Maybe you are just a little bit different. Maybe you are a boy who doesn’t like sports, trucks, tools, or girls. Maybe you are a girl who doesn’t like dolls, make-up, shoes, or boys. Maybe you could never believe in the parting of the Red Sea, or the story of Noah’s ark. Maybe you were one of few that had dark skin, or the only one who spoke with an accent. Maybe you wanted to be an actor, or go into publishing, or to become a chef, or something else that no one in your hometown ever thought of becoming. Maybe you are the first one in your family to go to college and learn fancy-schmanzy theories about physics, biology, or sociology.

If so, there is a better than even chance that you left your hometown and came to live in the country’s great coastal cities. Or maybe you settled in Chicago or St. Paul.

The folks back home see you as somewhat exotic. Their eyes get big when you tell them mundane things like how you get to work, or about your eccentric Pakastani grocer, or the strange cuisines you have taken a liking to. They shake their heads when you tell them about your gay neighbor and his many cats. They still love you, but they no longer understand you. Your whole life is foreign to them, and it is vaguely threatening.

And then politics or religion comes up. They are concerned about foreign immigration. You are the only white person living in your apartment building. They are concerned about gay marriage. You like to end a night on the town singing in a piano bar. They are suspicious of people that don’t show up for church services. You don’t know too many people that go to church. They support the President. You can’t think of a soul you know that voted for him.

Our great cities are magnets that pull the go-getters, eccentrics and free-thinkers out of the provincial heartland and put them in a cosmopolitan whirlwind.

The result is two populations that can no longer see each other clearly. We may still love each other, but we find each other threatening. Those of us in the cities struggle not to look down on the lack of sophistication, learning, and tolerance of those living in the heartland. The people in the heartland struggle not to resent this condescencion, they struggle to reconcile their values with the seeming anything-goes attitude of the city-dwellers.

The truth is, there is a lot of wisdom in the bedrock conservatism of small-town America. And there is a lot of wisdom in the free-for-all liberalism of a San Francisco. And it seems to me that we have reached a point where we can find common ground in a basic principle. The principle is to say to the government: leave me alone.

We can see the shift in America’s perceptions in this Gallup Poll:

* By 55%-40%, respondents say Republicans, traditionally the party of limited government, are “trying to use the federal government to interfere with the private lives of most Americans” on moral values.

* By 53%-40%, they say Democrats, who sharply expanded government since the Depression, aren’t trying to interfere on moral issues.

It’s time for the Democrats to reach out to the libertarians. We need to support the privacy of Americans from Schiavo-like intrusions. We need to oppose the politics of fear, with the politics of personal liberty. Small-town America never liked the federal government telling them what to do. Now that the federal government is not fighting for civil rights, but against them, the easy-going city dwellers need to join with the small-town conservatives to say: get out of my bedroom, get out of my hospital room, get out of my doctor’s office, stop snooping around my public library, just get out of my business.

And bring our boys and girls home from Iraq, and some of the other 105 countries they are stationed in. We never asked for an empire…just a republic.

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