Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Merrimack Valley: Not that Liberal, Not that Nativist

If you don't already know this, I'm an independent. I harbor equal loathing for extreme lefties and righties because they both strike me as self-righteously obnoxious and closed-minded. (Fear not, I'm not going to spout the hackneyed, "I'm fiscally conservative but socially liberal" line because, well, that's not necessarily the case). But if I had a dollar for every time I'd heard that blurk, I could take us both out to a nice dinner anywhere in town!

But I digress. Most people from outside this area paint New England, and Massachusetts in particular, as being screamingly liberal. There may be pockets that really are that way -- parts of Cambridge and Northampton, for instance. But for all the people I've talked to here about the national and world political/military situation, it just doesn't ring true. People here are pretty darn moderate.

Another stereotype about New Englanders concerns their nativism. For sure, there really are pockets of this -- people whose mentality is, "If you're not from here (i.e. born and raised, preferably with parents both also born and raised) your view doesn't count." And I really have heard anecdotal stuff like the story of the guy who's lived in Rhode Island for 30 years but is still treated as an outsider and gets called "the new guy" by his neighbors just because he's not from Rhode Island. But by and large, I really believe people here are better than that.

As my own anecdotal supporting evidence, let me use my experience at the Lowell Film Festival on Saturday. I was in a room full of people who had just seen the movie "Farmingville," which deals with something very complex, nuanced, and many-sided -- how does a town of 15,000 people in Suffolk County, Long Island deal with an influx of 1500 day laborers from Mexico? As you can imagine, the answers aren't easy. The film captured some of the fear and outright racism that people from the town as well as the very legitimate points residents made about noise, crowding, and the effect that large numbers of males hanging around had on the town itself.

After the film, a discussion session broke out. Almost everyone in the crowd threw out at least one or two ideas. No one was excoriated for anything they said, and everyone's comments seemed balanced, usually starting with, "Yes, this is difficult, but..." It was hardly the type of partisanship you would see on any one of our nation's 24/7 cable news outlets.

And as far as the people in the room went, there were folks from all over -- Britain, Cambodia, Vietnam, the Merrimack Valley, and other parts of America, just to name a few. At no point did I hear anyone say, or seem to say, "Your view doesn't count because you're not from here." That was consistent across the board for people with identifiable accents (i.e. British), those who did not speak English as a first language, and those (like me), who pronounce the "r" in the middle of words, don't add an "r" to words like "idea" and use the flat, standard American English "a" in words like "rather" and "can't."

In other words, those who obviously aren't "from around here."


Matt said...

"Fiscally conservative" is truly the greatest political blurk of our generation. Someone said that at a party the other night, and I asked how that was possible -- I mean, if you're fiscally conservative how is the government supposed to generate the tax base to fund your socially liberal programs? Then it got ugly, and I was reminded once again that in social situations it is never a good idea to say anything about politics, particularly if you are hanging out with young people in Los Angeles and aren't super-into Barry Obama.

The New Englander said...

I love it. Maybe next time you hear that from some blurkster, you should do your best to keep a straight face as you respond: "Really, it's funny you should say that. I and most others I know worship at the tax-and-spend altar. We're not that into budgetary constraints and we believe that Congress should spend recklessly. You're the first self-styled 'fiscal conservative' I've met -- can we do lunch sometime?"