The “Real America” of her imagination and many others probably looked an awful lot like Wasilla, Janesville, or some of the windswept Midwest farming towns and crumbling Rust Belt hubs she visited during her ill-fated moment of political ascendancy.
Surely, not many of the people who eek out lower middle-class (or worse) lives there resembled me, my parents or Glen Rice.
Over the next four years, as Paul Krugman explained, “Real America” eventually became code for “non-urban white people, to which both (political) parties must abase themselves.”
As a result, pre-election conversations and narratives about Mitt Romney and his overwhelmingly white constituency left little doubt that for the GOP and many other right-wingers “whiteness … (is) the American default.” After all, America was a center right nation.
Then Tuesday happened.
It was, dare I say, an unprecedented night of progressive triumph: America re-elected a self-identified black man named Barack Hussein Obama as its chief executive; sent its first openly gay woman to the Senate; affirm the right of gay couples to marry in three states and rejected a measure to discriminate against them in another; and voted to decriminalize marijuana usage in three states.
Palin wouldn’t recognize these places.
Thing is, she never thought to visit. Maybe she never knew they existed, given the cluelessness of certain GOP operatives.
So let’s take a brief tour.
My mother often tells me all about her family piling into one of my grandfather’s jalopies and driving through the wealthier white neighborhoods in West Monroe to admire the stately houses, her mother hushing them along the way because white people could do whatever they wanted to a car full of black folks.
She also recalls what happened a few years later, when they all moved to Pine Bluff, Ark., and her young sister was chosen for the desegregation experiment. Her sister – my aunt – was used a target practice for white classmates with a mouth full of spit and a mind full of resentment.
In Hot Springs, Ark., my father grew up a few miles and a world away from future president Bill Clinton. He never went to school with white people and never envisioned a scenario in which that was necessary, given how little they seemed to want him and his kind around. He made sure never to get caught alone on the white side of town, lest officers or self-deputized vigilantes ensure that he didn’t make it back home.
My corner of America was safe but no less black. Me and my parents were the second black family to move into our southwest Houston-area neighborhood in 1978 and by the end of the next decade, you needed only a single hand to count the number of white families. I went to schools in another county where that ratio was flipped and then came home to play with friends who worshipped Warren Moon, the Geto Boys and Whitley Gilbert.
I liked and played lots of basketball, just like Sarah Palin. I was a journalism major, just like Sarah Palin. I was a middling college student, just like Sarah Palin. There were lots of differences, but I still presumed we lived in the same America all along.
My America was just as “Real” to me as hers was to her. And despite the electoral success of Tuesday, this is still true.
Do not be fooled by these “introspective” day-after conservative analyses and proclamations of a new day, in large part because of shifting demographics, in American politics.
Whether we’re talking about the 47% or 99% or “traditional America” or all the Republicans who apparently didn’t get off from work in time to offset the “get-out-the-vote” efforts of shiftless Democrats Tuesday, tribalism and identity politics are irrepressible facts of life.
Lines are being drawn in the sand and Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove – for my money, the George Wallace of his generation – among others, have pursed their lips around that dog whistle. Most importantly, what their Real Americans couldn’t do this November, they can do in races for school boards, county commissions and statehouses around the country with few consequences.
In my home state of Texas, every statewide office has been held by a Republican since 1994 and Rick Perry – embarrassed off the national stage during his brief run at the GOP presidential nomination – is entering his 12th year as governor. In Florida, where I make my home now, Republicans have been the majority party since 1996 and strengthened their hold since.
As a son of the South, I’m reminded that this is the rule and not the exception in our fair land: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, to name a few, all have right wing-dominated governments. The same is true in Midwestern states such as Kansas and Indiana.
President Obama and House Minority Leader Pelosi can only do so much for our Real Americas from Capitol Hill.
Even then, consider that talk of sensible gun control is a nonstarter. We put still place matters of civil rights on the ballot. Do not forget the Right’s unending War on Women. Obama is right in that, yes, we do need to seriously address issues of voter access.
There is so much that needs our attention and subsequent action, and not just on the first Tuesday of every fourth November.
Thus, the same level of enthusiasm and diligence will be necessary in 2014 and 2016 and 2018 and in between and beyond. Palin and her ilk should not be allowed to forget about these Americas they have never been to and don’t seem to care to go.
They may not all but the same, but they are no less real.