We learn two interesting things about Ross Douthat’s appointment to be a columnist for the NY Times from his column today: that the desire to be coherent will never be an obstacle for Douthat when he’s trotting out his prejudice disguised at arguments, and that the reason that the editorial staff likes him is because Douthat is a steady source of the self-flagellating sexual fantasies that coastal elites develop about the seedy, unwashed minions of Middle America. Though not all of the elite, to be fair. I don’t think the bogeyman of the liberal elite is particularly concerned with fantasies of the renegade sexual pleasures of those of us that didn’t go to Ivy League schools—it’s the more reactionary crowd that lives in New York and longs to be fucked in a trailer park that Douthat is playing to. His ideal audience is David Brooks, I suppose.
Anyway, his thesis (if you can call it that) is that the Liberal Elite® and Middle America® have wildly different sex lives, with the former having dull, tedious sex lives and the latter having really exciting ones, and oh irony that the people who care most about sexual liberation enjoy sex the least. This isn’t an uncommon fantasy for right wingers, who often argue specifically that oppressing women in particular is hot. It’s not even particularly new for Douthat, who is on the record about how he finds sex unappealing unless someone is going to get knocked up against her will. There’s never been any solid proof that sex is more fun if you get to spice it up with the occasional abortion or shotgun wedding, at least not outside of the misogyny fetish circle, but this doesn’t do much to slow down the fantasizing. What makes this essay special is that Douthat’s “proof” about the difference between the Liberal Elite® and Middle America® is that they behave exactly the same.
So which is the real America? Is it Tsing Loh’s dystopia, where everyone “works” grimly on their relationships, and post-feminist husbands happily cook saffron-infused porcini risotto but rarely practice seduction on their wives? Or is it tabloid country: The land of Jon minus Kate, and governors who vanish to “hike the Appalachian Trail” — not to mention gossip-column fixtures like Britney Spears (rumored last week to be contemplating her third marriage in six years) and the mistress-parading Mel Gibson?…..
The high-wire love lives of a Jon Gosselin or a Mark Sanford — or a Spears, or even a Lindsey Lohan — are remarkably true to the America that watches their shows, buys their CDs, and votes them into office. It’s the highly-educated, highly risk-averse milieu lamented by Nehring and Tsing Loh that’s a world unto itself.
So, to recap: If you step out on your dull, passion-free marriage while being a Republican, having a Southern accent, or being married to someone with church lady hair who was willing to have 6 kids at once, you are officially Middle America®, and so you stepped out because you’re full of passion. But if you stepped out on your dull, passion-free marriage after voting for Obama or being married to a man who knows what a risotto even is, much less how to make it, it’s because you’re void of passion. Got it.
But Douthat is going to explain to you why the exact same behavior for the exact same reasons is actually very different, depending on your hairstyle or who you voted for. It’s because all of America must share Douthat’s fetish for contraceptive-free sex. No, I’m not kidding, that’s his reason.
The difficult scramble up the meritocratic ladder tends to discourage wild passions and death-defying flings. For bright young overachievers, there’s often a definite tameness to the way that collegiate “safe sex” segues into the upwardly-mobile security of “companionate marriages” — or, if you’re feeling more cynical, “consumption partnerships.”
This tameness has beneficial social consequences: When it comes to divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births, Americans with graduate degrees are still living in the 1950s. It’s the rest of the country that marries impulsively, divorces frequently, and bears a rising percentage of its children outside marriage.
Douthat is thinking of the 1950s in a parallel dimension, because the lower rates of divorce within the sliver of America with graduate degrees is due to their rejection of 1950s mores. In the 1950s, teen pregnancy and marriage was at an all-time high. But since a lot of people with graduate degrees delay marriage and childbirth into their late 20s and early 30s (or later!) in order to get on their career path, they’re taking advantage of the statistical fact that the later you marry, the likelier you are to hold it together. None of this really says anything about the orgasmic void in the lives of the highly educated that Douthat is hinting at here, and every time I’ve seen any study that correlates sexual satisfaction to education, you find that the more you have of the latter, the more you have of the former.
But it’s really hard to argue with his points, since he doesn’t state them outright, preferring to argue by insinuation. But the insinuation isn’t hard to figure out—liberals are boring, awful people and conservatives are dramatic, awesome people, and so when liberals cheat it’s sad, but when conservatives cheat it’s just an excess of passion. Also, condoms are the worst invention ever, a direct assault of the Douthat stiffy, and if they could just go away and take the pill with them, that would be great.