of course, Russia. De Gaulle’s vanity was not personal but on behalf of France, and that way and in no other way France remained an important nation. Churchill was reasonable enough to realize that no nation, ever, after being defeated in one war and then triumphant in the next one, would not expect to make up for the losses. American wailing about the Yalta “giveaway” was caused by four years of war during which the role of the Soviet Union was systematically ignored or belittled here.
New York City
Well, I’m convinced…
LET THEM EAT GAS
I was born and raised in Yreka in Siskiyou County, California, and Sasha Abramsky has told the sad truth about my old hometown and other communities like it [“Running on Fumes,” Oct. 17]. I live and work in West Virginia, and for many people here the story’s the same. Sad thing is, if this were a foreign entity attacking us, we’d do something. Since it’s self-inflicted, we will do nothing, and for the most part quietly submit.
Sasha Abramsky mentions two brothers who quit their jobs because they could no longer afford to drive their pickup trucks from the small town where they live to the small city where they work. Carpooling would have cut their gas expenses nearly in half. Drivers in a two-person car pool will pay $1.70 for a gallon of gas in the remote towns Abramsky worries about. Of course, this doesn’t deserve notice alongside the billion-dollar SUV bailout both Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for. After all, carpooling is for commies.
The Nation ought not to be calling for lower gas prices–even if that means passing up an opportunity to criticize Bush Administration incompetence. Gas prices should be higher and remain so if we are to shift to an economy that runs on mass transit, reduces our carbon emissions and slows global warming. If living in detached houses in a rural town is economically unsustainable for the residents of Yreka, then they can move to apartments in towns closer to their jobs. It has been an ecological catastrophe that gas prices have been kept artificially low through our subsidies to the oil industry. Americans should pay a price for gasoline that reflects its true economic and ecological cost. If that forces people to trade in their SUVs for Honda Accords and to live in more densely populated areas, so much the better. But The Nation‘s reactionary assumption seems to be that we ought to pander to every citizen’s expectation that he can live far from work and drive a gas guzzler while the rest of us shoulder the burden of enabling him to do so. The liberal solution to this region’s woes is clearly to raise the tax on gasoline and use the proceeds to improve and expand local mass transit.
I was extremely disappointed in “Running on Fumes,” which failed to consider the toll today’s over-subsidized car culture takes on low-income Americans. The most needy and impoverished classes suffer still more because they cannot afford the entry fee of an automobile; meanwhile, society–the car industry, the upper-income users, the oil interests–nurtures highway-first priorities. In the end the poor bear the burden of buying and supporting an automobile and living in a world deprived by inequitable government policies of good public transportation. This split society was, of course, painfully and graphically illustrated by the inability of many low-income New Orleaneans to evacuate their city prior to Katrina as their wealthier neighbors SUV-ed to higher ground.
Abramsky’s claim that higher gas prices mean an “end for working-class towns” ignores the way cities are built, and unbuilt, as highways and other benefits to the car culture undercut urban America and the transit systems that make it livable. Meanwhile, the poor who can’t afford the ticket–some $7,000 a year for an automobile–are deprived in their work and life choices. It is the car and the highway subsidies for moving settlements away from walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods that hurt city and citizen alike, downtown and small town at once.
JANE HOLTZ KAY
Many letters in response to my article suggested two things: one, that we should all live in high-density cities because that’s more environmentally sound; and two, that the people I wrote about should simply bite the bullet and buy cars that get better gas mileage.
People don’t always make entirely unconstrained choices. People are often born in places like Yreka rather than choosing to move there–their life history is there, their families are there, their social and economic networks are there. And poor people often don’t have the luxury of choosing what cars they drive; they buy the hand-me-down vehicles the middle classes no longer want; they make those vehicles survive years beyond their life expectancy; they make do with big old gas guzzlers because they can’t scrape together enough for a newer car. That’s why I advocated subsidies, like the energy subsidies that help pay for home heating and help make old houses more energy efficient.
Beyond circumstance, there is a philosophical incoherence to the notion that everyone should live in a high-density city. Who would farm this vast land to feed us urban dwellers? Who would mine? Who would staff the polluting factories that nobody wants in their urban backyard? Who would cut the timber for our houses? Who would staff the national parks that the urban middle classes so enjoy during their vacations? Who would bottle the water that we so casually drink? Who would operate the dams that provide hydroelectric power?
And wouldn’t life be boring if everyone lived in a city, if a land as vast as America became simply an archipelago of metropolises separated by wilderness, with no villages, no hamlets, no rural folk, no country traditions? We on the left often bemoan the homogenizing forces of globalization. Well, what could be more homogeneous than a land made up only of cities?
Yes, there are large problems with America’s oil-dependent culture; but to blame the poor for those problems, and to shy away from political responses that might ease some of their pain is a true betrayal of people who should be our core constituents. If progressives are ever to recapture center stage in America, we have to throw off such elitist attitudes. Make the poor and the rural feel stupid and unwanted and, not surprisingly, they will spurn our politics.
The rural poor I’m writing about could never be on a public transport infrastructure. They’re too far off the grid. These are precisely the communities liberated by the automobile. In the pre-industrial age, such places would have been quintessential peasant communities–geographically isolated, able to travel only as far as a horse and cart could carry them, isolated from the broader economy and the larger cultural currents. Cars, while a double-edged sword, freed these people. To deny that the oil economy provided any benefits is as simplistic as the counterposition that denies the harm caused by carbon-related climate change. Both arguments do society a deep disservice and neither can, or should, connect with the needs of ordinary people.
A purist anti-car position condemns huge numbers of people to isolation and denuded lives. If progressives want to put together electoral majorities, we have to respect the needs and wishes of ordinary people as surely as we respect the needs and wishes of a privileged urban elite.
In Liza Featherstone’s “Manna From Hell” [Nov. 21], David Vitter was misidentified as representing South Carolina, instead of Louisiana, in the Senate.