A mirror universe?
I just had an Out Of Oakland experience. I went to my folks' home for the holidays, up in Whatcom County, Washington. And I discovered that everyone in my family is a Republican. And always has been. Not just the parents but my siblings and in-laws too. Now I know what it feels like to be told you've been adopted or that your parents had another name before they entered the witness protection program. They've tolerated my commie pinko leanings, hoping I would come to my senses in the way that parents hope teens will give up atrocious fashions or develop taste in music. I just had to move to that disloyal Barbara Lee's district and Zenmaster Jerry Brown's city, birthplace of the Black Panthers, a Molotov cocktail's throw from the People's Republic of Berkeley. Oy vey es mir.
Whatcom's the 10,000 square miles in the northwest corner of the U.S. map, just south of the border, about 30 minutes from Vancouver, Canada. Bellingham is a 142 square mile city (think 12x12) of about 92,000, mostly Dems, boosted by the Western Washington University's young liberals. 74,790 people, largely conservative farmers and loyal Republicans, occupy the other 1977 square miles of the county. There's a huge cultural divide. One is density: town people live on 1.4% of the land, 650 people per square mile, while country people share a square mile with 38 other folks (17 times more people). Another is the culture of self-reliance and community. My folks, who live in an unincorporated area between the town of Ferndale and the Lummi tribe, actually know all their neighbors. This is impressive since a walk around the block is 2 miles. Other folks who live in more rural parts of the county are far from basic civic services, like paramedics, fire and police. They depend on themselves and each other, not so much on government.
The county has growing pains. The population is growing faster than they can fund infrastructure. The county jail is at capacity, as are schools. State and federal funding have dropped across the board.
Whatcom County has one hospital, huge, private, part of a charitable not-for-profit. Canada's wealthy bypassing healthcare rationing, drive across the border to St. Joseph's new cardiac care center. No waiting time for top surgeons and fresh equipment. Canadians may soon account for half the hospital's revenue. Folks around there see that as evidence of a failed single payer system. At the same time locals pooh-pooh the new Medicare law that make it illegal to cheaply buy expensive medicine in Canada. I'm afraid that lots of people my father's age or my grandmother's will be arrested along with the other drug smugglers, and with mandatory minimums...
Whatcom's border location also means they have the same law enforcement problems as San Diego. Narcotic smuggling. Illegal aliens. Biker gangs. Much of the police, jail, and court costs fall to local cities and the county sheriff. But federal reimbursements don't come close to covering those costs. So they wind up cutting or underfunding local services. Compared to Oakland, there is little gun violence in Whatcom's countryside. More guns, but the outdoorsman culture is the rule. Handguns protect against wild predators like coyotes, wild dogs, and snakes, and against those who walk upright. The lines between right and wrong are unambiguous, cleanly drawn, simple and authoritative.
The GOP has an active mailing tree there. Hierarchical and effective. The latest good news from the party, the latest horrors by those who don't understand values and America's place in the world.
Lots of technology skeptics. Show me the relevance and five neighbors who're using it. Computing and communications adoption typically lag the Bay Area by a few years, but the lag is shortening. Part of the resistance is a strong desire to have real things. Authenticity matters. In politics they like that our President is direct and speaks plain. In the arts they like the handcrafted over the assembly line, the local over the import, the traditional over the avant garde. It's winter there. Snow, rain, black ice, rain, sleet, rain. But the rurality is Rush Limbaugh country all year long. Rush is a primary source of news and opinion, Fox News a close second. They feel about both the Clinton's the way we feel about Dubya: angry and betrayed by moral failings where America can least afford them. They like The President, even think he's been doing fine. Lots of folks have family or friends who are serving in Iraq and are proud of our men and women in uniform. Showing the flag isn't just OK, it's downright patriotic. They have yet to hear one good idea from the Democratic presidential candidates, no vision for the future, no real response to national security issues or the economy. And the candidates all seem to be bashing each other instead of defining themselves. They can't imagine any of the Dems beating Bush. All in all, it felt like falling into a mirror universe.
I love my family and it was more than heartwarming to be with them. But I clicked my heels three times and stepped onto that prop plane. It's good to be home. So, what did you do for the holidays?