12 May 2006


Have conservatives adopted "Heritage" as a buzzword because they are out of touch with their own?

Predominantly urban liberals don't need to be reminded of their heritage. They live it every day. Yesterday, I was treated to a showing of Robert W. Steele Elementary School's inaugural video yearbook. As modern as that sounds (it is basically a slide show on DVD), one of the striking elements of the presentation was the wealth of historical photos of the school and the neighborhood that were included in it.

My neighborhood, and the school my children attend, has changed very little since the dawn of the 20th century when it was put into place, then as a street car suburb. Elementary school children dress more casually than they did then, and one city block was converted to high rise apartments, but beyond those changes, there are few obvious differences. Even the curriculum isn't dramatically different. Then as now, children just starting school study spelling, arithmetic, and if they are lucky, are exposed to a little Shakespeare. The schools my conservative peers send their children to in the suburbs, in contrast are new, often so new that the grass hasn't even grown in yet, and frequently are disconnected from the neighborhoods my suburban peers live in. Often they are the first ones to own their homes.

This isn't the only part of urban life that has a historical patina. In contrast to the conservative filled office parks of the Denver Tech Center, I, like many attorneys in Denver, work in an old house converted to offices. The Tilden Mansion where I work was built in 1890. The state house lobby still has breakfast meetings with state legislators at the Brown Palace, a few blocks from the capitol, just as they have done for over a century. My hours, like those of most lawyers these days, are close to those kept by my grandparents and lawyers of their generation, than those of my parents' generation.

Conservatives gravitate to evangelical churches with roots firmly dug in American soil and genuine histories little more than a century old. The connection between the modern Baptist Church, which in its present form really dates to about the 1830s and 1840s with the Second Great Awakening, has very thin ties to the Anabaptists which are its namesake. In contrast, liberals, if they are religious, tend to favor mainline Protestant churches, like the Lutheran or Episcopalian Churches that are nearly half a millenium old and rooted in Europe, or the even older Roman Catholic Church, or the even more ancient Judaic tradition. Indeed, for the average religious liberal in the United States, the connection with the ancient past that their creed provides is one of its main attractions. The secular vein of liberalism is not quite as ancient. But, it was suffused in the deistic movement so central to the thoughts of the Founding Fathers which was part and parcel of the Enlightenment era during which our nation was born, and preceeded the evangelical movements most direct historical roots.

Liberals tend to be comfortable with high levels of immigration, to a significant degree because they are at peace with their own heritage of immigration, believing that it was a positive contribution to this country and that the current wave of immigration will similarly be an assert to our nation. Conservatives seem to prefer to embrace that myth that they were the original inhabitants of the United States with something of the same furvor that occassionally causes an evangelical Christian to remark that "if English was good enough for Jesus in the Bible, it is good enough for me."

Most major American cities were built before Detroit's automotive industry became the dominant force behind American urban planning, and remain vibrant today. The suburban-rural alliance of conservatives consists of places that didn't exist a generation ago, and places that have become ghost towns in the last generation, as technology and international trade have relentlessly moved people off the family farm and into urban America.

Liberals draw much of their skepticism towards war making from detailed historical recollections of what they involved. Conservatives appear to have limited themselves to the Cliff Notes versions, long on heroism, short on pain, and bereft of an understanding of causes really worth going to war over. Liberal attitudes towards the war on drugs draw heavily on lessons learned from the Prohibition era which Republicans have forgotten, just as they have forgotten the Depression that made regulation and a social safety net a necessity.

Familiarity breeds contempt, so liberals don't have the same vacant reverence for the past. Many aspects of our nation's history are no more welcome today than our old homes' coal fireplaces, lead pipes and asbestos insulation. But, it is the conservativees who are really out of touch with this nation's heritage, and their own.

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