Wanted: Leslie Knope Democrats
Here’s a great find from a reader. Back in 2012, the sitcom Parks And Recreation aired an episode called “The Debate.” It was part of a story line in which Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) was running for city council against Bobby Newport (Paul Rudd). Newport is the spoiled rich kid dunderhead scion of a local family whose candy factory employs half the town. He’s supposed to represent the pro-business conservative, whereas Knope represents the good-government liberal. In the televised campaign debate, Newport says his daddy told him that if Leslie Knope wins, he might have to move the candy factory to Mexico.
In her response, Leslie Knope says this:
I am very angry. I’m angry that Bobby Newport would hold this town hostage and threaten to leave if you don’t give him what he wants. It’s despicable. Corporations are not allowed to dictate what a city needs. That power belongs to the people. Bobby Newport and his daddy would like you to think it belongs to them. I love this town. And when you love something, you don’t threaten it. You don’t punish it. You fight for it. You take care of it. You put it first. As your City Councilor, I will make sure that no one takes advantage of Pawnee. If I seem too passionate, it’s because I care. If I come on strong, it’s because I feel strongly. And if I push too hard, it’s because things aren’t moving fast enough. This is my home. You are my family. And I promise you. I’m not going anywhere.
The reader who submitted that says that this was a statement of liberal orthodoxy in 2012. Now, though? The Woke Capitalists of liberal orthodoxy — Hollywood especially — are on the side of Bobby Newport, threatening to move their businesses out of poorer parts of the country because they do not love these places or the people who live there.
I invite abortion rights advocate Amy Poehler and you, reader, to take a look at this scorching essay in Scalawag by Katherine Ward-Hehn, an Alabama progressive woman who is as mad as hell about the new abortion laws. But she is also angry at Northerners for the way they’ve caricatured and scapegoated the South. She’s responding in particular to a Ginia Bellafante article in The New York Times that criticizes the South for suddenly becoming icky to Yankee expatriates because of its abortion laws. Ward-Hehn lets her have it. Excerpt:
The piece opens with Bellafante’s cousin in New Orleans, who upon hearing about the state’s abortion restrictions, said, “You really forget you’re in the Deep South here.” This cousin is on to something: There absolutely is a rural-urban divide in politics, but that divide exists across the U.S.—even in New York.
And the thing is, New Orleans is the “Deep South.” So is Dallas, Birmingham, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, and yes, Miami—the cities that, according to Bellafante, were uninhabitable until they traded their own complex histories for strip mall versions of Brooklyn. If you’re going to other the South, you don’t get to cherry-pick what constitutes the South and Southerners. You don’t get to rewrite our history either, like this paragraph chock-full of bullshit:
‘The New South’ was a term conceived in the aftermath of the Civil War to suggest a set of aspirations of some southern elites who hoped to rebuild a backward and devastated place into a world better aligned with Northern urban values.
If by “Northern urban values” Bellafante means the industrialization of this region by way of extracting resources with racist labor policies, then yes, that is the definition of New South.
Industrialization hinged on Northern investment, which allowed New York financiers to profit wildly from subjecting Southern Blacks and poor whites to horrendous labor conditions. That’s the relationship between North and South—one of extraction. Wealth in the North exists today because of these conditions. Meanwhile, the South continues to suffer. We see it in all those nationally ranked quality of life measures where we’re consistently the worst— from our poor birth outcomes to our early deaths. Then the North mocks and frowns upon our suffering, pouring salt in the wound.
Are those the “Northern urban values” we so desperately seek to mimic?
This essay isn’t for my fellow Southerners, unless you’re foolish enough to buy into this kind of backwards thinking. This is for all the folks like Bellafante who think the South is simply a place to indulge in their privilege cheaply.
We’ve had enough of your condescending entitlement, thanks.
If you have an inkling of solidarity with those of us here working against oppressive laws, then by all means, put your precious Northern money to good use by supporting the organizations doing the work on the ground in the South.
When my family and I moved to south Louisiana in 2011, some of our friends in the Northeast genuinely didn’t understand. Why would you take your kids to live in a place that is close to last on all the statistical measures of life quality (the measures of life quality that mean something to upwardly mobile urban professionals, at least)? Well, I wrote a book explaining that, but I could have done just as well by saying what Leslie Knope said: Because I love it.
This industry boycott threatened against Georgia and other states really ought to unite local people of the left and the right. I understand why liberals hate the new abortion laws. I don’t agree, but I understand why they feel that way, and I don’t begrudge them lobbying to overturn them. Where Katherine Ward-Hehn’s progressive worldview and mine intersect — perhaps the only place! — is in resentment at the entitlement these Hollywood people and other capitalists have to think they should have the right to come here and make money on us (and with us), but as soon as the people democratically vote for a law that does not affect their business, but rather simply offends their delicate liberal consciences, they want to ghost us.
To paraphrase slightly that great populist liberal Leslie Knope, “Corporations aren’t allowed to dictate what a state needs. That power belongs to the people.” If this boycott goes through, the people who are going to be hurt by this are some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in America. The price of Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street liberals feeling good about themselves for sticking it to Boss Hogg is not going to be paid primarily by Boss Hogg.
We need some Leslie Knope Democrats — and Leslie Knope Republicans.