Disgraced ex-sock puppeteer Lee Siegel, whose cranky-old-man cultural criticism and woe-is-me whining have led to a fruitful career writing for every single liberal publication you've ever heard of, has landed, like these people do, at The Daily Beast, where he has just coughed up one of the lamest hairballs of a political semi-humor column you will ever read: "Memo to the South: Go Ahead, Secede Already!"
While those with more sensitive ears will possibly recoil at Siegel's animus toward "America's backside" (also referred to as the "slave states," "the Confederacy," and so on), and perhaps feel a slight sting from the flaccid insult of "Fuck Kansas, and fuck the horse it rode (into the Union) on," the real self-damnation here is the author's notion of what unencumbered Northern enlightenment would look like:
Just think what America would look like without its mostly Southern states. (We could retain "America": they could call themselves "Smith & Wesson" or "Coca-Cola" or something like that.) Universal health care. No guns. Strong unions. A humane minimum wage. A humane immigration policy. High revenues from a fair tax structure. A massive public-works program. Legal gay marriage. A ban on carbon emissions. Electric cars. Stronger workplace protections. Extended family leave from work in case of pregnancy or illness. Longer unemployment benefits. In short, a society on a par with most of the rest of the industrialized world—a place whose politics have finally caught up with its social and economic realities.
A ban on carbon emissions. How many living-wage jobs do you expect to produce through bicycle power, President Gilligan? And at a time when the labor force participation rate is at its lowest since the truly shitty year of 1979, notice how the presumed consensus economic thinking would have us take that sad base for granted, then jack up taxes, government spending, and incentives to not work. What would the unemployment rate be in Northistan, 20 percent? Thirty?
Who cares! Because being anti-redneck means never having to explain, let alone begin to understand, basic economics. Especially after we ditch the slavers:
The association of North with modernity and South with regression is so prominent, so visible, so all-encompassing that its familiarity has made it invisible. Here are the facts—with important exceptions in every category. The great research universities are in the blue states. So are the great medical schools, the great hospitals, and the great law schools. The great art and history museums are in the blue part of the country.
The most important popular and "high" art is produced by blue people, in blue places. Even the best comedians—with the exception of Stephen Colbert—are, you might say, from free as opposed to slave states.
At the risk of taking even half-seriously a column that the Twitterer known as Allah Pundit rightly flags as an act of "epic trolling," I was curious about whether these self-flattering "facts" were measurable. So let's take the Confederacy + the slave states, add in Siegel's hated Kansas and also Oklahoma, then tally up the population. (You can quibble over the borders of the resulting Jesusland, but let's remember that Kansas fought for the North.) I get around 125 million people, or 40 percent of the country.
Of the top 25 research universities, as ranked by Arizona State University's Center for Measuring University Performance, seven are in this group: Johns Hopkins (#1, by the way), Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill, Washington University in St. Louis, Vanderbilt, Georgia Institue of Technology, and University of Texas at Austin. So yes, "the great research universities are in the blue states," but they are also in the red states, only at 28 percent of representation instead of 40.
How about medical schools? The rednecks get three of 10 in this U.S. News & World Report ranking: Johns Hopkins (#2), Washington U., and Duke.
Hospitals? U.S. News has just three of its top 17 coming from America's backside, giving Siegel his firmest ground to strut on: Johns Hopkins (#2), Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington U., and Duke University Medical Center.
Top law schools? Seven of the U.S. News' top 25 are from Over There: Virginia, Duke, U. of Texas-Austin, Vanderbilt, Washington, U. of Alabama, and Emory. Two others (Georgetown and George Washington) are in the southernly ambiguous territory of Washington, D.C.
Art museums? Those are more difficult to rank, so let's go by attendance, which gives us just one flyover-country entrant in the top 10—Houston's Museum of Fine Arts—though there are three in Washington, D.C. as well. History museums are more difficult than I have time to assess.
To sum up: Lee Siegel is doing an endzone dance over the fact that his 60 percent of the country has roughly 75 percent of the top cultural institutions in the categories he values. Whatever gets you through the night, I guess.
Speaking of pop music, this is where the cultural critic dies on his carbon-neutral high ground. Blues, mountain music, jazz, country, rock n roll—these are the inventions of the region he wants to secede from. Steely Dan can only take you so far in life, Lee.
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