Culture Rover

# 20 - Left Side of the Tracks, Right Side of the Tracks

Upside-down America. How do we explain the ways in which Americans often advocate political positions that seem utterly against their own interests? What an odd place.

In the southern area of Evanston, Illinois, the east side of town by Lake Michigan contains fancy houses and nary a Bush-Cheney sign. All one sees is Kerry-Edwards, Kerry-Edwards, Obama for Senate, Obama for Senate. Signs on perfectly-coiffed green lawns and bumper stickers on Volvos and SUVs.

Walk west, under the "El" tracks, and the houses get a bit scruffier and smaller, and Bush-Cheney signs start to appear here and there.

This is no statistical study, and Evanston is hardly middle America, but the metaphor is there. The anecdotal cartography of campaign signs raises the question: Why is it that people seem to support policies that work against them?

The wealthy to the East of the tracks take the liberal view, even though they mostly have health care, may wind up with higher taxes and fewer loopholes, and so on. The answer here may be easy. I suppose wealth allows one to be liberal. And these houses are not the richest of the rich, but part of the upper-middle, professional class.

Why, more shockingly, do any western Evanstonians support Bush-Cheney, whose policies seem to fly in the face of their interests? I want to get it. I want to perceive how the world looks from their windows. But all I see is an administration that would deny them health care, cut their jobs, limit their educational possibilities, de-fund various programs that might help them, and not make them particularly safer from terrorists and the like.

The answer is there in front of me: Americans shape their politics by where they imagine they might be able to go, not by where they are. Mobility rules the American political imagination. Noone wants to vote in such a way as to admit that government might be able to help them get ahead, get along.

Delusions of the "powerful" individual American. Is this what puts those Bush-Cheney signs onto the insides of storm windows and in among the dandelions of the little lawns of west Evanston?

I don't know for sure. But the answer to this question must be close to the heart of political and cultural life in the United States of America, close to our collective circulatory system that flows so strangely.

11 October 2004

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