The real meaning of the word "real" in the phrase real America became a focus of the presidential campaign this week after Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin told a North Carolina rally that some parts of the country are more real than others.
Palin said, "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, very pro-America areas of this great nation."
Although Palin later apologized for this remark, which suggests that the parts of America not on her campaign tour aren't real and certainly aren't pro-American, she went on to tell a crowd at Findlay University, in Ohio, "The best of America is not gathered in Washington, D.C."
Deepening this perceived rift between a pro-America "real America" and an anti-America "not-real-America," Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann questioned Sen. Barack Obama's patriotism and called for an investigation into whether other members of Congress are "pro-America" or "anti-America." And Bachmann's Republican colleague Rep. Robin Hayes told an election rally that "liberals hate real Americans that work and accomplish and achieve and believe in God."
While Republicans have no qualms about charging that liberals aren't real Americans, the Republican Party platform is more inclusive, going so far as to call the United States a "multiethnic nation" (p. 3) and welcoming "the ethnic diversity in the United States and the territories, including language" (p. 4).
But it has become customary for Republicans to stress that the real America is anything but multiethnic or diverse. The real America in the Republican Dictionary of American English is unashamedly homogeneous and rural. And it isn't linguistically diverse – it speaks only English.
The Republican Platform, p. 25: You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
Republican semanticists like Palin define Real America as the small town rural refuge where you go to get away from the thoroughly fake America of cities like Boston (one of the oldest American cities, but not real), New York (America's financial center, not real unless you've checked the balance in your retirement account lately), Philadelphia (America's first capital, home of the Liberty Bell, not real – have you heard it ring lately?), Washington (the unreal seat of the unreal federal government), San Francisco (that 1906 earthquake? wasn't real, unless it was meant as a warning against gay marriage), and Los Angeles (like a dream factory could ever be real?), cities that also happen to vote Democratic (all those unreal Democratic votes gave us Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton).
George Bush knows that Washington isn't real, which is why he frequently said that he went back to his Crawford, Texas, ranch "to be with real Americans," since apparently there weren't many of them anywhere on the East Coast, or even in Austin, for that matter.
Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck also believes the real America excludes Hollywood and Washington.
Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck believes the "real America" is not Hollywood or Washington
And earlier, in 1998, Republican Rep. Bob Barr rejected the pro-Clinton testimony of Alan Dershowitz, Jeffrey Rosen, Steven Schwartzberg and Judge Leon Higginbotham at the presidential impeachment proceedings as being "irrelevant to real America," prompting Harvard's Dershowitz to charge that there was no room in Barr's real America for the real diversity of three Jewish lawyers and an African American judge.
In contrast, in 2005 Jimmy Carter criticized the Bush administration for not representing the "real America," which he defined as a
"commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights. . . to providing citizens with truthful information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, state and local autonomy and fiscal responsibility."
While for some people, like realamerica.com, "real America" is just a marketing slogan to get people to visit the northern plains of Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming, Sarah Palin, who'd been praising Carhartts and steel-toed boots to cheering crowds of work-clothed real Americans while at the same time buying her own $150,000 designer campaign wardrobe from Neiman Marcus and Saks, suggested in her debate with Joe Biden, "I think we need some reality from Wasilla's Main Street."
But as the Daily Show demonstrated, that real America of Small Town USA isn't real either. Wasilla's Main Street is actually a four-lane divided highway lined by strip malls, and even in winter it's a far cry from everybody's dream of the real America, the Main Street of Bedford Falls, New York, made famous in realist American film maker Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.
The Daily Show's Jason Jones walks down the middle of Wasilla's Main St.
And even that isn't the real America, because, as Steve Berlin Johnson notes, “today, only 20% of Americans live in rural areas.” In a stunning demonstration that virtual trumps real every time, America actually has twice as many players of the online game World of Warcraft than it has farmers.
So it turns out, then, that the real Real America isn't real at all, it's a fiction of the Republican campaign, and what's even worse, it's a fiction inspired by (gasp) unreal L.A.'s Hollywood dream factory.
Even in winter, Wasilla is a far cry from the real America of Main Street in Bedford Falls, a place that exists only in our minds