Jennifer Vogel is a Minneapolis-area writer; she's written for the City Pages, as well as many similar handouts; her writing always seemed steeped in a sort of hostility that I figured had to have an explanation (and I was right).
Her latest, in a Seattle handout, dings on the Twin Cities' suburbs.
I live in Saint Paul, a lonely Republican in a sea of Democrats. Yet I just can't handle the suburbs; the notion of driving to get to a store offends me. And yet I find myself drawn to defend them, on pure principle.
The article is that bad.
Your challenge; read the piece - named "F*CK THE SUBURBS", in a style that means Ms. Vogel has a fine future as a leftyblogger - and tell me you don't think it was written by a particularly petulant college sophomore who hasn't cracked a history book since eight grade.
Minneapolis and St. Paul sit on either side of the upper Mississippi River, in what amounts to the middle of nowhere. For three hundred miles in any direction, there are no cities of size, only prairie, gas stations, and big open sky. We may be on the Mississippi but no one comes here by boat. There are no containers from Japan piling up on the dock. People arrive by bus and car, dusty and road-worn, mostly from the small towns of Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas--places where ambitious and misunderstood kids grow up despising their parents' lives."Dusty cars". Right. We're a bunch of Okies from "Grapes of Wrath".
The article is a parade of stereotypes; we have the noble, misunderstood refugees from small towns:
...a haven for people who wanted more and wanted to do more, a stage for re-imagining one's self, the way home towns never are....who have one major flaw...
For years, being a city in the Midwest--at least this part of the Midwest--meant drawing from a rural population that was mostly white. But that wasn't all bad. [What percent "bad" was it? -- Ed] A homogeneous citizenry, along with harsh winters [Pfffft -- Ed.], made it easy for people around here to be generous with each other, to foster Minnesota's legendary brand of nice, peace-loving liberalism.This liberalism, to Vogel (and much of the local left) reached its apotheosis:
Pockets of radicals have existed all over the state, socialist Finns up on the union-heavy Iron Range being a fine example. But it was in the urban centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul, respites from the big nowhere, that our progressive values were forged. Through the years, city pols have organized workers and fought for health care and public housing and education--men like Minneapolis' Floyd B. Olson, a socialist who served as governor during the 1930s, and former Vice President Walter Mondale (Minnesota, with the exception of the District of Columbia, stood alone in choosing Mondale for president in 1984 over Ronald Reagan). But never were we city dwellers more proud than when Hubert Horatio Humphrey Jr. --a small-town boy who grew up to be mayor of Minneapolis--stepped up the microphone at the 1948 Democratic National Convention and convinced the party to finally take a stand against segregation.So, to Jennifer Vogel, Minnesotans - an insulated, isolated people, stereotypical Scandinavians - created a bastion of predictable, liberal insitutional compassion.
Remember that. We'll come back to it.
Yes, everything in Minnesota's urban centers was going along famously. Back pats all around. Then minority people started moving in, transforming our pasty Shangri-la into a more typical, and much more interesting, metropolis. The last decade alone has seen an enormous influx of black people from other parts of the U.S. and from Africa, as well as of Mexicans and Hmong. In part, that's because word got around that this was a somewhat cushy place to live (MinnesotaCare, the state health plan, keeps people from dying in the streets).Let's try to keep this straight here: the insular white people created a society that draws and sustains people who would otherwise die in the streets?
If you're black, Mexican or H'mong, how does that sound to you? Like an insular, white person is slandering you?
Oh, yeah; Vogel's wrong. The Twin Cities were far from a "pasty Shangri-La"; southern European immigrants dominated Saint Paul's Swede Hollow; the West End had a very elaborate Italian community dating back to the teens; Highland Park has been described as a Jewish ghetto; Rondo was a thriving black community - but never mind. This is about stereotypes, to Vogel.
According to the Census Bureau, more than 30 percent of Minneapolis and St. Paul dwellers are non-white--16 percent are foreign born. That's a remarkable transformation. Suddenly, we've got zaub ntsuab, kick-ass Oaxacan tacos, and stores trying to sell marzipan to Somalis.Leave aside that it wasn't "sudden" at all; African-American history in Minnesota, especially the Twin Cities, predates the Civil War. The place was a destination for freed slaves before the War; the Dred Scott case started after the slave lived at Fort Snelling...
...oh, I know. I'll shut up. History isn't as interesting as kick-ass oaxacan tacos.
Not everyone has been thrilled about the presence of darker faces. As the city changed, the "family values" folks moved away.Well, to be fair, the "liberal" city governments - the ones run by the Hubert Humphreys that Vogel raves about earlier in her article - did their part; Urban Renewal was as hard on inner-city black neighborhoods as anything, as Minneapolis demolished the Gateway neighborhood, and both cities built freeways through the hearts of their African-American and immigrant centers; Saint Paul's Rondo neighborhood, an Afro-American neighborhood which dated well back into the 1800s, was paved over to build I-94; Phillips and the North Side and Saint Paul's West End, historic immigrant neighborhoods that brought us the pizza and bagels and other "kick ass Oaxacan tacos" of their eras, were gutted by a generation or two of the "liberal" politicians whose records the likes of Vogel whitewash.
But what's a little history to Jennifer Vogel? She's got to get to some serious slander!
The history of suburbs is a complex thing - at least as complex as the history of Scandinavian Minnesota liberalism. They resulted from a slew of factors; the dismantling (by liberal, urban governments) of urban institutions and infrastructure under the aegis of "Urban Renewal"; the efflux of jobs from the urban core, as companies fled rising real-estate prices and tax rates; a generation of GIs returning from World War Two with a brutal work ethic and a yen for tranquility in their off-hours. In fact, the 'burbs and that sense of Minnesota liberalism are intertwined pretty tightly. But we'll get to that.
However, they didn't move all the way away. Oh, no. They moved to the suburbs. Tract housing began to sprawl in all directions as many wild-eyed whities climbed over each other to get the hell out of town. And good riddance, I say. Except that these defenders of all that's wholesome have formed a band around the city, a ring of red that's threatening to strangle the very idea of beneficent government. They recline out there on their patio furniture, drinking Zima while squinting to see the edges of their lawns, and complain about the harrowing nature of city streets they never walk.Leave aside the mewling stereotypes (Zima? Huh? I suppose true nobility is inferred by kick-ass Oaxacan tacos). Vogel bemoans the 'burbs' "threat" to the "benificent government" that those insular scandinavians created in the forties and fifties, not seeing that the 'burbs are an extension of that same idea.
Minnesota liberalism was how scandinavian farmers - with their communitarian Lutheran heritage - reacted to the grinding poverty of their anscestral countries and the fairly spartan nature of life in Minnesota up until well into the 20th Century. It brought stability to subsistence farming; it derived predictability from life on the land; it took these attributes and imposed them on government and its subjects - along with the same suffocating sense of social control that the likes of Vogel fled earlier in the article, manifested as government bureaucracy instead of small-town culture.
So when Vogel sneers...:
Suburban life is a perverted response to the perceived problems of the city, where urban unpredictability and diversity are supplanted by the Olive Garden and visits to the biggest mall in the country...she ignores the fact that it's not a rejection of the desire for social control that spawned Minnesota liberalism; it's an extension of it. The grandchildren of the Swedish farmers that voted for the politicians that institutionalized the staid, passive-aggressively harsh communitarianism of their Lutheran churches (leading to Hubert Humphrey's fabled golden era of Minneapolis) are the ones that created the staid, passive-aggressively communitarian suburbs, places that embody all of the impulses of those Norwegian farmers and Finnish miners; lavishly-funded schools, orderly societies, social discipline enforced by relentless peer pressure.
You can't separate the climate that created the fabled Minneapolis from the one that created the reviled 'burbs. Walter Mondale lives in North Oaks today; the descendants of Humphrey live, if memory serves, in the posh Kenwood enclave, insulated from the tussle of urban life by freeways and four-lane arterials.
Back to Vogel, for whom anger replaces historical perspective:
Suburbanites drive downtown for work--occupying jobs that rightfully should go to city dwellers [Why? Because someone lives north of 62nd street, they're more qualified for a job than someone who lives south of 62nd street? And that's better than saying skin color or gender or affectional orientation are qualifications...why?--Ed.]--but then they and their earnings hightail it out before sundown, presumably when the human sacrifices begins. They may return in the evening every once in the while for a showing of Riverdance, but only with the car windows rolled all the way up.Ah. That fabled tolerance in action.
These are exactly the people the Republican Party is looking for. President Bush visited Minnesota--mortifyingly, now a swing state--eight times during his recent campaign. But he didn't speak much in the city (his one appearance in downtown Minneapolis was met with fierce protests; a Bush supporter got punched in the nose).
He lavished attention on the suburbs, places like Eden Prairie, Chanhassen, and Blaine. His message simply doesn't play well in the city, where people value breathable air and aren't offended by gay couples marrying, where enemy is forced to brush up against supposed enemy and eventually both learn to tolerate each other and live together.Unless they're Republicans. Then they get punched in the nose, while Jennifer Vogel titters in righteous glee.
The message hits home in the fearful, angry, awful, isolated burbs. Minneapolis, it should be noted, voted 78 percent in favor of John Kerry; St. Paul, 73 percent. But in Chanhassen, just 20 miles from Hennepin Avenue, the very heart of Minneapolis, Bush drew 62 percent of the vote.Vogel acts like this is a Minnesota phenomenon. In fact, if you look at the electoral map of counties, that's true everywhere.
Luckily, the sheer number and determination of urban voters overwhelmed the suburban backlash. It's thanks to the electorate of the Twin Cities that Minnesota remains, just barely, a blue state. And within the city, much of the credit goes to our newest citizens--the Hmong, Mexicans, and Africans--who tend to vote like city-dwellers.As do all immigrants - for a generation or two. They, like most urban consituencies, are beholden to the left for a lot of things.
But Americans of hispanic descent who've been in the US for more than three generations tend to vote conservative. The Democrat hold on blacks is eroding; Asians, the biggest free-marketeers of all, won't stay Democrat long.
A favorite scene from the election took place at my local polling place, in a historically Polish neighborhood. An African woman wearing bright robes stood in a gray plastic voting booth with her ballot. She spoke only a little English, so she asked for assistance. A poll volunteer approached and embarked upon a lengthy explanation. The African woman interrupted. "Kerry," she said loudly. "I want Kerry." That was that.The liberal model in action; people voting for names they've memorized.
But no mind; Vogel's going for the big finish:
So, sorry suburbs. As Minneapolis and St. Paul become more diverse, they will only become more liberal. ...Incessant carping and fear mongering won't change that. So tell you what, suburbs: Why not find jobs in your own towns--the suburbs you cling to like bulletproof vests--so you don't have to drive to the city at all?Have you looked at the commercial real-estate market lately? They are. And the city people are coming out to work with them (as, indeed, I did for most of the last ten years), creating yet another urban problem, a lack of mass transit from the urban core to where the jobs are.
Then we could tear down a few parking ramps and cancel Riverdance for good. In fact, why not pick up and move all the way away? It's true that when you're attached to a city in the middle of nowhere, it's hard to think of where else to live. But, hey, I believe there's an Olive Garden in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A nice red state. And a couple of Wal-Marts, too.And when they - the people who built the cities, and the suburbs, and the malls and the freeways and the Olive Gardens, the scandinavians, freed slaves, Italian immigrants, somali cabbies and Russian bakers - do go to Sioux Falls, taking the money and the companies they own and run and work for with them - the guys who make those kick-ass Oaxacan tacos will follow.
Because without their commerce, nobody will either buy the tacos or advertise in the papers that pay Jennifer Vogel to write "F*CK THE SUBURBS".Posted by Mitch at December 16, 2004 05:05 AM | TrackBack