Thursday, October 23, 2008

Small-Town America

This is one of the angriest Daily Show clips I’ve seen, about the “small-town" and "real" America that the McCain campaign has been touting so much.

Some highlights:
  1. The church-going guy drinking at the saloon during the day, wearing tattoos on his shoulder of half-naked women representing his wife, mistress, and another girlfriend (the last of whom he brags is almost identical to her tattoo)
  2. The mayor of Wasilla saying, unequivocally, that her position prepares one for the vice presidency of the United States, even though she does not run the fire department, schools, or any social services…and can’t describe what she actually does day to day
  3. The head of the Alaska Independence Party, who says that Todd Palin was a member
I'd like to say that again: the spouse of a major candidate thinks his state should secede from the United States of America. We have a secessionist standing behind a vice presidential candidate. What am I missing here that makes this okay? Since when is it American to be a traitor to the United States? Please, someone, enlighten me. This is also why I don't understand how a true patriot can fly a Confederate flag. What is America about? Are we about the Constitution? Or is being an American purely about culture, and therefore open to interpretation state by state, region by region, town by town, religion by religion, and race by race?

I understand that there is more to being American than the Constitution, but I lean heavily toward the Constitution as the thing that defines my country, and I'm very, very afraid of people who think that being American has little or nothing to do with our founding document. The content of the Constitution isn't the only thing that makes us unique; it's also the fact that every other country in the 18th century defined itself purely on ethnic and cultural terms. The Russians were Russians, the French were French, and the Japanese were Japanese because of their cultural heritages. Of course, it's more complicated than that, and exceptions abound: human history is marked by constant racial and ethnic mixing, migration, and the expansion and collapse of empires. So to be, say, an ethnic Greek living in the 18th century among Arabs (both Muslim and Christian), Armenians, and Jews in what is now Lebanon was to be an Ottoman subject. (His circumstance and disposition at any given moment may have dictated whether he would identify himself as Greek, Ottoman, or Levantine.)

But by and large, most countries other than the United States identify themselves in ethnic and cultural terms. I believe that the point of the United States was that we had a different idea. This has always been challenged – we have had and always will have our share of ethnic and racial conflicts. But those conflicts can be resolved more effectively in the United States than anywhere else; you don't have to have a certain kind of name, religion, or skin color to be American. Most other countries will always have more of a problem, because to be French or Japanese or Danish means much more. And much less.


The Daily Show also does us a service by showing us some outdoor scenes of this "small town": Main Street, which is not a small-town street, but rather a massive arterial full of through-traffic; and the huge Target and Lowe's. I admit that I've never been to Wasilla, but it doesn't look like a small town to me, judging from this video. This doesn't look like a place where someone can walk to the local store, or let his daughter walk anywhere for fear of her getting hit by a car.

Then, at the end, is the Ground Zero footage. Like I said, this is an angry segment.

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