The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

23 December 2004

Life on the Left Coast

Are liberal cities really tolerant? Floyd McKay of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington, talks about quality of life in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver BC, from where he wrote this piece:

Vancouver is one of the four cities that I think of when I think of the particular quality of life that exists on what conservative pundits now sarcastically refer to as "the Left Coast." The others are Seattle, Portland and San Francisco.

There is a decidedly liberal political climate in all of these cities, and to the extent that they influence life in their hinterlands, these states (and province) tend to show up blue on the ubiquitous red-blue maps that are all the rage these days.

The definition of liberal, according to my dictionary, is nonpartisan. A classic liberal is "one who favors progress or reform," or is "free from prejudice, tolerant "... and so forth. No mention of George W. Bush. Liberals should want to be identified by what they are for, not whom they are against.

It has always seemed to me that the classic liberal is marked by a willingness to tolerate other views or lifestyles, and keep an open mind. And, yes, many people who call themselves liberal don't always fit that description!

Liberalism in this sense seems almost inevitable in the four "Left Coast" cities because of their proximity to the sea, which brings with it ideas and people from afar, and which has always lured the adventurous.

Vancouver is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, with a population now over 50 percent of Asian heritage (from many lands), and a religious mix that includes all the world's major faiths. Somehow, it seems to work here, despite inevitable tensions and the problems of big-city life.

That's due to tolerance, a bedrock value of classic liberalism. One finds much the same in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. The necessity of living with diverse neighbors, going to work and school with people of other religions, colors and histories, opens one's eyes to a world beyond that of our own kith and kin.

We are products of our families, our education and religion, but also of our geographic surroundings. It is no accident that the most "liberal" of the American states and cities are on the two coasts.

What McKay mentions once but doesn't seem to grasp is that Seattle, Portland and San Francisco are some of the least tolerant cities in the country if your views differ from the leftist party line.

And Seattle is by far the most racist city I've ever spent time in, where white liberals pretend to like black people but don't associate with them or want them invading their white neighborhoods. I've never seen a more segregated city considering it is the year 2004.

Vancouver has of course its liberalism inside city limits but the suburbs have large pockets of conservative strength. Many of the Asian immigrants living in Richmond and the other huge outlying areas have helped send BC Liberals (a conservative branch of the national Liberal Party) to the provincial legislature in Victoria and Tories to Ottawa. I'm always surprised in visits how little liberalism seems to exist in BC compared to Seattle or Portland.


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