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Thursday, July 25, 2013

An open letter to DC conservatives and other people I know concerning relocation to the Midwest

Dear DC conservatives and other people I know in DC,

As a result of our continual and apparently endless relocations, my husband and I spend a lot of time idly discussing where we will move next, or more specifically, where we will "settle down," by which we mean "a place we will live for at least five years," which now seems like a really long time to stay in one place, even though we really have little control over these outcomes. This discussion usually terminates in a contest between returning to Chicago or Washington, with Chicago winning in almost every category until I point out that Washington is practically the only place in America with a lively conservative intellectual life. My husband replies that this attitude is precisely what prompts every politically ambitious twentysomething to move there after their whatever degree program and exacerbate the massive centralization already set in motion there by the growth of the federal government, like a vast in-gathering of leeches sucking on a single oozing sore that never can never heal. (Not a direct quote.)

And while close proximity to the federal government is probably helpful and important for political journalists and policy wonks like you, I do wonder, shouldn't conservatives be a little more concerned about setting up next to an oozing sore? Even in the pre-internet dark ages, the center of conservative political journalism (all journalism, really) was not Washington, but New York, demonstrating that you do not need to live in that park behind the White House to do your job. And now there is internet and 4G, so, strictly speaking, you don't even need to live on Earth! Now, I certainly understand that the Chesapeake region is lovely, and that Washington and its suburbs have good public transit and are rich in essential yuppie services like cupcake bakeries, and these are serious considerations. However, the only house you can actually afford on your think tank salary is probably not even on the Metro, but rather on the VRE in Manassas. Since you're pretty much living in the Shenandoah Valley, the daily views may almost compensate for the fact that you only get to see them out the window of one of those commuter coach buses that picks you up at dawn and takes you back at 5 pm sharp each day because the trip is three hours each way, and if you miss it, you have to spend the night in your office. One need not be a front-porcher and deny oneself imported food to see that it's a bit problematic to advocate government decentralization from an office in Dupont Circle, which is off-center by approximately one mile. 

Why do you live there, then? Because everyone else you know lives there? That's a good reason. You moved there because someone you know lived there, I'd move there because you live there, and maybe someone else would move there because I live there. And of course the people you knew there had a job for you, and you for me, and me for the next person, and so on. The sore does get bigger to accommodate the growing number of leeches - as you will discover when you close on your place next to a cow pasture outside of Leesburg. But maybe while you're sitting in traffic 20 miles outside the beltway one morning, you may begin to wonder why this particular location is necessary to your chosen profession, which you admit can be done from space. Aren't there dozens of internet-enabled cities in America with equivalent per capita cupcake coverage where you nevertheless could afford to live within 10 miles of your office, or even walking distance from it? Well, obviously there are. But there are no conservative think tanks and journals and nonprofits in Richmond or Baltimore or Dover, which you know first-hand because you live in what used to be the suburbs of these cities, which have been charitably subsumed into Washington's vast suburban halo as their original anchor cities have lost their hold on them as they return to the howling wilderness out of which they were raised. 

But there could be, couldn't there? What - other than inertia and the centripetal force of migratory twentysomethings in pursuit of jobs and cupcakes - prevents it? Couldn't a few magazines or think tanks set out as pioneers to stake out new ground, somewhere where they could really be a force, like the homesteaders of the 1850s on the Great Plains? For some time now, my husband and I have considered how and where we could break DC's monopoly on conservative thought-life. Initially, we set our hopes on Chicago, which has many obvious draws, including cupcakes and direct flights to everywhere in America. And while that would be great for me personally, in many ways, Chicago is like the North Dakota of conservative homesteading - parched, freezing, unsuited to the agricultural methods the settlers bring with them, and ultimately inhospitable to their very existence. However, the Rust Belt more broadly is potentially more promising - it blossomed once and could bloom again, and what's more conservative than reviving what was once great, and already has blocks and blocks of lovely but slightly derelict Victorian mansions to work from? And, since most of these cities are in red or competitive states, there is greater potential for local and state-wide political impact.

The question remained, however, from which city we should dispatch boosters? On the one hand, there are places like Gary and Detroit, which have declined so precipitously that they can no longer support even one cupcake bakery, a likely sign that, despite the innumerable wonders that an in-migration of conservative writers may be able to work, a reversal of the civic fortunes of destitute cities is not one of them. On the other hand, too-robust places like Chicago are difficult to influence. And then we hit on it! Actually, my husband would probably like to be dissociated from this post starting about five paragraphs ago, so I hit on it! I was listening to this CSPAN interview with Yuval Levin, in which he mentions about 10 hours in that the Bradley Foundation is based in Wisconsin, and then it was so obvious. Milwaukee! A perfect location! A small city, located in a now politically competitive state, reasonably prosperous, affordable, home to at least two universities, still existing industry, large quantities of beer and Poles, and I guess the Bradley Foundation. The total state and local sales tax is a mere 5.6 percent, and state income tax is 6.5 percent. Not quite Virginia, but not bad for a historically trade-unionist state. And, according to Yelp, four cupcake bakeries. Effete, but also working class. Culturally developed, but also family-friendly. Milwaukee is a place where all conservative values collide.

At least I hope so. Because it is true that Miss Self-Important, despite growing up two hours away, has never actually been to Milwaukee. (Because why would you if you're already in Chicago? Wisconsin is where you go to experience nature, go-carts, and House on the Rock, not Chicago's less-successful industrial twin.) But it seems like a place I could like, perhaps mainly due to its close resemblance and proximity to Chicago. And it seems like a place you, DC conservatives, could also like. What say you? Shall we all agree to meet in Milwaukee in five years?

Big hopeful hearts,
Miss Self-Important

PS: After shopping this idea around in DC - and receiving predictable reflexive rejection from those who suffer from Stockholm syndrome who already live there - I've added the following alternative relocation suggestions to the list of possibilities: Dallas, Austin, and St. Louis. I've never been to any of these cities either, but they could be good. More than one person also offered New Hampshire, but that proposal suffers from obvious and immediate difficulties of geographic isolation and urban underdevelopment. We'd probably have to hunt our own cupcakes there, too. At that point, we may as well remove to Canada, which is emphatically not the aim of the DC Relocation Project.

18 comments:

WPB said...

Don't give up on Chicago!

Miss Self-Important said...

I think it's given up on me. But we could populate a Chicago-Milwaukee corridor, like NY-DC, but with a cheaper Amtrak commute between them so that there's no need to settle for Chinatown buses.

Jeff said...

Are you ruling out the South? Charleston, Savannah...

Ari S. said...

I support the nanny think tank that would feed me in Austin.

Miss Self-Important said...

Jeff: I don't know enough about these locales except that they don't meet my central location criterion that allows for short direct flights to everywhere. What do they have going for them?

Ari: Well, get on it then and start one.

Emily Hale said...

I like Austin, but emphatically not Dallas: too many people with big hair and snake-skin cowboy boots. And too much heat. And not enough cultural return.

Miss Self-Important said...

But this is precisely the problem - we can't just coast on the backs of hipsters. Normal people - or at least normal Texans - may have big hair and snakeskin boots and we have to accept that, even learn to like it a little. Homesteading middle America is at least some part sacrifice and compromise, so the question is what we will give up for the common good of decentralizing American intellectual life. As long as we keep cupcakes, I am willing to bargain.

mike shupp said...

How about Cleveland, or Cincinnati? Reasonably large cities (= cupcakes), plus a Midwestern location. Also, baseball.

Miss Self-Important said...

If you all keep suggesting other cities, we are going to have a serious collective action problem.

JD Bell said...

Kansas City MO. A well kept secret. It would benefit from an influx of young conservatives and you get to rub elbows with us of the flyover provinces. Not a one to one match for the sophisicated eastern suburbs of Civitatis aeternae in elites.

Besides which I need to torque off my daughter. Grin.

Miss Self-Important said...

Ok, suggestion season is closed. Milwaukee or bust.

Withywindle said...

Nay, I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak
Nothing but 'Portland,' and give it her
To keep her anger still in motion.

Miss Self-Important said...

Laverne and Shirley, I know. Shakespeare is a stretch.

Withywindle said...

One of my dad's favorite lines. I've heard it on and off my whole life. And now it has application!

CW said...

Shouldn't someone (maybe not you) move to North Dakota and talk that state's conversative and newly rich oil businessmen into funding a local conservative think tank? I keep hearing that Fargo is becoming more tolerable, but Minot would be closer to oil country.

Withywindle said...

You could call yourselves the Shimerda Society.

Miss Self-Important said...

CW: If you would like to populate North Dakota, be my guest!

Withywindle: Are they particularly socially conservative characters?

Withywindle said...

Mr. Shimerda is a cultured pioneer who doesn't take well to the prairie climate.