Of all the growing divides in America, none is sharper than that between city and country. For rural residents, existential issues on the national level are seen as magnified versions of personal considerations: Does the country have enough food, fuel and minerals? Can America defend itself, protect its friends and punish its enemies? These concerns differ markedly from the urbanite's worry about whether the government will provide services to take care of vulnerable populations or whether those of different races and religions can get along in such a crowded environment. Add all this up and rural residents are more likely to be conservative and thus Republican, their urban counterparts liberal and logically Democratic. Most hot-button issues — deficit spending, defense, same-sex marriage, amnesty, affirmative action, gun control, and abortion — break along rural or urban lines.
But what, exactly, causes this division?
Rural living historically has encouraged independence, and it still does, even in the globalized and wired 21st century. Autonomy and autarky, not narrow specialization, are necessary and are fueled by an understanding that tools must be mastered to keep nature in its proper place. Such constant preparedness nurtures skeptical views about the role and size of government, in which the good citizen is defined as someone who can take care of herself.
The founders and early observers of American democracy reflected a classical symbiosis, in which even urban thinkers praised the benefits of life in rural areas.
The urban ideal tends to be just the opposite. Looking to cement his lead among urban unmarried women during his 2012 reelection campaign, Barack Obama ran an interactive Web ad, "The Life of Julia." Its dependency narrative defined the life of an everywoman character as one of cradle-to-grave government reliance — a desirable thing. Julia is proudly and perennially a ward of the state. She can get through school only thanks to Head Start and federally backed student loans. Only the Small Business Administration and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act enable her to find work. In her retirement years, only Social Security and Medicare allow her comfort and the time to volunteer for a communal urban garden, apparently a hobby rather than a critical food source.
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