The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Do you live in the “real America”?

October 19, 2008

Remember when Bill Clinton promised to put together a Cabinet that “looks like America”? Then, to his credit, George W. Bush “appointed a more diverse set of top advisers than any president in history.”

Now, however, Governor Sarah Palin defines “real America” in a substantially less inclusive manner:

“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.”

As anyone paying attention knows, an unsettling number of Americans think that Barack Obama is a Muslim and a terrorist sympathizer. And now, apparently, a socialist, ready to revive Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens.

Too many people do not add, “not that there’s anything wrong with that” when talking about the Muslim faith. As Dan’s post earlier today revealed, Colin Powell endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president partly because of these unhinged Republican attacks.

Obviously, however, the McCain political team thinks this tactic could work. Otherwise, why would they keep at it?

To investigate Palin’s “real America,” where such attacks are apparently aimed, Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight yesterday put up what must be one of the best blog posts of the year. Go read the whole thing, but this snippet explains what Silver was attempting:

Since her coming out in Dayton, Ohio on August, 29th, Palin has held (or is scheduled to hold) public events in 44 cities according to the candidate tracker. These include all events described as “rallies”, “town halls”, “gatherings” or “discussions”, but not things like press availabilities, fundraisers or debates.

I looked at the racial composition of voting-age (18+) population in these 44 cities as according to the 2000 census.

What did Silver find? Who lives in the “real America”? What does it look like?

They 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.

Silver demonstrates that host cities of Obama’s events arguably look a lot more like America.

Republicans are not the only guilty parties here. Palin’s words about “real America” remind me a bit too much of some remarks Senator Hillary Clinton made in the primary campaign — and talking heads like Chris Matthews were only too eager to follow that path. There’s nothing wrong with politicians praising the values and beliefs of hard-working Americans, but they are way over the line when they start dividing the country by race, gender, faith, or geography, as if some particular group had a right to claim supremacy over others. This is a “values voter” campaign gone mad.

I think the divisiveness fomented by his opponents stems, at least in part, from the fact that a biracial guy named Barack Hussein Obama is apparently building an unprecedented winning coalition. It does not look quite like the one Al Gore and John Kerry tried to build this decade — nor like the one Bill Clinton put together in 1992 and 1996. Sure, Obama’s Electoral map will likely include all the states Kerry won, plus Gore states New Mexico and Iowa. However, Obama’s map will apparently also include Colorado and Virginia — and may well include some mix of Nevada, Missouri, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. At one time or another, Obama has shown surprising strength in North Dakota, West Virginia and even Georgia. Nate Silver thinks Arkansas could be moved into play.

If this is an earthquake election, a generational realignment, it may well foretell Democratic successes well into this new century. Or, the election results may merely reflect the unique candidacy of Obama. America’s young people favor him by a wide margin and are apparently poised to vote in unprecedented numbers. Obama is doing especially well with the college-educated and more young Americans have attended college and obtained degrees than their parents and grandparents did. Some pundits are discussing a “reverse Bradley” effect, whereby Obama may outperform his polling numbers in states with large African American populations. He’s poised to get a very large share of the Hispanic vote.

Have Palin, Clinton, and Matthews been saying that these are not “real Americans,” not “hard-working” Americans? Are these Americans instead socialists symps, lining up to get their piece of new welfare action?

I don’t buy it and the polls suggest that most voters don’t either.

Yet, I’m not prepared to declare, as is commenter EL that “Soon the Republican party will belong exclusively to fundamentalist Christians.” However, it does seem as if Barack Obama is trying to significantly increase the size of the Democratic coalition — defining a new, more inclusive “real America.” Richard Nixon’s southern strategy is still bringing electoral votes to the Republican Party, but the possible defection of Virginia and North Carolina demonstrates that 2008 may genuinely be a change election.

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Rodger A. Payne is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Louisville. He serves on the University’s Sustainability Council and was a co-founder of the Peace, Conflict, and Social Justice program. He is the author of dozens of journal articles and book chapters and coauthor, with Nayef Samhat, of Democratizing Global Politics: Discourse Norms, International Regimes, and Political Community (SUNY, 2004). He is currently working on two major projects, one exploring the role of narratives in international politics and the other examining the implications of America First foreign policy.