Sarah Palin caused a bit of a flap earlier in the week when she told a North Carolina crowd that she loved visiting the “pro-America” parts of the country, leading WaPo’s Juliet Eilperin to quip, “No word on which states she views as unpatriotic.”
The campaign circulated a longer report, courtesy of WSJ’s Elizabeth Holmes, putting the remarks in context, which Eilperin posted:
“We believe that the best of America is not all in Washington, D.C. We believe” — here the audience interrupted Palin with applause and cheers — “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.”
She continued: “This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans. Those who are running our factories and teaching our kids and growing our food and are fighting our wars for us. Those who are protecting us in uniform. Those who are protecting the virtues of freedom.”
The upshot? The District is neither “real America” nor “pro-America.” Other parts of the nation? It’s unclear, but if you live in a small town, you’re probably patriotic from Palin’s point of view.
The campaign says, no, “She was reinforcing the message that the best of our America isn’t confined to our nation’s capitol.”
The controversy continued last night, when Eilperin’s colleagues Matthew Mosk and Christopher Twarowski passed on a remark by a McCain staffer nobody had ever heard of on a show nobody watched:
McCain senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer, a self-described “proud resident of Oakton, Virginia,” said on MSNBC that “Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into Northern Virginia, 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.”
Program host Kevin Corke asked Pfotenhauer if she wanted to retract the comment, prompting her to reply, “I mean ‘real Virginia’ because Northern Virginia is where I’ve always been, but ‘real Virginia’ I take to be the — this part of the state that is more Southern in nature, if you will. Northern Virginia is really metro D.C.”
I’ve now lived in Northern Virginia a little over six years, easily the longest I’ve lived consecutively in any state as an adult and soon to surpass any place I’ve lived consecutively in my lifetime. I categorically agree with Pfotenhauer that it isn’t “Real Virginia” — let alone the “Real South” — but rather a suburb of Washington, DC. This isn’t an insult but rather a cultural judgment.
Northern Virginia is much more affluent. It’s much more congested and thus has far different political priorities than the rest of the state. People generally don’t have Southern accents here as they do just a few miles south and west. It’s hard to get sweet tea in a restaurant here. There are actually quotas making it harder for kids graduating schools in these parts to get into the University of Virginia, otherwise it would be overwhelmed by students from a handful of affluent counties.
As to the “Real America” nonsense, it’s a really annoying relic of the pre-24/7 communications era, when candidates could stump in localities and say things that wouldn’t get heard elsewhere. In some ways, it’s as benign as rock bands traveling the country and telling each crowd that this is their favorite venue and that this is the best crowd, ever.
It’s more than that, of course. There is in fact a cultural divide in the country that animates politics, especially at the presidential level. It’s not quite rural-urban, as relatively few people leave in rural areas these days even in the reddest of Red States. No, it’s between “cosmopolitan America” and the rest of the country. People who live and work in big cities and college towns tend to have a different set of attitudes than those who live everywhere else.
We’ve seen it in the internecine debate among conservatives over Sarah Palin. She’s adored by a wide swath of conservatives from the South, West, and Midwest but viewed quite skeptically by those of us who live in Cosmopolitan America. South Park Republicans are different from Wal Mart Republicans, even though we wind up voting for the same people.
David Brooks captured this divide brilliantly, if somewhat inaccurately, in his various “Bobos in Paradise” writings. In a 2003 followup in the Atlantic, he observed,
Human beings are capable of drawing amazingly subtle social distinctions and then shaping their lives around them. In the Washington, D.C., area Democratic lawyers tend to live in suburban Maryland, and Republican lawyers tend to live in suburban Virginia. If you asked a Democratic lawyer to move from her $750,000 house in Bethesda, Maryland, to a $750,000 house in Great Falls, Virginia, she’d look at you as if you had just asked her to buy a pickup truck with a gun rack and to shove chewing tobacco in her kid’s mouth. In Manhattan the owner of a $3 million SoHo loft would feel out of place moving into a $3 million Fifth Avenue apartment. A West Hollywood interior decorator would feel dislocated if you asked him to move to Orange County. In Georgia a barista from Athens would probably not fit in serving coffee in Americus.
At the macro level, there’s a longstanding scorn between these “Americas” that goes back to the days of the Founding Fathers. Whether it was Hamiltonians vs. Jeffersonians, North vs. South, Country Club vs. Cloth Coat, or Blue vs. Red, the former have tended to look down on the latter while the latter resented the former. Successful politicians have long mastered pushing the buttons to use these sentiments to their advantage.
However real the differences are, however, fanning the flames of resentment is a dangerous game for those aspiring to the presidency (or vice presidency). Not only is it now impossible to play it and not get caught in the age of blogs and cell phone videocameras and YouTube — it brought down the very promising career of George Allen, for example, with the Macaca incident — but it’s impossible to govern effectively after waging that sort of campaign. This is especially true now that campaigning for office is a never-ending cycle and the concepts of a “honeymoon” or a “governing mandate” now seem quaint.
Image: Canadian Red