Works Progress Administration bridge built by real American hands employed though a public policy, when private markets failed them (photo, Barry Dredze)

In 2008, John McCain’s running mate former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin provoked controversy by identifying a part of the American electorate, declaring that she and McCain “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 hardworking, very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.” In order for there to be a real America, there of course must be a counterfeit America. Or perhaps an imaginary America.

Palin famously branded herself in the image of America’s hockey mom. “They say the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull,” she would say, setting up the punch line, “lipstick.” Any American adult who has been paying attention, for even just the last handful of years, understands what that counterfeit America implies. But what, for the sake of argument, is the “real” America that America’s hockey mom, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and her fans understand as such? Is it an abstraction read between the lines of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Congressional legislation, or is it as concrete as the paving of the streets of small town America?

In Palin’s rhetoric, anyway, the small town Main Streets are the real America. So, consider our metaphorical Main Street as “Real America Street,” running down the middle on a cognitive map of Anytown, USA.

Moving along down Real America Street, we come to the corner of an intersection at Politically Correct Boulevard. On one side of PC Blvd is the library of vocabulary, where the card catalog honors and celebrates all the words and literature that violate polite conversation, like “Redskins” and “blackballed.”

On the other side of PC Blvd is the entrance to Corporate Naming Rights Stadium, where all the sportsball players who had ever knelt in solidarity with victims of police brutality are banned from their athletic careers and blackballed from all Real American entertainment and communications industries.

Crossing with the light and continuing down Real America Street, we come to the next corner at Identity Politics Avenue. We can turn one way into a neighborhood where the residential real estate is redlined, so that real American interests may be addressed by public policies free of foreign or otherwise globalist alien agendas. There is a haberdashery on another corner that sells red caps with embroidery reading “Keep America Great” so those who are offended by identity politics may recognize each other out in the street….

OK, wake up Real America! Back to reality.

We have a bridge in my town, a very real town, made out of stone and stamped “WPA 1940” on the side. That would be the Works Progress Administration, part of the New Deal under the Franklin Roosevelt administration that, once upon a time, created jobs for the unemployed during the Great Depression. Our town is predominantly Republican, wherein it is gospel to believe that government never created a single job. But there it is, big as life, a bridge over Church Street leading into Creekside Park and built by real American hands employed though a public policy, when private markets failed them.

If this pandemic crisis can teach us anything, may it be that we can somehow dispel the notion of some Americans being more or less real than others. For now, we have a president outwardly and proudly discriminating between governors who are mean or nice to him only a couple-few days after declaring that “we are all in this together.”

Maybe we can wake up to the fact that the government we elect has a real live role “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” Because it really is on us, We the People.

It has been way too easy for much too long to disrespect politics. Politics is about participation. Politics is about our public policy priorities and the two parties that dominate every state in these united ones have very different sets of priorities; and conflating the two into generic “politics” is a lazy way to act cynical. As Americans, We the People have hit the proverbial snooze button once too often. At least.

It is past time for more than just the roughly forty percent of us who vote to even do our barest minimal share by participating in determining the priorities of our states and nation and simply show up at the polls and vote every two years; not to mention even trying to inform ourselves by taking advantage of the only form of business with a Constitutional mandate, that free press. Be an informed electorate, keep up with the news. Understand that not all news businesses are created equal. Scores (polls) and predictions are fine for the sports section but they are of much less use to an informed electorate. Because journalism is a discipline that is taught and learned, the better news organizations employ editors and fact checkers.

In response to former Alaska Governor Sarah “Momma Grizzly” Palin, the immortal unofficial motto of the late great City News Bureau of Chicago, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

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