Are you Retro or Metro? That's the question raised by a series of unusual advertisements placed in some of the nation's leading newspapers. Featuring the question in bold relief, the ads portray "Retro Americans" as backward, rural, conservative, and Christian, while "Metro Americans" are forward-thinking, technological, urbane, and sophisticated--as well as secular. Newspaper readers have been scratching their heads for days, wondering about the meaning of these odd representations. Now we know--these ads are nothing less than a declaration of culture war from the Left.
The "Metro versus Retro" campaign is the brainchild of John Sperling, an eccentric eighty-three year old billionaire most famous as the founder of the University of Phoenix, the nation's largest for-profit academic institution. Sperling has an agenda--a big one--and that's to push the Democratic Party to the far left, arguing that it must leave behind any hope of securing a political base among Retro Americans. While the thought of an even more liberal Democratic Party may be enough to send shivers down the national spine, a closer look at Sperling's agenda is even scarier.
Though the newspaper ads are minimalist, Sperling and four coauthors have released a massive book distributed through Amazon.com. In The Great Divide: Retro versus Metro America, Sperling and his associates set out an audacious plan to divide America along class, culture, and religious lines.
Starting with a map of the nation, The Great Divide assigns a Metro or Retro label to each state. "Geographically, America is two nations. We call these two nations Retro and Metro America. Retro America is defined by the South, the Midwest, and the Rocky Mountain states; Metro America by the two coasts and the Great Lakes states," they argue. These states are roughly analogous to the "red states" and "blue states" that are now a staple of modern political analysis. Even as Red America voted overwhelmingly for George Bush, the Blue states voted for Al Gore.
The Great Divide is a convoluted argument filled with inconsistencies and odd-ball claims. The work falls short as a work of serious sociology or cultural analysis, but it is profoundly meaningful as a prophetic warning of what at least some on the Left would hope to see in an all-out culture war in America.
Sperling and his team direct their aim at the South, the Rocky Mountain states, and the Midwest as centers of backwardness, Christian conservatism, agricultural values, and "extraction industries." According to their analysis, the Metro states are associated with the Democratic Party, while the Retro states are largely Republican. Though some form of cultural division has marked American life throughout most of the nation's history, Sperling and his coauthors argue that the cultural divide is now reaching an acute stage.
These authors write with an attitude of condescension that is nothing less than astounding, and their confidence in their grasp of both facts and analysis is undermined by their eccentric and self-serving conclusions. The Great Divide simply separates Americans along lines of class, education, Christian conviction, aesthetic taste, and rural versus metropolitan residents. As a piece of cultural analysis, the book is crude, reductionistic, and lacking in seriousness. As a text for political analysis, the book is both extreme and cruel. As a factor in our current cultural debates, the book is nothing less than scary. John Sperling is adamantly opposed to everything George Bush represents, and he is opposed to virtually everything President George W. Bush has done. He wants to revamp the nation's economy, reshape the nation's political debate, and even restructure the American government. He points to the Constitutional Convention of 1789 as an example of Retro supremacy. Retro America's political and economic power is rooted in the U.S. Constitution's failure to provide for an absolute democracy. Sperling and his associates call for the elimination of the Electoral College, and they describe the Senate as "a mockery of democracy." The Great Divide offers an unembarrassed elitist vision of America, calling for the smart people who live in the cities to seize power from the dumb folk who live on farms and in states located in the South and what the Hollywood elite calls "fly-over country." The big states, which tend to be Metro, should seize power from the smaller states, which tend to be Retro. "Over the past 200 years, America has paid a terrible price for the senatorial power of the small states, especially the veto power that can be exercised by one-third of the Senate."