I’m heading to Kansas in a couple days, and am remembering something that I often discover about the red states: that there are political differences between them and my native California.
I’m not just talking about the obvious factors, such as people looking askance at men holding hands with each other, or at women dressing more skimpily, or people in general looking older, even though they may not be. I’m talking about looking up the bus fares for Hutchinson and discovering to my shock that it costs $4 compared to the $1.50 fare in Los Angeles. Not only that, but I’ll have to walk 1.2 miles just to get to the bus stop. Kansans don’t believe in tax money being spent on frivolous things like poor people’s transportation needs. They believe in what they call “self-sufficiency”–that is, every man for himself, period.
I’ll be doing some genealogical research while I’m in Hutch, and discovered another red-blue split: The state government doesn’t believe in transparency. While birth and death records are public in California and many other states, they aren’t in Kansas. They are available only to immediate family and “anyone who can prove a direct interest.” The red-state mentality is authoritarian rather than transparent, as explained in the fine book, Don’t Think of an Elephant, by George Lakoff.
I’ve run into this in other red states, too. While I was in the Carolinas in the late 1990s, I noticed that their state and local governments don’t spend much money on infrastructure. I tried to bicycle in Charleston, for example, and discovered that there were virtually no bikepaths, few sidewalks, and very little or crumbling road shoulder. Get out of historic Charleston and it was dangerous just to walk down the street, with cars whizzing by so close to you. You had to trudge through the weeds and brambles just to keep from getting hit. The city is designed, it seems, for the convenience of those in Cadillacs and limousines, and not for those who have to walk to their destinations.
While driving from Charleston to Raleigh, too, I noticed a definite red-state complexion. I wanted to stop along the way and walk onto the beach, take off my shoes, squish my toes in the sand, feel the salt air on my face. But in the Carolinas, there are miles upon miles upon miles of seaside mansion estates that preclude any public use. In 1971, California passed The Coastal Initiative that codified into law the idea that the beach (such as Carmel Beach, above) belongs to the public, and that no more private or commercial building would be allowed there. Obviously, that is too radical an idea for the Carolinas.
People often throw up their hands at politics, saying their vote makes no difference. But here, that concept is disproven. Not only does politics have an impact on the large issues, such as war and who’s going to chair the Fed, but also, on the issues that affect us every day, such as sidewalks, streets, and beaches. And so I head off towards a red state, hoping for the best.