Don Defends Karl

Don Harrison is one of my favorite bloggers because of posts like this, where he takes the measure of Karl Rove’s Richmond bashing and finds it…pretty fair:

Some may judge a city’s size by its population or its land mass, others may use a different barometer — one that measures small-minded attitudes and the institutional aversion to inclusion, fairness and common sense. If we use this last standard, we should not be too harsh on Mr. Rove for calling it like he sees it. If we stack Richmond up against some of the cities that the man affectionately nicknamed “Turd Blossom” mentioned on “Face The Nation,” we are clearly not ready for prime time.

And that’s just the warm-up.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


7 responses to “Don Defends Karl”

  1. Groveton Avatar

    First of all, Rove did not say Richmond is small-minded or closed or corrupt. He just said it was a small city. Which it is. However, growing up in Virginia (outside of Richmond) I will say that Richmond has a reputation of a closed-minded city run by long time vested interests. I have been told that attendance at private prep school and the University of Richmond are pretty much pre-requisites to being accepted as a member of Richmond “high society”. I have heard Richmond compared to St Louis in its inbred mentality and “outsiders need not apply” mentality. The conventional wisdom has a small group of people hailing from multiple generations of Richmond gentry running the city for their own benefit over gin and tonics at the Country Club of Virginia. This mental caricature of the Richmond elite includes a bizarre uniform of shiny plastic shoe-boots, wrinkled khakis and a pastel “gator shirt”. It also includes a two digit IQ floating on top of Dadsy’s money.

    Is any of this true?

    Maybe not. However, perception has a bad way of becoming reality. As Richmond moves through the 21st century it needs to attract talent from other areas. This will require an attitude of inclusion rather than exclusion.

    Certainly Richmond is not alone in its negative perception. The money hungry disaffected yuppies of NoVA bumbling through life without knowing the governor’s name is another perception in Virginia. Along with the racist country bumpkin.

    Virginia needs some image enhancement. We used to have, “Virginia is for Lovers”. Whatever happened to that?

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Mr Leahy,
    First, I must say that Mr. Harrison’s post didn’t really knock my socks off.

    Groveton makes some good points about Richmond’s insularity. My favorite literary description comes from “The Shad Treatment” by Garrett Epps, a political novel about Henry Howell. His portrait of well-to-do, blond kids at the Country CLub of Virginia circa 1960s and 1970s rang true. Whether it does today, I’ll never know. Never been to the CCV.
    But I did cover Richmond and live here part of the time in the 1970s and early 1980s. Some things, I think have changed. A few years ago my older daughter was looking at high schools. We talked to St. Catherine’s and they tried hard to assure us that they were trying to shed their finishing school reputation and expand their diversity. My daughter wasn’t interested, however, and she went to a public school (a governor’s one). I was impressed with Catherine’s because they seemed to be trying to change for the better.
    Just an anecdote.

    Peter Galuszka

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    As long as Richmond has a reputation as being an insular political society, they’ll never be accepted on the broader National stage as an example an open Democracy in action.

    Virginia needs Citizen-initiated referenda to force Virginia into the 21st century.

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Well, I guess I have to weigh in on the Richmond issue. I’ve lived here 20 years now and I’ve gotten fond of the place. I’ve lived in big cities (Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Norfolk) and smaller cities (Martinsville, Blacksburg, Roanoke, Charlottesville) and Richmond has the feel of being just about the right size. There’s plenty of great stuff to do here — more than I can possibly take advantage of, given the demands of job and family. And there are loads of really wonderful, genuine people.

    Richmond has a reputation for being insular and intolerant. Those stereotypes were probably deserved at one time, but they really don’t reflect what I see around me….

    Not that I’d know much about the upper echelons of “society” — social climbing is something I’ve never been remotely interested in. I don’t belong to the Commonwealth Club, and I don’t belong to the Country Club of Virginia. I don’t suck up to the rich and powerful. I choose my friends on the basis of their character and intellect and genuineness as people. Rubbing elbows with the social elite at elegant cocktail parties strikes me as a total bore.

    As it happens, nearly all of my closest friends are “come heres” — they moved here from somewhere else. There may be a snobby social elite that seeks to exclude others, but I’m not aware of it, and I wouldn’t care if it did exist. I have all the close, wonderful friends I could possibly want.

    As evidence of the permeability of Richmond society even 16 years ago, I submit the experience of my wife. Born in a small North Carolina town where she went to public school, she was a social “nobody” by blue-blood standards. With an undergraduate degree from Wake Forest and an MBA from Chapel Hill, she didn’t go to the “right” Virginia schools either. She signed up to work in the finance department of the old James River Company. On the other hand, she was bright, charming and pretty. It wasn’t long before she was invited on a regular basis to help crew the sailing yacht of CEO Brent Halsey. Within a very short time, she was very plugged in to the “old Richmond” social scene.

    In my observation, the social scene in Richmond is highly fluid. Between the Fortune 500 companies, VCU and UR, so many outsiders have been recruited to Richmond that there are multiple social circles. While Richmond has a reputation of being incredibly conservative socially, for instance, there is an active gay community that mixes easily with the rest of Richmond society. Maybe it’s the circles I move in, but nobody seems to care if someone is gay. It’s very much “live and let live.”

    The race issue is more ticklish. Blacks and whites remain socially segregated to a large degree. But I regard that as much a matter of blacks seeking to maintain racial and social cohesion as a matter of white exclusion. Peter referred to St. Catherine’s efforts to recruit minority students. That applies also to College School. (I can’t speak for St. Christophers, which still divides its students into “Lees” and “Jacksons” — not an especially inviting atmosphere for African-Americans.) But St. Catherine’s and Collegiate are downright *eager* to build a more-diverse student body. They have had mixed results. Collegiate has a strong contingent of female blacks in the student body but very few males. The disparity, I suspect, originates with the social pressures within the black community.

    Likewise, I have visited predominantly white churches in suburban Richmond with a small number of black congregants. My sense is that the churches would gladly welcome more. The reason that the churches remain largely segregated, though, comes from blacks. They prefer their own churches, with their own style of worship, that reinforce social values that are important in their community. Who can blame them?

    There are innumerable civic, business and professionals organizations in the Richmond area where newcomers can get engaged with the community. All of them are desperate for people to be active and engaged. Volunteerism is highly respected in this town. Any newcomer who is willing to give of himself/herself at all can easily plug into the community.

    All things considered, I view Richmond as an open and tolerant community — and getting more so all the time.

  5. Tyler Craddock Avatar
    Tyler Craddock

    I am a come-here, who has been here for just over 3 years. I am a native of Henry County, and I have also lived in Blacksburg, Roanoke and Alamance County, NC. I enjoyed them all, and I enjoy Richmond; none of the those places were better or worse, just different.

    My wife and I have not seen the insularity. Our circle of friends cuts across socioeconomic, racial and come here-from here lines, and we have not really felt out of place anywhere. I agree with Bacon — this is an easy place to plug into.

    Others’ experiences may differ, but that’s just my anecdotal (and proverbial) two cents worth.

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    These observations come from Michael Cecire, a former Richmond resident who now lives in Pennsvlvania, which I post with his permission:

    I understand what Don Harrison is saying, and I can’t disagree with any particular point he makes, but I don’t think that he succeeds in responding to the elemental thrust of Rove’s quip: namely, that Richmond is small beans and should not be used as an example of a primordial soup for able leadership. Of course, there is some truth to this contention in what Don lists and given Kaine’s service as Mayor was relatively uninspiring (especially under the old weak mayor system), but to denigrate Richmond as a second rate polis because of its relatively small population size is nothing short of inane.

    If anything, I’m happy to argue – be it with Karl Rove, Hu Jintao, or the Prophet Mohammed – Richmond’s many strengths and contributions to American society. More to the point, I think Richmond’s relatively small population and enormous cultural-historical impact is a feat that cannot be matched by the suburban sprawl-villes which he names.

    Yes, Richmond is smaller, but how many cities have more Fortune 500 companies? Last I checked, five (Richmond, clearly, is not #5 in population). How many cities can boast Richmond’s inordinately robust and diverse architecture? Restaurant scene? Arts? Do any of Rove’s ‘better’ cities have such handsome, world-class boulevards or dynamic university populations? Corporate-economic diversity?

    In reality, Richmond’s small population, in many respects, is something of which to be proud. Find me a city that can so punch above its weight (er, besides Wilmington, DE) in so many areas (not Wilmington!), and I’ll back down.

    For the record – I’m happily center-right and I bristle at Rove’s dumb declaration, even though I know it was more a dig at Kaine than Richmond itself. I think most Richmonders are all too aware that our external image is starkly different to those who live, or have lived, in Richmond. Matter of fact, all the people I know who ‘dislike’ Richmond tend to have never lived here or spent any significant amount of time. Go figure.

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Laura is “bright, charming and pretty?” Jim, my boy, you damn her with faint praise!

    Peter Galuszka

Leave a Reply