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Cocoon: The Return


On this business of “elite cocoons” and “conservative cocoons”:

One of the things I love about America (speaking as a foreigner) is how decentralized it is. Pace “New York, New York”, you don’t have to make it there, you can make it anywhere. Yet, in contrast to other industries, our chattering classes are uniquely concentrated in Ross Douthat’s DC/NY corridor. Isn’t this a little odd? And doesn’t it pose particular problems for Republicans? Conservative elites live in liberal jurisdictions – and, way out back in the “conservative cocoon”, it gives them the whiff of absentee landlords, who enrich themselves on the strength of various holdings in ramshackle colonies but have no desire to spend much time there. Whatever one feels about what Ross Douthat calls the ”conservative cocoon”, it elects conservative mayors, conservative school boards, conservative road agents, conservative state reps, and conservative governors: it’s the only place to go to experience conservatism as applied in practice. On the other hand, Mr Douthat’s aforementioned corridor will once in a while elect a Michael Bloomberg or a Christie Whitman, and that’s it: conservatism remains strictly a theoretical proposition.

That’s why the metropolitan sneers about the size of Wasilla were extremely ill-advised, and not just because of the implication that the mayors of, say, New Orleans, San Francisco or Detroit are therefore more qualified to be in the White House. If it weren’t for small towns, suburbs and rural districts, there would be no conservative government at all. With a few exceptions (such as Vermont), ”blue states” mostly turn out to be red states with a couple of big blue cities (Pennsylvania, for example, or even California). Almost by definition, an effective conservative executive – the kind you might want in the White House – can only come from flyover country.

So, when a conservative pundit mocks Wasilla, he’s mocking conservatism as it’s actually lived, as opposed to conservatism as a theoretical fantasy playground for the purposes of cocktail-party banter. David Warren, a great comrade of me and David Frum in our battles up north, wrote a column on this theme after the last Canadian election, beginning:

It’s when you no longer know where your milk comes from, let alone where you got your opinions, that you have become over-urbanized.

And over-liberalized. A township that digs its own wells and plows its own roads is less susceptible to the beguiling notion that everything necessary in life is a mysterious “government service” to be provided by faceless bureaucrats far away.

As for Sarah Palin, I think she could use a fewer sharper moose gags, but I’m not sure David Brooks is the go-to guy for that. And, to return to his Charlie Rose “Barack is the mountain” shtick, any PBS-watching inbred stump-toothed knuckle-dragging plaid-clad mountain man not yet face down in the moonshine or enjoying a bunk-up with his sister might think that Mr Brooks’ bizarre metaphor gives the game away: the “conservative cocoon” is somewhere you drive through en route to the hiking trip.


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