Over at the Competition

Over at the competition (am I in trouble, editors?), E.J.’s close-up look at the challenge facing Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts provides a deeper and more thoughtful, not to mention professionally-reported, rumination on the redness of a true-blue state than my blog post of yesterday. You’ll want to read it for a fix while she is lounging poolside, and also to sound smart the next time someone takes the Bay State for granted.

However, in the same vein, she is dead wrong about the true-blue-ness of Ann Arbor. Ann Arbor is the liberal college-town stereotype you’ve read about, but grafted on top of a German farming town—a lovely German farming town. Also, most people don’t realize that the Michigan militia was founded just one town over. The day that the ladies in the gym we belonged to were having a spirited locker-room conversation about how glad they were that Mel Gibson had made a movie about the Crucifixion “just the way it happened” is seared in my memory. So is the day that the Ann Arbor News endorsed John McCain. I don’t usually celebrate when a print newspaper meets its demise, but I made an exception for them.



Here I am, living in probably the reddest corner of Ann Arbor, and I would be hard pressed to find anybody who made similar comments about Mel Gibson. I've lived in Ann Arbor for about 25 years now, and haven't heard anything approximating what you overheard at the gym. Which isn't to say it can't happen, but is to say you need to be careful about arguing from anecdote and hasty generalizations.

That said, in a big picture sense you're correct. Ann Arbor has a progressive, intellectual blue tint, but it also has an affinity for achievement, education, and (albeit in a far less ostentatious manner than the cities of Oakland County) money. To the extent that Ann Arbor is socially liberal, there's public decorum - and traditional events that have interfered with that decorum (e.g., the Naked Mile, the Hash Bash) have been marginalized or eliminated. To the extent that Ann Arbor believes in providing strong public services and a social safety net, there's an underlying fiscal conservatism. Given a choice between the barn burner and the pragmatic centrist, you can easily predict which way Ann Arborites will vote. And Ann Arborites largely demonstrate the same assumption as the rest of the nation - that the possession of wealth is of itself evidence that a person is accomplished and is deserving of deference on policy issues.

Warren would be a good candidate for Ann Arbor because she's wonkish and intelligent. (I'll happily offer a trade: We get Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts gets Debbie Stabenow.) But although Ann Arbor proper went for the Democratic candidate by an overwhelming margin in the last gubernatorial election, Rick Snyder achieved almost half of the vote for the County as a whole. What was I saying about achievement, education, and money?

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