Anti-urban bias in US (and Irish) politics

25 July, 2011

Christopher Hitchens is my favourite celebrity atheist.  He’s also one of my favourite writers  (but note that one of the strange ironies of my literary tastes is that I often disagree with the political views of those whose writing appeals to me most).  In Slate magazine he recently had a go at Michelle Bachmann and what she stands for.  He could have been writing about Ireland:

Where does it come from, this silly and feigned idea that it’s good to be able to claim a small-town background? It was once said that rural America moved to the cities as fast as it could, and then from urban to suburban as fast as it could after that. Every census for decades has confirmed this trend. Overall demographic impulses to one side, there is nothing about a bucolic upbringing that breeds the skills necessary to govern a complex society in an age of globalization and violent unease. We need candidates who know about laboratories, drones, trade cycles, and polychrome conurbations both here and overseas. Yet the media make us complicit in the myth—all politics is yokel?—that the fast-vanishing small-town life is the key to ancient virtues. Wasilla, Alaska, is only the most vivid recent demonstration of the severe limitations of this worldview.

We see the same shibboleth here in Ireland: it’s said or implied that a politician from a big city (for which read Dublin) is somehow less in touch with the realities of Irish life and is somehow less trustworthy, more elitist and more unsympathetic.  This is rubbish, of course, and not just because Irish city-dwellers are usually just one or two generations removed from a rural past.  Bertie Ahern aside, some of the greatest charlatans and crooks in Irish politics were (and still are) from outside Dublin.

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