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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 05/13/2010

City dwellers are ordinary people

By Topher Mathews

Yesterday, Post columnist Kathleen Parker made the peculiar observation that 78 percent of Americans are not ordinary. Specifically, she argued that President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, doesn't satisfy Obama's stated desire to nominate someone who is in touch with "ordinary Americans" because she is from New York. Parker states that "[c]ertainly New York City dwellers would argue that they struggle with ordinary concerns, just in a more dense environment. But New York, like other urban areas, tends to be more liberal than the vast rest of the country."

Parker appears to be saying that New Yorkers cannot be in touch with "ordinary people" because New York is full of liberals. But it seems that her real problem is that New York, like other urban areas, is, well, urban. This comes out loud and clear when she suggests that someone like Clarence Thomas has a leg up on claiming an identity with "ordinary" people as a result of his rural Georgian upbringing. That the residents of rural Georgia tend to be more conservative than the "vast rest of the country" doesn't seem to enter her calculations of who qualifies as "ordinary."

But what is an "ordinary" American? According to the Census, 78 percent of Americans live in urban areas (defined as cities over 50,000 people). Moreover, 58 percent of Americans live in cities over 200,000 in population. Only 20 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural areas. Thus, more people grow up in and around a city like New York or Washington than grow up in small towns like Clarence Thomas's.

While there are obvious demographic and political variations between a city population and a rural one, we city dwellers have no less of a claim to "ordinariness" than our rural or small-town brethren. How we vote doesn't change that.

Topher Mathews blogs at The Georgetown Metropolitan. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Topher Mathews  | May 13, 2010; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Local blog network  
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How about looking for normal?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 13, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

There's a huge difference between New York City and, say, Boise, Idaho. Obama's allegedly more "representative" court is exclusively composed of Ivy League-educated East Coasters and Californians.

Posted by: Simon23p | May 14, 2010 2:02 AM | Report abuse

'"representative" court is exclusively composed of Ivy League-educated'

God forbid we have educated people on the supreme court, that's like having a guy who actually went to medical school be your doctor.

Good I think we need more people from urban areas be our representatives, since the american population is now shifting back to the cities. We need more urban policies in the country because the suburbs are draining our resources, both financial and natural.

Posted by: Baltimore137 | May 14, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Why aren't city dwellers normal people? Well, because they don't come from Palin/Bachmann's "real America", code word for "rural, white (preferably north European), protestant, conservative, male-dominated, non-college educated America".

Small town America peaked a century ago in 1910 when 1/3 of Americans lived in small towns...we've been trending urban ever since. We're just as "Real America" as you, Sarah/Michelle.

Posted by: Dan78 | May 14, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

Actually Dan78, with the way the trends have been going for the lst 100 years, the Palin/Bachman type of american is now the minority. To me that says that the city folk are the real americans and the rural people are now the past.

Posted by: schnauzer21 | May 14, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

commenter GaryEMasters asks for not 'ordinary' but 'normal.' By definition, that which is 'normal' is that thing that is shared by the majority. So, even more so than "ordinary," Ms Kagan is "normal." Of course, I don't particularly WANT a SCOTUS justice to be a "regular guy," any more than I want the POTUS to be one. I want my leaders to be EXCEPTIONAL. The dumb anti-intellectual wave that is sweeping America, from our black adolescent boys who are ashamed to be seen reading by their peers, to a POTUS who is just 'average,' it's really quite disheartening. Much like Tucker Carlson asked about John Kerry back in 2004, was W the best the Republicans could do?

We, of course, made the same observation about Parker's suggestion that a city-dweller isn't "normal." What's not normal is a "rural Georgia backwater" dweller, like Clarence Thomas. Where we don't tell you WHAT To think, just to think.

Posted by: nikFlorida | May 17, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

wonder why, as Parker notes, urban areas, where people have to interact with others, and therefore civility and community are more important, are more liberal than rural ones, where people can isolate themselves and ignore other people? Could it be that city dwellers (who make up nearly 4/5 of the US population, incidentally) need government more? Where we don't tell you WHAT to think, just to think.

Posted by: nikFlorida | May 17, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

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