Author, Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics
Back when this presidential election began, John Edwards was criticized by many conservatives for using the slogan "Two Americas." It was a vision of America divided between the haves and the have-nots – evidence, many said, of Democrats' instincts toward divisive class warfare.
But recently Republican surrogates have begun using their own equally divisive framing device: "real America".
A McCain adviser argued for their electoral edge in Virginia by saying their candidate would do well in "real Virginia" rather than northern parts of the state – unconsciously echoing former Virginia senator George Allen's infamous "Macaca" moment captured on YouTube when he invited a dark-skinned volunteer for the Webb campaign to visit the "real world of Virginia."
Then Sarah Palin got in the act: "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." So if real America is pro-American, than there is an unreal America – by implication, the urban areas where most Americans now live – which is somehow inherently anti-American.
Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann helpfully tied it all together by saying that Obama "may have anti-American views" and calling for the media to investigate other Democrats with "anti-American" views in congress. [This would presumably require their removal from office, not just because they would be serving an institution they do not support, but because they all take an oath of office to uphold the constitution].
This is ugly and it has to stop. These may be just slips of the tongue, but they are evidence of an attitude that is just as divisive as John Edwards' "Two Americas" riff. It is an extension of the same analysis – an America that is fundamentally divided and mutually incomprehensible, by values if not economics. And it reinforces the subterranean attacks against Obama, questioning not just his patriotism but his essential American-ness.
As Colin Powell said this past weekend, "We've got to stop this kind of nonsense and pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and our diversity."
Dividing our politics into Real Americans and anti-Americans is not just insulting – especially to those urban Americans who were attacked on 9/11 – it draws on nativist and tribalist instincts that do not reflect the best of America, but the worst.
America is great in large part because patriotism and nationalism are not the same thing. We are not a tribal culture, we are a melting pot – being a fully evolved American requires transcending our tribalism.
Dividing America does not represent the politics that John McCain has fought for all his career. And it is not smart politics for the Republican Party in the long-run. Because the base that they are playing to is parts of the country that are less populated and less diverse. That is not betting on the future of America- it's betting on the past.
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