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Obviously I am very thrilled and optimistic in regards to all the HOPE and CHANGE that President Obama has promised for our country, taking it back from the mouth-breathing, regressive, and damaging nincompoopery of the GOP, which has enabled liberals (and I call myself one) to strut around with pride and cockiness for the first time in eight years or so. Obama’s comprehensive victory, however, is not a mandate for these self-professed liberals to be behaving as reactionary and insulting as the conservatives of this country have been during this same timespan (or even since 1994, really). This is neither hope nor change; this is a wolf in slightly more glamorous sheep-lined clothing.

Considering the dedicated feminist and queer theorist I was in Ye Olde Collegiate Days of Yore, I would be remiss if I didn’t (granted, poorly) illustrate what I mean with anecdotes. The personal is political after all. You can take the boy out of college, yada.

Before Sarah Palin squawked about a so-called “real America,” I took a trip to the South, encompassing Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. Now clearly Palin’s diction–especially when conflated with Michelle Bachman’s ludicrous line-drawing of pro- and anti-America–was loaded with intense political rancor and was entirely intellectually/morally irresponsible (surprise!), but in stripping away the implications I almost understood what she meant, as well as seeing her resentment. Because it has been clear that the past eight years in America has been comprised of entirely dichotomous partisanship, and for the “liberal elite” that has constituted a notion of the coasts as a bastion of clear-thinking and progressive thought while derisively referring to the rest of America as the “flyover states.” Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s a whole huge part of our country to be dismissing. Nearly all of it. The vast geographical portion of our country being saddled with a reputation as backwards-thinking hicks.

Certainly the South has a historical problem with racism and religious fundamentalism, though I find this constant righteous highlighting by non-Southerners (“coastal elites”) to be a bit lazy, considering the formation of the United States. To be honest, I didn’t find the South to be any more or less racist than the Northeast–the only possible difference being that racism in the Northeast is more subtle and surprising. And attitudinally, I was excited to engage with the region on its terms, to explore the differences of its lifestyles and communities, its general lack of bustling metropolises in favor of midsize cities and small towns and widespread country roads separating neighbor from neighbor–which is certainly different from my own experience, seeing as I’ve only ever lived in big cities. I enjoyed the South immensely as both a contrast to my perspective and experience as well as a portrayal of how “the rest of America,” the majority of it (“real,” perhaps), lives.

The reactions I’ve received from self-professed liberal friends and acquaintances in regards to my enjoyment of the South have always carried with them an undertone of immense shock, as if it’s impossible to enjoy life there. As if–and this is the overwhelming implication–Life As It Should Be Lived can only be found in places like New York City, and anything else is a poor simulacrum, something to be mocked. (A while ago, very well-off friends of friends took off on a tour of the southern United States in an effort to throw away some money and document the HILARIOUS Otherness of this region, like Oh Wow Fatty Diner Food. The tone that was generated throughout was an overriding sense of superiority while effectively generalizing a vast region of the country as one big Dairy Queen filled with tacky Wal-Mart fashions.) This, I think, gets to a crux of Palin and Bachman’s derisiveness of liberal elites, if only they weren’t so mealy-mouthed and hatemongering to engage this discussion. Because how must it feel to have a whole sector of society look at the lives you live, and the locales of them, and easily denigrate it as lesser, based on ill-formed thoughts and stereotype? To be called “white trash redneck hicks” without the bat of an eye (it seems that this classist epithet is most-often used by well-off white people, embarrassed by the poor whites whom they feel drag them down to the level of, say, inner city minorities). I understand their resentment, because it is exactly the mirror of their rhetoric regarding places like New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco or Boston as godless, unpatriotic cities, or painting the African-American community as full of welfare cases or Hispanics as illegal immigrants. It goes both ways, doesn’t it? It doesn’t mean that either is right.

Somewhat related to this the role of religion, and anecdotally the nastiness of so-called liberals has been felt personally in reaction to my recent visit to Salvation Mountain. I am not a religious person–and in fact the last time I was ever in a church, I stormed out because of a sermon denouncing abortion–and neither are most of the liberal friends I have. But in either the relaying or the showing of pictures of this trip, the contrast in our reactions have been marked. Uniformly, comments in regards to this structure and its story have been full of snarky derision, jokes of it being a “cult,” or dismissals of Leonard Knight’s venture as crazy. And I’ll admit that part of the allure was a certain exoticization, which was quickly replaced by awe at the depth and expression of one man’s love and faith. This isn’t even about religion in its most bastardized forms–that of Ted Haggard and Pat Robertson–but rather Christianity in possibly its purest expression. And if we liberals respect the concerns of Muslims and Jews and Hindus, I don’t see why we automatically slag off all Christians as bigoted imbeciles.

What I’m trying to say is that it pains me when friends and acquaintances of mine who are self-professed liberals make dismissive, reactionary comments towards people based on their region, lifestyle, and beliefs. It is as disgusting and ugly as the dismissive, reactionary comments that the Christian Right has been making about us. Just because we now have a plurality of representation in governmental leadership does not make it okay for us to be as dumb and reductive, combative and close-minded as they have been. It is hypocritical for someone to call themselves a liberal and then to be so close-minded with respect to people they are ideologically different from; you aren’t going to induce progress with that attitude. (The preaching-to-the-choir protests of Prop 8 are but the most recent illustrations of this.) Liberals and conservatives need to work together, and with respect to boot. Take a page out of the playbook of Patron Saint of Hope and Change. Our country deserves better than what it’s been, and I’d like to see more than just red and blue.

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