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October 27, 2008

No More ‘Real Americans’


Polls and likely outcomes aside, if there's one thing I've greatly enjoyed about the past two weeks or so of the presidential campaign, it's been this: One of the most persistent and most ridiculous claims of the right is finally being challenged and torn down.


I'm speaking of this idea, sometimes merely implied, and other times stated out loud, that certain parts of the country, and the people from them, are somehow more authentically American, and that people from those areas – always, conveniently, heavily Republican ones – are the "real Americans."


The "Real America" is apparently inhabited entirely by rural white people who vote in big numbers for the GOP. What this means for the rest of the country – fake America? unreal America? – remains unstated.


This idea has been out there for years, but has truly been crystalized in the past couple of election cycles. Everyone remembers George Allen's infamous "macaca" moment from the 2006 election, but Allen followed that racial slur by telling Jim Webb's staffer "welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."


This was echoed, two years later, by McCain spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer, who said this week that "I certainly agree that Northern Virginia has gone more Democratic . . . But the rest of the state – real Virginia if you will – I think will be very responsive to Sen. McCain's message." The Pentagon and Reagan National Airport, apparently, are no longer part of the "real Virginia."


Meanwhile, North Carolina Congressman Robin Hayes said at a rally last week that "Liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve in believe in God," a quote he denied uttering until reporters present confirmed it.


The worst offender, though, has been Sarah Palin. It started in her GOP convention address, when she quoted "a writer" as saying that "we grow good people in our small towns, with honesty, sincerity and dignity," a quote that would have been problematic enough even if that "writer" hadn't been Westbrook Pegler, a notorious anti-Semite.


On the trail more recently, Palin has been praising "the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America."


This is all quite laughable, and it isn't too difficult to understand why: There are good people and bad people in big towns and small towns. In rural America, and urban America, and in every one of the 50 states. There's nothing about being from a certain kind of city or town that makes you any better, any smarter, any more American, or gives you better values than anywhere else, and it's absurd to suggest that it does.


You can call Democrats elitist, and in some cases you'd be right. But you will never, ever hear someone get up at a Democratic National Convention and say "we grow good people in big cities," or claim that people from blue states are really American and those from red states are not. It's Republicans who continually demean whole cities and states (San Francisco, Massachusetts). I've never heard a Democratic official denounce, say, "Utah values."


Thankfully, there has been some pushback on this, with liberal pundits and politicians noticing how ridiculous this "real American" nonsense is. Colin Powell, endorsing Barack Obama on Meet the Press, stated one of his reasons as "he's thinking about all villages have values, all towns have values, not just small towns have values." And Obama himself has added a similar line to his stump speech: "There are no real parts of the country or fake parts of the country."


I understand what's at play here. The Republicans are behind and desperate, and shoring up their base –in this case, by flattering them – is the only card they have left. But it's shameless and ridiculous, and it's not going to work this time.


Besides, I liked "real American" better back when it was just Hulk Hogan's theme music.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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