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    Hold a chicken in the air / Stick a deck chair up your nose

    Eric and M. Simon link to this masterwork of scintillating ninnyism by, not to put too fine a point on it, the sort of person I vowed I would never, ever become when I left the Lehigh Valley. I will leave aside the ha-ha-but-I-really-kind-of-mean-it argument that white people should be banned from voting. Whatever thesis it was in service of, Jonathan Valania’s conclusion would be an insult to everyone referred to:

    By this point, you either think I am joking or are calling me an elitist. I assure you I am neither. OK, maybe a little of both. But it wasn’t always like this. I come from the Coal Belt, from that Alabamian hinterland between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as per James Carville’s famous formulation.

    I am, in fact, just two generations out of the coal mines that blackened the lungs of my grandfather, leaving him disabled, despondent and, finally, dead at the ripe old age of 54.

    So, understand that I am saying all this for the good of the country and, in fact, for the good of those hard-working white people that Hillary used to pander to.

    I know those people, I come from them. They are not some shameful abstract demographic to be brushed under the rug of euphemism by Wolf Blitzer and his ilk.

    I have broken kielbasa with those people. I went to school with their children. I have gone to Sunday Mass with a deer-hunter hangover with those people. They are bitter with good reason, and they are armed because they are scared. They mean well, but they are easily spooked.

    I fear for what is to become of them after the campaigns leave town for the last time, and Scranton and Allentown and Carlisle go back to being the long dark chicken dance of the national soul they were before the media showed up.

    I am, in fact, just one generation away from the steel mills of Bethlehem that sent my father to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns one day when I was a child, have chronically aggravated his psoriasis, and have dinged him up with joint problems.

    But you know something? Much as I adore my parents and many of my elder relatives, I have no idea what it’s like to be a plant worker. Therefore, when the discussion turns to their lives, I generally trust them to know themselves at least as well as I do.

    That’s not to say that I don’t disagree with them on policy frequently…though my disagreement, I imagine, runs in the opposite direction from Valania’s. To my mind, people who claim not to need the government to take care of them are far too ready to embrace further distortions of economic decision-making through changes to the tax code, protectionism, and support for national health care–as long as they’re pitched as “relief for Pennsylvania families.” I think they’re wrong to support such policies, and I wish they didn’t. But no one is required to adhere to my wishes when prioritizing which political values they’re going to use their vote to optimize. If a free society is to work, we have to be ready to accept other people’s choices even if we think they’re bad.

    I’m not trying to dodge the simple fact that people often make judgments based on prejudice; my point is just that you can’t tell from someone’s ballot how he or she decided whom to vote for. We’re a gigantic country in a gigantic global economy, and all of us deal with daily torrents of signals. Not even trained social scientists concur on policy, for heaven’s sake, and they’re the ones who spend their working lives poring over the data. How difficult should it be to accept that ordinary citizens, trying to make the most sense of the fragmentary information they have, don’t all agree with you or your candidate? (It might also be pointed out that Allentown is in the 15th Congressional District, which went for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. Yes, it’s a notorious swing district, and the margins were narrow; and as a registered Republican, I’m not pointing these things out as some kind of point of pride. I just think that someone who’s going to bitch about white people’s voting the wrong person into office in one paragraph and then cite Allentown in another should have a surer hand with the numbers.)

    Middle PA has its fair share of born hotheads and sourpusses, but so do Tokyo and New York. What does that prove? I have relatives who hunt. They like hunting, and they like guns. They go to church regularly and like the people in their congregations. Most of them take pride in their jobs, even if everyone has plenty of stories about being screwed by bureaucratic bossiness or the idiot colleague everyone else has to carry. The economic dislocations of the last few decades have been painful, and people can certainly get riled up over what they see as betrayal by the government. But bitter in the all-around sense? I just don’t see it. And if you want to see easily spooked, just try announcing in a group of gay guys here in New York that you’re voting for McCain.


    I know that this is not a new point, but the best way to approach people with opposing beliefs is to argue with them. Maybe you have something to teach them, or maybe they know as much as you do but have drawn different conclusions. Vigorous disagreement is built into the American experiment, but it can’t work if we’re all busy accusing each other of voting based on our hang-ups.

    Oh, and I’m not even going to go after that “broken kielbasa” nonsense. Well, except to say that, as an incoherent metaphor and in combination with the reference to the chicken dance, it put me in mind of “The Chicken Song,” which, while no more logical than Valania’s piece, at least is as funny as it intends to be.

    Added on 29 October: Happy Diwali (that’s the greeting?) to our Indian friends. And thanks to Eric for the link and the kind words as always.

    Added on 30 October: Thanks to Eric for pointing out that Valania’s confirmation bias and lefty-from-central-casting cultural and economic illiteracy go back at least a half-decade. Check out this piece that, among other things, contrasts two Philadelphia-based businesses that are owned by former partners. The founder of Urban Outfitters is now, at least to a degree, a conservative. His retail chain is described like this:

    The interior of the flagship store at 17th and Walnut streets is stylized to evoke what can only be described as janitorial chic: exposed brick, scraped plaster walls and low-hanging ventilation ducts. Everything is illuminated by the soft glow of warehouse loft light fixtures. All the merchandise is displayed against pegboard backdrops faintly reminiscent of ye olde family rec room or dad’s workshop. And piped in over the sound system is the jarring electro clatter of Peanut Butter Wolf’s oh-so-appropriately titled album Badmeaningood.

    His former paramour is still gratifyingly liberal, so her enterprises are characterized thus:

    “Hi, this is Judy in the woods,” says the voice on the answering machine at the Poconos summer home of Judy Wicks, owner and operator of the White Dog Cafe, a homey restaurant/bar in University City, and of the adjoining artsy gift shop called the Black Cat. Wicks is a prominent local businesswoman and a diehard liberal activist.

    Judy went on to open the highly successful White Dog Cafe, where she would host and coordinate countless social and community activist campaigns, while Dick went on to build the Urban Outfitters empire out of the humble beginnings of Free People.

    If you don’t know Philadelphia, you may not know how laugh-aloud hilarious it is to see the White Dog depicted as “homey.” I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with its carefully cultivated shabby-genteel atmosphere, but it’s a joke to try to argue that the place is any less pretentious than, like, Le Bec Fin. (That goes double for the bibelots at the Black Cat.) Here’s an item from the White Dog’s current dinner menu:

    Pulled Duck Confit on Chickpea Panella
    coco agro-dolce and an arugula, radish, and zucchini flower salad

    Just like Mom used to make, huh?

    As I say, I think it’s great that Wicks found a marketable business model that helps fund causes she supports. There’s nothing immoral about combining peasant-y ingredients in a fashion formulated to appeal to the Mother Jones set, but I don’t see how it’s any more inherently forthright an enterprise than Urban Outfitters. And Valania never seems to get around to noting that Richard Hayne’s company, having grown so large, has helped create wealth and employment across the globe. (He’s busy decrying “sweatshops” while giving short shrift to potential arguments about what their employees’ lives would be like if factory work weren’t an alternative.)

    3 Responses to “Hold a chicken in the air / Stick a deck chair up your nose”

    1. Portia says:

      I TRIED to resist posting this… In vain have I struggled… It would not do…

      On the post, I agree with you, but the image of “breaking Kielbasa” haunted me. It kept pushing at the back of my brain. It reminded me of something a friend had sent not so long ago under “ew”. (Why you ask? I don’t know. people send me the strangest things.) I found it. And now I don’t want to sit here in the dark, alone with it. It’s scary.

      So… Breaking Kielbasa it is:

      Breaking Kielbasa

      I call your attention to #4. I wonder if that’s what Valania meant? And — ow.

      P — exiting fast, stage left.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I certainly hope not–not because I’m fond of Valania from what I know of him but because I wouldn’t wish that one anyone. Oof.

    3. Eric Scheie says:

      Sean, thanks for the link, but this thread…. Ouch!

      As to Valania, he seems to have a major problem with capitalism too. You might be interested in his long, obsessive smear piece against the owner of Urban Outfitters (who hailed from a Pennsylvania small town)

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