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Monday, September 18, 2006

GOPtopia and "exclusionary vibes"

A few weeks ago, Michael Crowley had a piece in the New Republic called "GOPtopia:  Welcome to McLean, home of America's ruling class."  Here's a bit:

McLean covers just 18 square miles and has a population of 40,000. But it is packed with the people who impeached Bill Clinton, elected George W. Bush, launched the Iraq war, and have now learned to make millions from their association with government. Some are famous--people like Bill Kristol and Colin Powell, Scooter Libby and Newt Gingrich, several current and former Republican senators, and Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. Dick Cheney once owned a McLean townhouse--until he sold it to Bush's 2000 campaign manager, Joe Allbaugh. Less well-known are the countless lobbyists, lawyers, and businessmen whose names rarely turn up in The Washington Post and who like it that way--people like super-lobbyist Ken Duberstein, Ronald Reagan's former chief of staff; Frank Carlucci, former chair of the Carlyle Group, the notorious global private equity firm with close ties to the Bush family; and Dwight Schar, a construction mogul who is currently finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

These people live in a leafy suburb among landmarks that neatly represent the modern GOP era: McLean Bible Church, a holy destination for GOP senators and Bush aides; the storied Saudi Arabian ambassador's personal compound; and the forbidden palace of CIA headquarters. ("Never accidentally turn in," Edwina cautions. Legend has it that many an illegal-immigrant housekeeper who did has never been seen again.) When Bush rushed to open a presidential transition office during the 2000 Florida recount, Cheney had his daughter scout out locations in McLean, and it was from there that the Bush team would lay its symbolic claim to the White House.

I wasn't wild about the piece.  It seemed a bit sneering to me ("fake class," "McMansions," "conservative strivers," etc.).  But, it did remind me of a fascinating paper by Lior Strahilevitz, "Information Asymmetries and the Right to Exclude," in which he discusses, among other things, "exclusionary vibes," which are "communicative signals that make undesirable third parties feel unwelcome."  (This post at the U. of Chicago faculty blog has more.)

Crowley writes, in his "GOPtopia" piece, about the meanies who defaced and destroyed the "Warner for Governor" signs of McLean's lonely Democrat, Terry McAuliffe.  (He should try sporting a Bush sign in a college town!).  The "vibes" that Lior has in mind are, of course, a bit more subtle.  Still, I wonder -- can a neighborhood's overt politics be exclusionary in the ways that Lior worries about?

Posted by Rick Garnett on September 18, 2006 at 01:59 PM in Property | Permalink


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Posted by: John Beck's Land | Sep 28, 2006 4:28:10 PM

Well, Schmitt would say politics is all about the friend/enemy distinction. So I think you make a deep point here--there may be more than "campaign discourse" going on with campaign signs...there also may be an implicit message that persons of a certain kind "don't belong" in a certain area.

If I recall Strahilevitz's podcast right, I think he mentioned very subtle "vibes" that might be sent, say, by an expensive golf club to people who don't play golf. (The covenant may require all to pay toward its maintenance, driving away non-golfers.)

On one interpretation of political signs, they are even more explicit than "vibes" (if, say, the platform of one party explicitly stigmatizes or marginalizes a group). Given Boy Scouts v. Dale, we can likely expect the First Amendment to trump the Fourteenth in these situations. But I do recall Strahilevitz mentioning some very "equality-promoting" housing law cases.

Posted by: Frank Pasquale | Sep 18, 2006 7:54:38 PM

There is a certain intellectual danger in such articles. People with money and “power” have to live somewhere. DC attracts many of them. Some may choose to live in VA. Some in MD. (Few in DC, because of its bad schools and high crime rate.) While MD has a reputation as being solidly Democrat, and VA has the opposite reputation, neither is completely deserved.

At some point in the future, the Democrats will probably gain control of most of the government. (Not sure when.) Perhaps the Republicans might sell their homes to them. Or maybe the author will write a similar article about Bethesda, Chevy Chase, or similar towns.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 18, 2006 4:33:43 PM

Is McLean really so solidly conservative? My impression was that northern Virginia as a whole was much more liberal than the rest of the state, and it's hard to get much more Northern Virginia-y than McLean, I think. Here's a map indicating the vote was somewhat split, at least in 2000. Even the Republican precincts are mostly in the 50-60% range.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Sep 18, 2006 3:53:40 PM

Isn't McLean also the location of Hickory Hill, the Kennedy compound?

Posted by: been there | Sep 18, 2006 2:24:21 PM

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