I agree with David Brooks's conclusion in "One Nation, Slightly Divisible" (December Atlantic): "There may be cracks, but there is no chasm. Rather, there is a common love for this nation—one nation in the end." But I am simply astonished that he can use a county only sixty-five miles from eastern coastal cities to compare Red America with Blue America. Franklin County has little or no resemblance to Colorado's San Miguel County, in the Rockies, or Custer County, in South Dakota's Black Hills, or wheat-producing counties in Iowa and Minnesota, or even Dickinson County, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, not to mention the counties in Utah and Nevada desert country, or the counties in Washington and Oregon timber country.
People in the West share many of the ideas and thoughts of those anywhere else in America, but many of them have strong feelings of opposition to the encroachment of the federal government on private ownership and the increasing environmental restrictions on natural-resource production activities (mining, logging, and cattle raising) that have been their livelihood. To easterners—and make no mistake, the people in Franklin County are easterners—these are nonexistent concerns, but they are very real to people in western Red America. They are not concerns that will keep the people from loving America, but they are concerns that must eventually be resolved.
Doris V. Geist
David Brooks observes that most Americans don't criticize or try to change other people's religious and moral beliefs. From this he concludes that there is no "culture war" in America.
Americans, however, let their ballots do the talking, and in the 2000 election they voted as if there was indeed such a war. A Pew Foundation-funded survey vividly illustrates the religious divide: observant white Christians (those who regularly attend church services) made up 60 percent of Bush's popular vote. Gore, on the other hand, attracted a large proportion of secular voters and less observant Christians.
Speaking as one raised and firmly ensconced in Red country, I think David Brooks did a credible job of presenting us in all our diversity. I also find his Ego Curtain a very helpful heuristic tool. I do have one small quibble, however, and that is his claiming of NPR as a Blue possession. From my solidly central-Illinois home I receive at least four different NPR stations (three FM, one AM), with varying talk, blues/jazz, and classical-music formats, but all carrying the major national morning and evening news programs. All those stations are well supported in local fund drives, often ending their drives early because funding goals have been met ahead of schedule. At least three of the most popular NPR shows with national syndication—A Prairie Home Companion, Whad'Ya Know?, and This American Life—not only originate in the Midwest but also do a very respectable job, I think, of answering Brooks's challenge to find interpretations of Red America as seen through Red eyes.
I suggest an emendation to David Brooks's comment "Because the information age rewards education with money, it's not surprising that Montgomery County is much richer than Franklin County." That causation is not established. A reverse causation is possible: affluence in Montgomery County may allow larger purchases of education. Also, college-educated parents working in Montgomery County may be more insistent that their children obtain college educations—which reminds me of an approximate quotation from Winston Churchill: "Education is the process by which people learn to live comfortably with those who are similarly educated." The annual Forbes survey of CEO compensation often shows high school graduates earning more than college graduates. Tuition-paying parents should not dismay; some causation exists, but there are a lot of exceptions to the rule. Also, kids from Franklin County should know that they, too, have tremendous educational opportunity in this country.
David Brooks asserts in his report on Red and Blue America that "where [the Reds] live, they can afford just about anything that is for sale," and that this contributes to their lack of class consciousness.
Health care is at least one exception. It can cost $10,000 a year to insure a family of five, and $3,000 for an individual policy, if one is not covered through an employer's plan. How many in Red America, not able to afford such policies, are among our 43 million uninsured?
Beginning in 2002 nine states, largely in Bush's Red America, will not have Medicare HMO choices: Alaska, Arkansas, Maine, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming. Four more—Delaware, Kentucky, Nebraska, and West Virginia—will have no plans that offer drug coverage. These Red states don't have big enough markets to keep profit-driven health-care providers interested.
Judy M. Jensvold
America's middle class does not consist entirely of nincompoops, unable to sense their socio-economic interests, as it might seem from the interviews described by David Brooks. He does not mention that voters with family incomes under $30,000 went overwhelmingly for Gore. A slight majority of voters with family incomes under $50,000 went for Gore also. And so did the majority of all women, by 11 percent.
Brooks describes Montgomery County—in the Blue zone (where Gore prevailed)—as populated by high-income lawyers, doctors, and stockholders. This conjures up the caricature of limousine liberals. The reality is that people with family incomes over $50,000 voted for Bush by a wide margin.
North Caldwell, N.J.
I read with great delight Robert D. Kaplan's insightful article on Samuel Huntington ("Looking the World in the Eye," December Atlantic). As a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard in 1996-1997, I had a chance to discuss with Huntington his views on political order and democracy and on "the clash of civilizations." As an Arab and a practicing Muslim, I found myself in agreement with Huntington's celebrated, controversial, and often misunderstood argument that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will be not primarily ideological or economic but cultural. Indeed, lost in the widespread dismissal of this thesis as a policy blueprint for State Department hawks is the theory's merit in attempting to acknowledge real and basic civilizational differences and the international effect of their political application. The Clash of Civilization's strength (and usefulness, as a frame of analysis in the post-September 11 world) is its honesty. Its premises are straightforward and (romantic, make-believe world views aside) undeniable: the world is not Westernizing; Asia and Islam are expanding; and culture consciousness is getting stronger.