Sunday, October 19, 2008

Who's "real" in an election? Who's "fake?"

Sarah Palin, according to this article from the wonderful fivethirtyeight.com, said the following the other day:

We believe that 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, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.


People have responded negatively (and rightly so) to the notion that there are some parts of the country that are "pro-America" and some parts that are, by extension, "anti-America" (or, one could argue from the quote, merely not very "pro-America.")

That's not the bit that bugs me the most, however. The big that bugs me the most is that Palin refers to part of the country as "real America."

I've seen this use of the word "real" quite frequently lately...what's rural is "real America" and what's urban is, I assume, "fake America." Here in my home state of Washington, we're in the midst of another incredibly close gubernatorial election (a rematch between two candidates...the incumbent, Democrat Christine Gregoire, beat the challenger, Republican Dino Rossi, by 129 votes, or .005 percent, last time). Rossi's response is to divide and conquer...to exploit the us-versus-them bullshit. My wife has already discussed the "Don't Let Seattle Steal This Election!" business, trying to play off rural against urban. And I don't give the Roadside Republican much stead, but his billboard along I-5 probably speaks for a lot of rural Washingtonians right now. It says something like: "Will King County just secede from the REAL Washington?"

Rural Washington=real. Seattle=fake.

What Palin did to America and Rossi's minion did to Washington, McCain aide Nancy Pfotenhauer is doing to Virginia. Yesterday, she stated that Northern Virginia isn't "real Virginia":

"As a proud resident of Oakton, Virginia, I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia," Pfotenhauer said, speaking of Democratic gains in that part of the state. "And that's really what you see there.

"But the rest of the state, 'real Virginia,' if you will, I think will be very responsive to Senator McCain’s message,"


Let's examine what it means when rural America is "real" and urban America is "fake":

According to Governor Palin, nearly 3,000 fake Americans died when the planes hit the World Trade Center.

According to Ms. Pfotenhauer, 184 fake Virginians died in the Pentagon that same day.

The fivethirtyeight.com article goes a step further. In a great demographic examination, they look at the racial breakdowns of cities and towns that Sarah Palin has visited since the conventions with the racial breakdowns of cities and towns that Obama has visited. They found that the cities that Palin has visited

are, on average, 83.3 percent non-Hispanic white, 7.5 percent black, 5.2 percent Hispanic, and 4.0 percent "other". By comparison, the US 18+ population in 2000 was 72.0 percent white, 11.2 percent black, 11.0 percent Hispanic, and 5.9 percent other. Thirty-four of Palin's 44 cities were whiter than the US average.

Over the same interval, Barack Obama had public events scheduled in 48 distinct cities. The racial composition of these cities was 69.8 percent white, 17.4 percent black, 8.9 percent Hispanic, and 4.0 percent other. The percentage of whites very nearly matches the US average 72.0 percent; 22 of Obama's cities were whiter than average, and the other 26 were less white than average. Obama, however, has visited cities with a relatively larger fraction of blacks than in the US as a whole.


This wouldn't bother me much normally--both Palin and Obama are going to travel to where their more receptive audiences are, and Palin's will tend to be whiter while Obama's will tend to be more diverse. However, once Palin plays the "real America" card, her rhetoric opens herself up to legitimate criticism that she believes that the "real America" features more White faces.

(Let me be very clear: liberals' rhetoric can be just as bad. We liberals have all been to gatherings where we bash rural America, talking about yokel uncles and married cousins and crap like that. Too many of us dehumanize rural America as much as others dehumanize urban America. Let's face it--there are times we act as if anyone who disagrees with us politically is a cartoon rather than "real.")

Here's the big issue I have...

Do Republicans think that I am real?

I grew up in the suburbs of the largest city in a state that voted Republican (real, I guess). I then went to a liberal arts college (fake) in a very rural environment (real), spending a year in England (very fake). After two years in the rural South (double real), I spent a year very much in the city (fake) and another year in another city (fake) before settling down for eleven years in King County (fake). I have since moved to Clark County, Washington.

Hmmm. Clark County. Where hippy-dippy-granola Portland intersects uber-rural SW Washington. Am I real, Sarah? Nancy? Dino? I can't decide.

Of course, the three of you have had no problem de-citizenifying much of my family. My parents and my brother's family live in King County. You don't think they're real Americans or Washingtonians. My kid sister lives in Northern Virginia. You don't think she's a real American or Virginian. And my big sister and her family, located outside Tacoma, are suspect (they border both King County and a city). But they likely are real to you because they usually vote Republican.

And I think that's the heart of it. On both sides.

The people who agree with us are real. The people who disagree with us are fake.

If you wonder why there's so much dehumanizing rhetoric and even action these days, that's why. We don't believe that people who disagree with us are "real."

Say it with me:

There is no them. There is only us.

1 comment:

Paula said...

Oh my, I am utterly suburban. What am I? I am surrounded by soccer moms. Are they as real as hockey moms? Are debate moms real? Probably not.