SOUL SEARCHING

Posted in Election 2008 on May 28th, 2008 by Ed

As the primary election season drags on interminably, I have officially reached my breaking point for the media trope about Salt-of-the-Earthiness and the reverence with which journalists and Pundits await the pronouncements of Real America; you know, the one represented by the (unironically) mesh-hatted, F-150 driving, no-fancy-haircut-gettin', barely-literate, Evangelical Protestant EveryMan from Pigsknuckle, Pennsylvania. One of the remaining candidates bases her viability entirely on her appeal among these Authentic Americans who are far more important than the sneering intellectuals, effeminate urbanites, and unwashed coloreds on the prowl for government handouts. Real Americans live in rural areas, the cultural mythology of which recalls the Norman Rockwell America that, of course, never existed but sure was perfect in the Good Ol' Days.

Well, fortunately I live in southern Indiana. So I count, according to the media, although my lack of truck, chewing tobacco, favorite NASCAR driver, and screaming risk factors for adult-onset diabetes may reduce the value of my opinion. Nonetheless.

If you are like me and you have spent some decent amount of time living in an area that qualifies as Real America in the standard Pundit Narrative, something feels odd about this premise. I find inescapable the feeling that if Bedford, Indiana or Rantoul, Illinois or Somerset, Pennsylvania somehow "are" America, then America is well and truly Fucked. Chris Matthews may look at the backward, uninformed, anti-fancy-book-learnin' Guy in Flannel Shirt and see the soul of the nation, but if that person is America then America belongs in the darkened corridors of a Dickensian state-run mental institution, picking corn out of his own shit and throwing it at the doctors who make the mistake of trying to go near him.

Neither Pundits nor candidates question this assumption that if Bedford, Indiana is America we should be OK with that. Hillary Clinton and David Brooks look at Bedford and see our romanticized, neglected national virtues. I see crushing poverty, virulent and endemic racism (a KKK Grand Wizard calls it home), oppressive ignorance, fast food diets, Third World teen pregnancy rates, bile-spewing conservatism from people on food stamps, unplanned development that sprawls idiotically across the land, xenophobia, and knee-jerk demonization of the pretentious liberal elites who think they are too good to live like Bedfordians (i.e., in their own filth). I see people fighting to ban science from their already pitiful schools and replace it with a religion to which they slavishly adhere but minimally understand. I see people voting Republican to stick it to the queers and the liberal media and the snotty college professors and the goddamn feminazis while their right-wing heroes institute economic policies that decimate Bedford and its residents. I see everything bleak and hopeless about America, everything that suggests people have given up and, unable to understand why their lives are so miserable, wait for Rush and Glenn and BillO to tell them who to blame (hint: anyone different).

The media dutifully muse over accusastions of Obama's Elitism or Nancy Pelosi's "San Francisco Values" or out-of-touch East Coast wannabe-European leftists who can't understand Real Americans. It never occurs to them, at least not on camera, how most Americans (not to mention the reporters and pundits themselves, making six figures and living in the most elite communities in New York and D.C.) would choose if given the chance to live in Bedford or San Francisco. Janesville, Wisconsin or New York. Odessa, Texas or Boston. The Americans who would pick Bedford are not representative of anything other than their own ignorance and inflated conception of Virtuous Rural America. It shows the extent to which they have invested their lives in an ideology that regularly fucks them but excels at re-directing their anger. Bedford isn't America; Bedford is a garbage heap we should look at only as a reminder of what happens when people politically mobilize to screw their own tangible interests in pursuit of "social issues" and moral outrages that will always be dangled and never addressed.

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