Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, October 30, 2008; 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

Today's Column: What's Real About the Split In Virginia

Fisher was online Thursday, Oct. 30, at Noon ET to invite voters to make their last-ditch pitches for their favorite candidates and examines the state of play and the prospects for smooth voting in Virginia, Maryland and the District.

A transcript follows.

Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.

In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

Archives: Discussion Transcripts


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. I'm just back from the news conference announcing the 80-plus exhibits, concerts, and other events that will celebrate Abe Lincoln's 200th birthday in Washington early next year, and it was a refreshing respite from the barrage of sniping and barking email from and about the two presidential campaigns. Lincoln was of course not even close to the warm and cuddly uniter that he's become over the course of the past 140 years; he ran hard, tough campaigns and he drove a hard bargain as president. But the more you read of his work and the more you learn about how he operated, the more it is possible to have some hope about blending the good rough and tumble of campaigns with a more searingly honest approach to the difficulties the country faces.

Something to look forward to: The Lincoln celebration will include a reenactment of the 1939 Marian Anderson concert at the Lincoln Memorial, with Denyce Graves playing Anderson's role; a collection of Lincoln's writings at the Library of Congress; and a display of items related to his last hours and the physicians who tended to him, at the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Plus many, many more shows and events.

But more immediately, there's the vote. It grates at me to hear all the blowhards on TV and radio speaking in the past tense about this election, pretending that their beloved polls and the conventional wisdom add up to some sort of insider knowledge about how it's all going to turn out. They don't know, you don't know, I don't know. First, you have to play the game, no?

Which a great many people are doing early, which was the topic of my Sunday column, which somewhere between one and two percent of you agreed with. You like early voting and you see nothing wrong with changing the structure of our election system to make it more convenient. I do. We can discuss.

Today's column, on the "real Virginia" vs. "fake Virginia" divide, which has become such a big part of the presidential campaign in the Old Dominion, is creating lots of comment and we'll get into that.

Over on the blog, I have a contest going--see yesterday's post--on which upsets are most likely to occur in Tuesday's voting. Please add your voice and your prediction. Winners will get prizes from the Vast Vat of Values.

On Election Night, I invite you to join me here on the big web site for a special edition of this here chat as we get into the Virginia presidential outcome and all the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. races.

For now, it's on to your many comments and questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to Virginia and Maryland for deciding to return to paper ballots after this election. As The Post's Chris Davenport reports this morning, the popular unhappiness with the various experiments in electronic voting technology, as well as some very unfortunate experiences with breakdowns, are compelling many states to revert to good old paper--the optical character reader technology that worked perfectly well for decades. The state elections officials tend to love the touch-screen new tech stuff, but they're often in the pockets of the industry sales folk who hawk those systems to the states. Voting is about trust, and while most of us love web technology, we tend to trust paper more. That's true whether we're talking about financial and legal documents, or journalism, or voting technology. It may change someday, but not yet.

Nay to the District's public schools and other big city systems around the country that have glommed on to the crass and ultimately destructive practice of paying children to go to school and to get decent grades. The evidence is piling up showing that this experiment is potentially dangerous, as those for whom payments (read: bribes) cease seem to lose interest in learning and achieving. It's time to stop this experiment on our children before an entire generation is subjected to this desperate and cynical tactic.

Your turn starts right now....

_______________________ Paper Ballot Has Md.'s, Va.'s Vote ( Post, Oct. 30)

_______________________ In Early Voting Trend, Democracy Is the Biggest Loser ( Post, Oct. 26)


Silver Spring, Md.: Writing this before your chat so I don't know what your yay and nay of the day is yet, but I really hope the big NAY is for Maryland getting rid of electronic voting. For the last few years I've laughed at other states fumbling with paper ballots as our system is incredibly simple to work. For me, it is worth every penny because it's so easy, almost fool proof. With paper ballots we're going to see massive problems in the elections ahead. This is a real shame, not to mention a waste of millions since according to the Post article MD is ending the electronic voting a few years early but will still have to pay for them for 2 or 3 years more. Common sense has truly gone out the window.

Marc Fisher: Sorry, but that's my Yay, not my Nay.

Voting is about trust--despite all the handwringing about security and verification, we still pretty much allow anyone to come on in and vote, without any real check on who they are. So the voting system has to be one that people trust. And as in so many other aspects of life, we're totally fascinated and in love with new technologies, but when it comes to matters of deep trust, we still revert to paper. That's true of legal documents and financial papers, it's true in our reading habits and the credibility we give to various kinds of journalism, and it's true in voting.


Early voting: Marc, Marc, Marc. Really?

I voted early in Virginia about a week ago. It was a Saturday. There were five or six people in line in front of me, and another five or six came in behind me while I waited. It was more than I ever saw on Election Day in my polling place in the small Pennsylvania town I grew up in. So, there's your community.

But even if I had voted alone, I would gladly give up the sense of community I got if it made it easier for someone else to vote on Election Day. Maybe you've got two hours to kill on a Tuesday, but it's not that easy for everyone. By voting early, I help make the lines shorter on Election Day. It drives me mad that people could possibly argue that this is a bad thing.

Marc Fisher: I'm sure voting early is indeed much easier, and especially in this unusual year, it can very much be a social experience. But that's not normally the case. More important, by voting early, you are essentially taking part in a different election. If something big happens to change the dynamic of a campaign in its final two weeks, you will have voted in a very different election from your neighbors who vote on Election Day.


Bethesda, Md.: When you're wrong, you're REALLY wrong -- and you went way off track with your column on Early Voting. It may be nice to say that the inconvenience of taking time off from work isn't that big a deal, and to wax eloquently about the common experience of voting as a community on the same day, in the same place; but for many people, it just doesn't work out that way.

Anything that encourages people to vote, that makes it possible for more people to participate, is a Good Thing. We've had far too many instances of voter suppression tactics in recent years as is. If Early Voting makes it possible for even 5-10 percent of the population to vote when they otherwise might not, we should embrace and celebrate it.

Reports now say that in states with Early Voting, as many as a third will cast their ballots early this year in what promises to be a record turnout. Not only will that help relieve the congestion at the polls for those who do show up on November 4th, but many of them might not have the opportunity otherwise.

I'll be casting my vote for Maryland to join the Early Voting states, and look forward to voting in 2010 at MY convenience, not yours.

Marc Fisher: If early voting really increased turnout, I'd feel compelled to give it a hard second look. But it doesn't. Don't believe me on that--check the academic research yourself. Even those researchers who really pushed hard for early voting as a reform that would boost turnout have concluded that it does no such thing.

See, the core reason why people vote is so that they can be seen voting--by family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, whomever. Those "I Voted" stickers have huge, powerful social importance. Put the whole process into a black box--make it by mail or in secluded early voting centers--and the whole psychological foundation of the act starts to crumble.

That said, this election is something of an anomoly--you're seeing huge early voting, a result of Obama's unique appeal to young people and blacks, many of whom don't ordinarily vote.


Independent in Maryland: You quoted someone in your column: "I don't see how any person who believes in Jesus Christ could vote for Obama or any Democrat." This is one of my biggest issues with today's Republican Party. I was raised in a very conservative state. My father campaigned for George Wallace and Richard Nixon. I agree with several of the old Republican party ideals, like fiscal conservatism. But when Jerry Falwell and his gang of thugs began forcing the idea that God was a socially conservative Republican, the party lost me. There are as many faithful Christians who don't buy into that crap -- they're just not as obnoxiously vocal about it. I was raised religious, but I was also raised to understand that there are many religions in the worlds and I should be respectful of others' beliefs. This country was founded on freedom of religion, and a separation of church and state. Keep your religion out of my politics!

Marc Fisher: I think your view is one that is quite common, though it tends not to get a lot of TV time or ink because it's so, um, non-inflammatory.

At the Palin rally this week, some people carried signs that said "Keep America Jesusful--Palin for President." But there was a real difference in the crowd at this Palin rally as compared to the one in September in Fairfax--at that one, there was a real mix of people, both strong conservatives from the home-schooling, stay-at-home-mother, church-driven political activism crowd as well as traditional fiscal conservatives and even good old Republican moderates. But this time, it was that first crowd that totally dominated. The moderates and independents were gone. That may say something about Virginia's direction next week.


Arlington, Fake Va. : Great column, Marc. One question, though: Do you think the split in Virginia is not a physical boundary, but rather a state of mind? I'd argue that there are places in the "real" Virginia that are "fake" because of the population. Take Charlottesville with UVA students, grads and profs. On the other, Arlington also has a lot of military personnel with the Pentagon and such, thus making it more "real." What's Real About the Split In Virginia ( Post, Oct. 30)

Marc Fisher: Absolutely--there are plenty of pockets, some of them quite large, all around the state where people get plenty riled up if they are lumped into the big category of "real" Virginians who trumpet their conservative social values. Whether it's college towns such as Lexington and Williamsburg or crunchy portions of Abingdon and Roanoke or urbane areas of Richmond or Hampton Roads, there are lots of places that identify culturally more with Arlington and Alexandria than with the rural Southwest or Prince William or Stafford.


Arlington, Va.: Just to give you some perspective on the real/fake dichotomy, it didn't start with modern political spinsters. I am a history Ph.D. with a specialty in nationalism. Most modern European national identities were scripted in the 19th century by urban intellectuals who harbored illusions that the "real" Germans, French, Italians, et cetera, ad nauseum, were the peasants who worked the soil. Just about every American of European descent who ever had to wear "traditional" costume to some ethnic festival is dressing in the way these urban intellectuals fantasized that "their" peasants actually dressed. More times than not, when flash points caused populations to show their colors, so to speak, peasants showed little interest in fighting for the nations that they supposedly emblemized.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--good point. And we see that same eagerness to assimilate and to move on from the old values shot through our own popular culture--think of Barry Levinson's "Avalon" and other movies that portray our intense desire to get beyond the hangups and awkwardnesses of the immigrant generation. Or look at second-generation Miami Cubans and their loosening ties to the anti-Castro outlook of their parents.

But there are still those who, many generations later, find rich rewards in keeping up those traditions, and the southern identity is one that has outlasted most ethnic identities.


Alexandria, FVA (Fake Virginia): Here is my metric for determining whether a citizen of the commonwealth lives in Real of Fake Virginia:

If your county gets back less than all the money it sends to Richmond in taxes, you live in Fake Virginia. If your county gets back more, you live in Real Virginia.

Real Virginians need to stop whining.

Marc Fisher: Folks who fancy themselves real Virginians do have one major advantage over northern Virginians--their sense of identity compels them to pay more attention to state government and so their voices tend to be heard more in Richmond. Northern Virginians, who, by and large, tend to face toward Washington often lose out because politicians correctly perceive that those voters don't pay a whole lot of attention to what happens at the state level.


St. Paul, Minn. (raised in Annandale, Va.): Marc,

I applaud you for your article on the odd divide that is "real" Virginia from "fake" Virginia. As a native of the state who always loves going home to see friends and family, it was a good read.

After leaving home I used to tell people I was from "Washington, D.C.," I guess to hide my VIRGINIA roots.

Over time, I realized this was silly and I loved the state I was raised in (and not just the northern part by any means) and started to say "I'm from a town in Virginia called Annandale." Which certainly sounds more southern (perhaps even more "real Virginia?") than "I'm from D.C."

I'm not the only one I've known who has had this "I'm from DC/VA" issue in their lives. It's another little complicated issue for what is a VERY complicated issue in terms of "real"/"fake" Virginia.

To me Northern Virginia is unique in the weird way it represents some of the best AND worst elements of both southern and northern culture.

I think your article could have been twice it's length with the amount of intricacies in this "real"/"fake" Virginia debate.

Marc Fisher: We could easily devote this chat to the real/fake Virginia issue every week for a year and still not mine all of its levels of cultural meaning.

I've lived in Washington for nearly a quarter century and I'm still fascinated by the number of people I know who were born and grew up in places like Annandale, Chevy Chase, Fairfax City or even as far out as Clinton (Md) or Clifton (Va.) and yet who introduce themselves as being from...Washington.

I don't think that happens nearly as much in many other metro areas, and yet many of those Washington suburbs are far more distinctive than similarly distant suburbs of other cities.


Leesburg, Va.: I'm just curious about something... all those people down in "real Virginia" - are you willing to live without the taxes paid by the "unreal" folks and businesses in Northern Virginia?

If they really feel that way, then let each county keep and spend its own taxes. We'll finally have the roads we need, and "real Virginia" will live in the tax-free squalor they want so much.

I'm really getting tired of being told I'm not "real" and I'm not "pro-America" just because I happen to be a Democrat.

Marc Fisher: That's the argument that northern Virginia legislators have been making for years, to little effect.


Leesburg for Obama: I'm not sure that this will answer your question about the political dividing line, but this site, Strange Maps, has an entry about the sweet tea dividing line: Tea as a North/South Litmus Test

Maybe it's the same line. I've personally never developed a taste for iced tea of either persuasion, and I tend to be oblivious to most of the culture battles. Except one: In my 28 years living in this area (having moved here from Massachusetts), I have been happy to see the racial divide all but erased. I once might have been able to draw a North-South line for you, right through the middle of Manassas, but now only the remnants of a line remain, in far, far Southwest Virginia.

So, I do believe that Virginia will go for Obama.

Marc Fisher: I love that map and we've batted around that question here at various points over the past few years--but while I used to be a big believer in the Sweet Tea Line as a useful indicator of the cultural boundary, I'm afraid it is a less and less useful one, mainly because of the decline of locally owned eateries and the triumph of the faceless national chains.

Still, as my colleague Steve Hendrix has written, it's a valuable marker even now. If I didn't dislike sweetened tea so much, I'd take on the ultimate reporting boondoggle and head out to document the true tea boundary.


Alexandria, Va.: Oops. I mean Fake, Va..

Real Virginia is everywhere there are people who wish the Confederacy had won The War Between The States.

Marc Fisher: These are all broadbrush portraits, of course--there are plenty of liberals and northerners in Hampton Roads and Richmond and all over the commonwealth, and plenty of folks who value southern traditions and conservative values in Fairfax and even in Arlington and Alexandria.


Anonymous: Marc -- I hate the attitudes you found in today's piece. I hate this Us vs. Them, and nobody listens. Jesus doesn't get your roads fixed, money and political will does. Belief in the Old South doesn't fund your failing schools in "Real" Virginia -- property taxes and state funds do. I am under no illusions that there isn't this deafness on both sides, but I find the particular flavor delivered from the right to be so much less palatable.

My greatest hope for Obama is that, while not easy, at the end of four years, some of this can be put behind us. It is a stupefying request to make of any individual.

Marc Fisher: It is hard to imagine that any president could, at this stage in our rapid evolution to a frayed and disconnected media environment, achieve that kind of unity. The nastiness and the polarization we see in today's political rhetoric is to a pretty large extent a result of the loss of mass in our media. We have retreated into our own media cocoons, swimming in the same information as those who share our values and beliefs--and we have ever less cause to spend time with those who disagree. It will be awfully difficult for any president to bring together people who reside in wholly separate media environments.


Germantown, Md.: It's probably too late for a contest but I wonder what your readers think is the over/under number for Obama's percentage of the vote in Maryland and the District. My guesses are 75 in Maryland and 89 in D.C.

Marc Fisher: The Maryland seems way too high and the D.C., believe it or not, too low. But others will disagree.


Political humor: Lincoln, when he was running for president in 1860, wrote a humorous dialog between his two Democratic opponents, Douglas (anti-slavery) and Breckinridge (pro-slavery). He wouldn't have made it as a humor columnist today.

Lincoln: Speeches and Writings

Marc Fisher: I used to have a theory that the funnier candidate always loses, Bob Dole and Al Gore being strong arguments for my theory. But if the polls are right, my theory isn't going to work this time.


Unreal, Va.: Marc, in 2004, President Bush won every one of the 16 states with the lowest percentage of college graduates. The state with the largest percent among those who voted for Bush was Virginia; largely because they're concentrated in the part that voted for Kerry.

Marc Fisher: Quite a few of you are drawing from today's column the idea that the divide in Virginia is the well-educated vs the less-educated, or the better informed vs. the ignorant. But I don't buy that. At the Palin rally, for example, I met one person after another who espoused views that many of you would find highly intolerant, yet who had clearly been reading deeply on this campaign and on many of the big issues. They knew details about the tax and health plans, they were up on the surge and the latest from Iraq. What was different was that they had segregated themselves by listening to and reading only material that reflected their world view. They're of course not remotely unique in this--the left does this too.

This is the new political reality. The people, for the most part, still live in the center--most people in this country can agree on many big issues. But increasingly their information sources are skewed way to the right or left, and that tends to pull them away from the political center.


Arlington, Va.: Yet another anthropological foray into the wilds of northern Virginia so you can write a sad little column about the freaks in Hicksville!

Could you please re-enact the recent Howard Stern stunt, and go into DC neighborhoods asking Obama supporters about why they support their candidate, and when they say that it's because of the issues not his skin color, read them all of McCain's positions as they head-bob and amen their support?

That would be serious journalism compared to what we've been fed these last couple months.

Marc Fisher: I hadn't caught Stern's foray into political stunting, but I like the idea. Of course, it could well be argued that you could do that in any neighborhood of any political stripe, with equally startling results, because all rhetoric aside, the two major party candidates are really not that far apart on most issues.

Bailout? Both on the same side, both in opposition to most Americans.

Guns? Both on the same side, both ticking off a huge minority of the country.

Gay marriage, both on the same side, both ticking off a huge minority of the country.

Even on issues on which they ostensibly disagree, do they really? One supports abortion rights and the other doesn't, but as one Republican administration after another has demonstrated, there's stuff you say to get elected and then there's what you do in office, and the two often have nothing whatever to do with each other.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Based on your own statements in this chat, wouldn't it be fair to say that "real" Virginians are those you actually say "Virginia" when asked where they're from?

Marc Fisher: Great point! I love that.


Fairfax County, Va. : So was the Palin rally in Leesburg another gathering of pretty much all white folks?

As for your column today, frankly it distresses me. I'm a proud Yankee transplant here. There are times when I would love nothing better than to "stick it" to RoVA, secede and take away their cash cow here in NoVA, and tell them they can have their Massive Resistance mindset and stay in the 19th century where they belong. But it doesn't feel any better in the long run, and it doesn't solve the common problems we have both in the state and as a country.

Ultimately, it may take the passing of generations and their accumulated mental poisons (on both sides) for mindsets and actions to change. We've been at each others' throats now for 40, 50+ years, and it won't go away overnight. I hope for better out of our kids.

Marc Fisher: Yes, the Palin rallies in Leesburg and Fredericksburg drew overwhelmingly, almost uniformly white audiences. This does not surprise you, does it? Despite a decade of effort by some Republicans to persuade their message-makers that the party must broaden its appeal, the illegal immigration issue pretty much froze or rolled back that effort.

I like your long-term view of the NoVa/RoVa issue. And you're absolutely right--time and migration will settle all this, eventually. But upstate/downstate divides are a mainstay of American politics--look at Illinois, New York, Florida....


Omar: I grew up in Silver Spring (but was actually born and lived in D.C. for sometime) and when I got to college I always said I was from D.C. or the D.C. area because most people had no idea where Silver Spring was or they identified the whole Metro area as D.C. When I encountered people who were really familiar with the area I'd tell them I was from Silver Spring. I still do that as a matter fact. It just makes life easier.

Marc Fisher: Yes, easier, but what does it do to your own sense of where you are from? I'm not saying, just asking.


Washington, D.C.: Any suggestions for D.C. organizations (of any political stripe) that are providing endorsements for local elections? Thanks.

Marc Fisher: There must be more than 50 organizations that do endorsements. Here's just a random sampling....


Marc Fisher: I used to have a theory that the funnier candidate always loses, Bob Dole and Al Gore being strong arguments for my theory. But if the polls are right, my theory isn't going to work this time. Has Obama ever been funny? Or, do you just think he has a better personality? Please explain.

Marc Fisher: I've never met Obama, so I have to take the word of my colleagues who have--and I also watched Obama on Jon Stewart's program last night. Conclusion: He appreciates humor, but he's not a terribly funny guy. He can deliver jokes very well--check out the YouTube vid of him at the Alfred Smith dinner in New York a couple of weeks ago. He's great with written material. But folks who know him say he's not a natural quipster.

Whereas McCain has a biting wit--not quite Dole's fabulously pejorative and self-deprecating wit, which made covering the '96 campaign a total joy, but still, very high up there among politicians. But of course McCain's delivery isn't nearly as polished as Obama's.

Dole and Gore are by far the funniest of presidential candidates in the past 30 years.


Reston, Va. - Couldn't be FURTHER apart on guns: I would urge you to read their actual stances on issues like taxing the sale of guns or ammunition or banning concealed carry permits. These two candidates could not be further apart.

Marc Fisher: Ok, but while I'm at it, check out the Jim Webb video about how Obama's big on guns:


Book Recommendation: Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz is a fascinating look into the feelings of people in the South towards the Civil War. I believe the book may have been published 10 years ago but it is truly timely for this election. The book gives true insights into racial feelings and tensions in the South.

Marc Fisher: Great book--and yes, now is an excellent time to read (or re-read) it.

And in Sunday's column, I'll have a movie recommendation that, despite the flick being half a century old, I think you'll find is the most instructive and meaningful thing you can take in as you prepare for this election.


Purcellville, Va.: There was an article a while back in the Post that asserted that Virginia, once the largest colony, lost its influence on the rest of the nation because of its anti-tax stand in reference to public education. The states that willfully funded public education in the early 1800s, like New York, grew dominant as Virginia's role diminished.

As a rural Southeast Virginian who moved to Northern Virginia 23 years ago, I think that's what still divides "real" Virginia from the rest of us: education. It's not New Yorkers moving here, it's that we have open minds due to our valuing education.

Marc Fisher: Yes, that was my column on Susan Dunn's book, "Dominion of Memories."

But if that's the big divide in Virginia, how do you square that theory with the fact that the commonwealth has one of the better state university systems in the nation?


Chicago, Ill.: Dewey Defeats Truman!

Yeah, Mark, I agree with you on that point. This election isn't over until the votes are counted, the winner named and the loser concedes.

But what I'm really going to miss is Tim Russert and his white board electoral tally.

Marc Fisher: I was never a member of the Russert cult--sweet guy, very smart guy, but I didn't get the idea that his election analysis was all that far out in front--but I do very much miss the idea that television could trust itself to present one or two well-researched and perceptive analyses, rather than the gaggle of shouting silly people that now pass for analysis. Anytime you're presented with a jury-sized panel of analysts, you know you're getting more noise and less meaning.


Do real Virginians really believe fake Virginians are bad people?: I think one of the more disturbing trend shot just in your article, but in political discourse in general, is the very real sensation that people who have very different views see each other as not only wrong (which is fine) but as bad.

Even for people that I vehemently disagree with on issues like Iraq, the economy, abortion, etc., I don't think they are bad people. If they are kind, treat their fellow human beings with respect and compassion, and are responsible citizens I harbor no ill will towards them.

It seems though that we now not only disagree with each other, but we demonize each other as well. That is sad.

Marc Fisher: It is sad, but I'm not sure it's really true. Of course we see it on both edges of the political spectrum, but in that vast middle where most of us reside, I think most people look at the shouting and the disparaging of the other and say, What is wrong with these people?


Washington, D.C.: Marc, I'm a bit late but the early voting issue. Until Election Day is a national holiday early voting makes it MORE fair.

When I worked at a machine shop prior to college outside Detroit, the guys working 12 hour shifts (7 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.) didn't get to vote on Election Day. They couldn't afford to lose the 3 hours of overtime come the end of the week. The white collar guys up front (engineer two owners and three salesmen who all most likely voted R) all took time out of their salaried day to go vote.

Just one perspective.

Marc Fisher: I'm with you on the national holiday idea, though it's important to make it mid-week so that it doesn't become one more three-day weekend on which people travel or shop rather than doing their civic duty.

Another reform I'd move to far quicker than early voting is 24-hour voting. One day, but not just 12 or 13 hours--open the polls for a full 24, and that way you eliminate all the whining and moaning about how people can't get to and from work and take care of their kid-shuttling obligations and still vote.


Anonymous: I think the sweet tea map is more significant than we realize. One thing about the "real" south is they generally do not care what the other folks think at all, and y'all folks need to adapt to their way, not vice versa. I'm a native Washingtonian that lived over 15 years in the south post college before coming back home. I found that northern or more cosmopolitan folks generally were more compromising of self. I think your northern VA example is a case in point. NVA looks to DC, as in big picture issues that effect the whole, while so-called "real" VA simply looks out for itself via Richmond. this is the same scenario in ATL, Charlotte, and many other places in the south.

Marc Fisher: Generally, I think you're right, but I'd argue with one piece--southern identity is not, despite its bluster, a hugely confident one. As historians of the south from Cash to Vann Woodward and on to today have long pointed out, it is the very lack of confidence--the fear that better educated northerners might point out their backward ways--that has driven much of southern identity through the centuries.


Chantilly, Va.: Just as an aside, because I'm not sure what it means, but the most prominent politician from "Real Va." is now Rep. Eric Cantor, who is the only Jewish Republican in the House.

When he did a chat on here I asked him how he could feel comfortable in the GOP caucus. Of course he parried the question, but he strikes me as what used to be known as a "House Jew" (no pun intended).

Marc Fisher: Just one more piece of evidence that the categories we're talking about are not impermeable and that while old prejudices do linger in some ways in some places, they are much more malleable now than at any other time in our history. Ask Doug Wilder about that.


Arlingtonton Va.: When driving south on 95 towards Richmond I always have a laugh. The Welcome to Virginia Visitor Center is about halfway between the Potomac and Richmond. I always thought it reflected where the Virginia pols thought the border was. Northern Virginia was some quazi-D.C.-Not-quite-Virginia state.

Marc Fisher: I've never understood how that welcome center got put where it is. Surely there's a great story behind it. Or maybe it's as simple as the state not wanting to give out so many free maps as they'd have to if the center were located anywhere near the DC metro area.


Metro Bag Searches: Marc: Since Metro has no interest in hearing from its customers, could someone at The Post please ask them why riders should believe that the Transit Police are capable of detecting explosive devices when they are INcapable of enforcing the no eating/no drinking rules; and have no intention of policing out of control teens?

Thanks. Metro to Randomly Search Riders' Bags ( Post, Oct. 28)

Marc Fisher: I wish this topic had come up some week other than the one before the election, because it deserves a whole lot of time and attention. Let's try to get deeper into this in two weeks, after we're done digesting Tuesday's results.


Undecided, USA: Marc -- The presidential election is next week and I still am undecided. I don't have enough time to read all the position papers. Is there a Web site where I can answer a few questions and it will tell me which candidate I should vote for? Thanks

Marc Fisher: There are a zillion of them--there's even one right here on this web site. It asks you issue questions and you drill down and learn with whom you most agree.

I'll ask Rocci to find you a link...


Washington, DC: Marc,

I am required by my job to attend a conference in Europe next week and I learned this in the middle of October. I would be disenfranchised, with your blessing, were it not for DC's early voting. You literally wrote a column encouraging those like us to be disenfranchised. That is a dangerous, dangerous thing sir, and you stepped into a weird political territory populated with Poll Taxers, literacy tests, and lonely conspiracy theorists.

What would you suggest to someone like me, who is assigned European Union work when the politicals in the office refused to travel? Just lose my right to vote?

Marc Fisher: Hardly. You're the classic absentee voter. Every state has absentee voting, and you can do it by mail or in person. Absentee voting requires a reason, which you have. Early voting is different--it requires no reason.


Anywhere: OK, I am getting fed up with all of the ads and pundit-parsing of the candidates' tax plans. Here's a question I'd really like to see, maybe you can get the National desk to ask it: considering that Congress will dispose on any tax proposal from the President, where is the magic line on the lower limit of family income for raising taxes that would incur a veto? IOW, if the President proposes a $250k bright line and Congress comes back with $150k, will he sign the bill?

Marc Fisher: That's not a question that anyone can answer during a campaign. Only the crucible of the legislative process can force a true answer to that. And that's where your judgment of the character of the candidates comes into play--who will negotiate hard and fair, who knows when to bend, those kinds of questions.


Laurel, Md.: I have to take issue with your comment "the commonwealth has one of the better state university systems in the nation", as off-topic as it may be. Can you tell me where I can find this information? Because growing up there and going to school there, the "commonwealth" has made it nearly impossible for Virginians to attend their schools (I only got into one state school, my younger brother to none).

Marc Fisher: Yes, Virginia's colleges have become more selective, and that's troubling to those who struggle to get in, but it's also a sign of the rising quality of the institutions, which are defined not only by the level of their faculty and the research they produce, but also by the achievement and commitment of the students.

A great state system has institutions at all levels, and Virginia has strong top-shelf universities as well as a good community college network, especially in the DC region.


Virginia: I miss the mechanical voting machines, where you push down the levers for your choices and then pull the big lever back to record them and open the curtain. That always seemed like a good middle ground.

Marc Fisher: Best part of those machines: The sounds they make. Now that was real voting.


National Holiday: We have 9 national holidays, and on at least seven of them most retail stores are open (Thanksgiving is unfortunately lurching into a shopping day). On all of them, most food & entertainment-type business are open. So, if we make election day a national holiday, how does that help people working in the service economy (most of us now)?

24-hour voting is good in theory, but try getting election judges for every precinct for 3 a.m.

Marc Fisher: Pay them and they'll be there.


Confused: Marc - I don't understand why election day should be a holiday. I believe that if people consider voting to be important then they will make the decisions that allow them the time to vote. Some people consider buying Christmas gifts for their kids to be important so they save up for months to pay for the toys. Can't people cut their personal vacations short by one day so they can take a vacation day to vote? People will vote if they want to vote ... or not.

Marc Fisher: I'm inclined to agree with that, but I hear so many stories from readers about the real difficulties in getting to vote that I think a 24-hour vote would help--after all, our work shifts, retail hours, commuting times and other indicators of how we live have all shifted toward a 24-hour day, so why shouldn't voting shift as well?


24 hour voting: Not a bad idea! Maybe we could replicate the "Midnight Madness" excitement of college hoops. Okay, maybe not, but it'd be fun to try.

Marc Fisher: I'd love to work the polls during the graveyard shift. Just to get to see who comes in.


DC Again: 24 hour voting - did a study while on college that even opening up the polls at 4AM captured a 10% larger slice of the voting age population (again in Michigan) which at the time was nearly 960,000. That doesn't guarantee they all vote, but it does make it easier for them to be able to.

Another one we studied was removing restrictions on absentee ballots to allow access so long as they were requested. Michigan had a list you had to meet in order to get one.

Marc Fisher: In most places, the list of acceptable reasons for requesting absentee ballots has ballooned, but more important, the lists are generally ignored. If you just say you can't make it, that's often good enough.

_______________________ Choose your Candidate quiz

Marc Fisher: Here's that Choose Your Candidate quiz thing we mentioned earlier....


Washington, D.C. (No, Really): Marc: "Marc Fisher: We could easily devote this chat to the real/fake Virginia issue every week for a year and still not mine all of its levels of cultural meaning.

I've lived in Washington for nearly a quarter century and I'm still fascinated by the number of people I know who were born and grew up in places like Annandale, Chevy Chase, Fairfax City or even as far out as Clinton (Md.) or Clifton (Va.) and yet who introduce themselves as being from...Washington."

Interesting point, but I think we in this area do this out of recognition - possibly sub-consciously - that we live in a transient region. One where many come and go based on political shifts; one with many top colleges and universities; one with a sizable and shifting immigrant population. I think with all of those things in mind, it simply becomes easier to say one is from DC than from Annandale.

Or maybe we all just think it's more impressive to say "I'm from Washington" than "I'm from Germantown"...

Marc Fisher: Could be--that's a good theory.

But I'm always a tad suspicious of theories based on the notion that this is a particularly transient region. It's not. In fact, it's less transient than most Sunbelt metro areas. Remember, government once accounted for a gigantic share of employment in the Washington area, but it doesn't anymore--not since the development of the Dulles tech corridor, the I-270 biotech corridor, and the overall diversification of the local economy.


Waldorf, Md.: I'm related to one of the men who was killed by the speeding police officer whose case was not sent to the jury, even though the chase violated several PD rules. In situations like this, it would be a huge help if the judge explained his reasoning. Obviously, we're biased, but we thought the testimony clearly showed wrongdoing. The prosecutors also expressed disappointment and (I probably shouldn't say this) but indicated there was no way that particular judge was ever going to find a police officer guilty of anything. And now we have no recourse whatsoever. It's very sad.

Marc Fisher: That was indeed a shocker of a ruling. I wasn't there, so I can't say for certain, but it sure looked like there were enough issues and enough evidence for a jury to at least take a look.


Suburban Washington: Hi Marc --

I have to disagree with your premise about Suburban DC residents being so much different from suburbanites elsewhere in terms of saying where they are from.

I grew up in Edina, MN (very comparable to Bethesda) and almost invariably told people that I was from "a suburb of Minneapolis." Now, I live in Bethesda, and tell people (outside of DC) that I live in a "suburb of DC." I would expect that my children will do the same when they get older.

Marc Fisher: Yes, I'm sure that's the common way of doing it in much of the country, but maybe the real distinction is between those who say "I'm from Virginia, right near DC," and those who say just "DC."


Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz is a fascinating look into the feelings of people in the South towards the Civil War: Yeah, but as a 7th generation Richmonder, I can tell you there are few people who still think that way. Those who do are very vocal and get noticed, but please don't imply that any significant number of people still think that way. At the dedication of the Arthur Ashe statue, the only protesters had to be bussed in from Danville.

Marc Fisher: Good point--thanks.


Arlington, Va.: For NoVA sticking it to RoVA - the money would be awesome to keep- but then we'd have no college football team to cheer for in NoVA... oh then there's that small thing about losing political clout in the House of Reps.

Marc Fisher: But isn't it odd that no great public university has developed in such a densely populated area as northern Virginia. Mason is getting stronger all the time, but it clearly doesn't get the share of resources and attention within the state system that it ought to.


Burke, Va.: You may not buy that the divide in Virginia is "the better informed vs. the ignorant", but when Sarah Palin makes condescending remarks about fruit fly research (hello, Sarah, that would be genetics), is there any question about which segment of the population the Republicans are targeting?

Marc Fisher: Anti-intellectualism in American life--the great Hofstadter book that's as fresh today as it was half a century ago--is a theme of this campaign cycle that academics will be exploring for many years to come.


Kingstowne, Va.: I have no issue with early voting as long as the tallies are not released until election day. One of my pet peeves is the tracking of the race as it is happening ("with 30% reporting, the other guy doesn't have a chance, the rest of you don't need to bother voting"). When the states have finished counting ballots, they can then report the results.

Bonus benefit: we wouldn't have to suffer all the election night insanity on TV.

Marc Fisher: That's a tough question, but in general, it's a rare case when there is a very strong argument for suppressing information, just for a couple of hours.


Re: Unreal, Va.: Last Sunday's Doonesbury may explain the divide. It isn't necessarily about being more informed or more educated. It's about the supposed distinction between "book learning" and "common sense," the false idea that the two are incompatible or contradictory. This seems to involve a reverse elitism. I've encountered MANY people without college educations who automatically assume that I would look down on them simply because I have a degree.

Marc Fisher: Precisely--I'll try to get into this in Sunday's piece.


Chantilly, Va.: Could you please explain to me (in regular everyday folk-speak vs. cop-speak) how, exactly, searching random people will make it safer aboard Metro? If I were a terrorist carrying a backpack (or wearing a vest of) C4 and I saw a checkpoint, I'd turn around and walk away.

The Metro police chief said that they have other ways of determining whether a suspect is suspicious. If that's the case, why not just look for suspicious looking folks in the first place?!?

This whole charade will do nothing to increase safety anymore than the TSA has done at the airports.

Marc Fisher: Right--read Jeffrey Goldberg in this month's Atlantic about what a farce the TSA security is at the airports.


Marc Fisher: That has to wrap things up for this week--apologies to the many, many I couldn't get to this time. Please come on back Election night and next Thursday at this hour so we can figure out what we've just done.

Thanks for coming along and write if you get work.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company