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What is the real America?

October 6, 2008

In a piece posted Friday on Slate, (“Alaska vs. Hawaii: Why is Seward’s Folly the ‘real America’ and the Aloha State not?”), Timothy Noah writes, regarding Governor Sarah Palin and why her homespun Americana doggerel is being viewed as, for better or worse, the “real” America:

Why is Alaska authentically American when Hawaii is not? At bottom, of course, it’s a silly question. Both states, while disconnected geographically from the continental United States, are populated with people whose American-ness is beyond dispute. Every corner of each one of the 50 states is “authentically American.” But Alaska leans Republican while Hawaii leans Democratic, and the GOP long ago intimidated the media into believing that only Republican strongholds represent the “real America.” These Republican strongholds are usually sparsely populated, and I suppose the media’s been sold on the idea that because the United States started out as an agrarian nation, rural areas are somehow more authentic than urban ones.

That’s spot on, and a nice articulation of something I’ve been thinking about and noticing as well. Bob Herbert, in an excellent Sept. 8th op-ed in The New York Times, raised sort of a similar issue in his defense of liberals being patriots and real Americans just as much as (if not more so) than conservatives. Herbert writes about something Mitt Romney said (“Liberals don’t have a clue”) during the Republican National Convention:

Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals—from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers—the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.

And I would argue that without the contribution of the cities and of the values of tolerance, acceptance, and civil rights that the U.S. would be a much, much worse place than it is today. I don’t know, either, why liberals “don’t stand up to this garbage,” fight back. One reason of course in this campaign is that Barack Obama has set out to really change the tenor of the public debate; to not descend to the level of Sarah Palin’s mean, sniping, red-meat attack during her acceptance speech at the RNC. And that’s good. I think Barack is pursuing the higher path.

But Jay-Z, in his song “Justify My Thug,” off 2003’s The Black Album, makes a good point—One that Malcolm X might have agreed with, and that I in some ways agree with as well. Jay-Z raps:

They say an eye for an eye, we both lose our sight
And two wrongs don’t make a right
But when you been wrong and you know all along that it’s just one life
At what point does one fight? (Good question, right?)

Part of me wants to say it’s time for Democrats to fight back, to be all like, “Y’know what, Republicans? Fuck you. Fuck you, Alaska. We did this and this and this and you are the party of the past and your time is dying and falling away. We represent the cities, where 80 percent (and growing) of Americans now live. We represent the spirit of progress, tolerance, and learning. We represent the future, and we represent a proud, strong America; and henceforth we refuse to be labeled as unpatriotic or bad Americans.”

I don’t know. That’s probably wrong—in fact I’m sure it is—but I still want to say it. I do think, though, that liberals need to take back that word, to proudly claim their heritage and no longer allow themselves to be marginalized by Republicans and their so-called “heartland” values.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sully permalink
    October 6, 2008 7:36 pm

    You forget, ole Lyndon B didn’t want to sign the Medicare bill, as made very loud and clear in his Pres. library but he had to to dig his arse out of his Vietnam hole.

    JFK didn’t want to sign the Civil Rights Act either, but was pressured to to not lose the black vote so desperately needed to keep Dems in control(*see Robert Dallek’s book, title I can’t remember right now dang it, but it’s really good), and to keep the country from further bloodshed.

    Lincoln also didn’t want to develop/sign the Emancipation Proclamation, which he didn’t believe in, but did so to end the Civil War because he felt that giving some freedom was better than losing a whole country (read in numerous Lincoln bios).

    The whole idea that Democrats are angels in all this is a pretty rediculous notion, and I’ve always been yellow dog, and deserves more research on many people’s part. I think it’s easiest to make bad guys/good guys in people/parties/decisions made when the times are so tumultuous. And everybody wants a hero.

    As great of a person and leader as Obama could be, there are always personal agendas in tow.

    Both parties are just as bad at preventing work from really getting done in our nation as the next. And I think in saying this I will have to give up, and greatfully so, my voter card and move to French-Canada.

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