For the past several weeks, John McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates have been busily dividing America into two categories: Real and, I guess, pretend Americans.
To Republicans, Election 2008 is junior high school all over again, complete with cliques and slam books. Us and them. The cool kids and the geeks. The jocks and the nerds.
I’m left trying to figure out what a “real American” might be, at least in the minds of the McCain campaign who see the world in white and black – and I use those words deliberately given the nature of this campaign.
Joyce Lipari, a Cortez Colorado real estate agent, defined a “real” American" to McClatchy as "being normal, having a mom and pop making it in a business, and paying their fair share of taxes."
Oh dear. Her definition eliminates most of the fat cat contributors to the Republican Party, the wealthiest 5% of the nation who didn’t make it in a business, they made it by moving other people’s money around and who often pay no taxes at all let alone their fair share. Remember the hedge fund managers pleading with Congress to remain exempt from income taxes on some flimsy rationale?
"A real American is the average person who works 9 to 5 for an average pay check," says Jan Gardner, a nurse from Dolores, Colorado.
Well, as a writer and journalist, I usually work from 7 to 6 for below-average pay checks. Does this mean I am overqualified to be a “real American” or am I a foolishly unreal American?
A Long Line
I come from a long line of “real Americans.”
My mother’s family washed ashore not long after the Civil War as part of the massive immigration wave from Central and Northern Europe. They worked in Chicago and Milwaukee factories, eventually producing my grandfather and grandmother who started a business in the late 1920s and retired in the early 1970s. Beginning with the 1932 election, they never voted for a Republican and believed to the core of their very soul that FDR saved America and them, personally, from ruin and destruction.
One and two at a time, my father’s family came to the United States from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. By the end of World War I, my grandfather and grandmother were in the US and produced my father, the first of three children. Grandpa worked for a laundry and grandma took in both boarders and laundry to make ends meet through the depression. Although grandmother died in the mid-1950s, grandpa worked until he was 70, retiring to live with one of his daughters. They considered themselves “real Americans” and from the time they became citizens always voted for Democrats because "Republicans drive Cadillacs. Feh" My grandfather drove a Hudson until the company went out of business and then drove a Nash.
So I am a product of “real Americans” and resent being cast as something else, something almost evil, by the McCain-Palin slime machine.
What makes me as real an American as the throngs yelping and whooping “Kill him!” at GOP rallies? It is my system of beliefs about democracy.
Belief In Democracy
Besides the fact that I vote, I am a real American because I believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
I am a real American because I use my right to Freedom of Speech to boast about the US when it is at its best and reveal inconvenient truths about my country when it is wrong. I lost friends and incurred public wrath and scorn in 2002 and 2003 when I stated unequivocally that George Bush and his brown shirts were lying about WMDs in Iraq.
I am a real American because I don’t believe anyone should be held without charge or trial, regardless of whatever crime they may or may not have committed.
I am a real American because I don’t believe the government has an inherent right to read my mail, real or e-, or listen to my phone calls or rummage through my life without first demonstrating probable cause to a judge and getting a warrant.
I am a real American because I believe US laws and treaties signed by the United States banning the use of torture must be honored.
I am a real American because I think the rich should pay higher taxes than the poor. If that’s socialism, so be it; we’ve been engaging in socialism for the rich since Ronald Reagan stumbled into the White House and turned the tax tables on its head.
I am a real American because I believe black and yellow and red and white and polka-dot people are all the same regardless of the political party they support, the house of worship they attend (and even if they don’t go to a house of worship at all), or the sex of the person they love.
I am a real American because I believe that people who think the exact opposite of me are also real Americans. More than anything else, I think this is what separates so-called “real Americans” from the “Us vs. Them” crowd hanging out with McCain and Palin. I believe even those folks are real Americans.
*"Heaven help us, look where we are. We have a president - commander-in-chief of the armed forces, ostensibly the leader of the free world - whose every...