In the Arena

Sarah Palin’s America

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All this talk about Sarah Palin’s constituency being “real Americans” raises the question, yet again, of who the unreal Americans are. Last September, when the Governor burst upon the scene like a head-on collision, I wrote that Palin’s America–white folks, small towns, traditional values–was a Republican fantasy, a vestige of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” hornswoggle in the 1980s. (This fantasy was reinforced by John McCain’s fetishizing of Joe the Unlicensed Plumber.)

Real America is much different from, and more interesting than, that white-bread fantasy, a problem the Republican Party–the party of immigrant bashing–will be wrestling with for the immediate future. And it brings to mind a conversation I overheard, and can’t get out of my mind, between two educated Iranians at a North Tehran party last month. Both had attended university in the U.S. One had recently returned from the States, the other hadn’t been back here in 15 years. “You wouldn’t recognize the place,” the recent returnee said. “They don’t have any Americans left.”

He was joking, of course. But the fact is, America–Barack Obama’s America–is a different, more exhilarating, sophisticated and diverse place from the Reagan fantasy. Sarah Palin’s political future will be crippled by her inability to speak to that America, as will the Republican Party’s, so long as it scorns diversity and “cosmopolitan” sensibilities–as Rudy Guiliani, of all people, did at the GOP Convention last summer. The attempts to plaster over this glaring deficiency by putting people like Michael Steele and Bobby Jindal front and center are, to coin a phrase, like putting lipstick on a pig.