The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Observations from a Ersatz(?) American

Before I launch into this post, let me just be clear about one thing. I’m not sure of much anymore. But I am fairly certain that I shouldn’t be writing this, or much of anything having to do with politics these days. For starters, I’m not that relevant as a voter. Based on everything I’ve read, seen, and heard, as black gay male, a member of the upper middle class, a college-educated white collar worker, and a non-Christian and non-theist, who doesn’t reside in a southern state, a rust-belt state, a battle-ground state, a small town or a rural area, and someone far enough to the left to be out of the mainstream much of the time, I am one of the most irrelevant, least important voters in this election.

I am also not a “real American” living in the “real America.” At best, I am an “ersatz American.” (The use of the word “ersatz” automatically disqualifies me as a “real American.)”

But this is something I — and the rest of the country — already know and have known for a while.

It wasn’t John McCain being strong in “real Virginia.”

A top aide to John McCain said Saturday the Republican presidential nominee still has a strong chance of winning the state because of his support in “real Virginia,” the downstate areas far removed in distance and political philosophy from the more liberal areas of the north.

“As a proud resident of Oakton, Va., I can tell you that the Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia,” McCain senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer said on MSNBC. “And that’s really what you see there. But the rest of the state, real Virginia, if you will, I think will be very responsive to Sen. McCain’s message.”

Program host Kevin Corke asked Pfotenhauer if she wanted to retract the comment, prompting her to reply, “I mean ‘real Virginia’ because northern Virginia is where I’ve always been, but ‘real Virginia’ I take to be the — this part of the state that is more Southern in nature, if you will. Northern Virginia is really metro D.C.”

Earlier this month, McCain’s brother, Joe, told those at an event for the Republican nominee that two Democratic-leaning areas in Northern Virginia, Arlington and Alexandria, were “communist country.” He quickly apologized and called the remark a joke.

It didn’t take Sarah Palin declaring her preference for the “Pro-America areas” of the country.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told a fundraiser in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Thursday night:

“We believe that the best of America is in the small towns that we get to visit, and in the 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,” she said.

“This is where we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans,” Palin added.

On Friday, Palin clarified her comments.

“It’s all pro-America. I was just reinforcing the fact that there, where I was, there’s good patriotic people there in these rallies, so excited about positive change and reform of government that’s coming that they are so appreciative of hearing our message, hearing our plan. Not any one area of America is more pro-America patriotically than others,” she said.

Its not even Rep. Michelle Bachman — who famously said that we don’t need to worry about global warming because Jesus already saved the planet, how great it was that people in her state had to work two jobs and longer hours to make ends meet —called for a “penetrating exposé” into which members of congress are “anti-American.”

Back in 2001, George W. Bush declared that he trekked back to Crawford as often as he did in order to “stay in touch with real Americans.”

”It reminds me of home,” Mr. Bush told the roughly 350 revelers, neighbors who had gathered to toast the political celebrity in their rural midst. Crawford has one stoplight and about 700 residents, but they manage to support four churches. (It also lies in a dry county, which explains those bags and coolers.)

Back here for the first time since his inauguration, Mr. Bush seemed to be feeling not just misty but poetic.

”Home is important,” he mused in his remarks. ”It’s important to have a home.”

Those words reached reporters via an amateur videotape that one of the guests at the party shot; reporters were barred from the event for the duration of time that Mr. Bush was inside, a total of less than 15 minutes.

Mr. Bush told party guests that there was a reason beyond his own pleasure to retreat to the area around his ranch, a place he loves like no other.

”I want to stay in touch with real Americans,” he explained.

Of course that Crawford ranch — bought in 1999, perhaps to anchor his identity with a place other than Andover or Yale — is probably to be Bush-less and possibly even sold, given Laura’s reported house hunting. Perhaps Bush is as done with the “real America” as the “rest of America” is done with him.

And what about “the rest of America”?

You’ve heard the story many times: the denizens of the heartland, we’re told, are rugged, self-reliant, committed to family; the inhabitants of the coast are whining yuppies. Indeed, George W. Bush has declared that he visits his stage set — er, ranch — in Crawford to ”stay in touch with real Americans.” (And what are those of us who live in New Jersey — chopped liver?)

…There’s no mystery about why the heartland gets such special treatment: it’s a result of our electoral system, which gives states with small populations — mainly, though not entirely, red states — disproportionate representation in the Senate, and to a lesser extent in the Electoral College. In fact, half the Senate is elected by just 16 percent of the population.

But while this raw political clout is a fact of life, at least we can demand an end to the hypocrisy. The heartland has no special claim to represent the ”real America.” And the blue states have a right to ask why, at a time when the federal government has plunged back into deficit, when essential domestic programs are under assault, a small minority of heavily subsidized Americans should feel that they are entitled to even more aid.

So, who cares about us? We’re not the “real America.”

What do we know about the “real America”? It’s overwhelmingly white.

Since her coming out in Dayton, Ohio on August, 29th, Palin has held (or is scheduled to hold) public events in 44 cities according to the candidate tracker. These include all events described as “rallies”, “town halls”, “gatherings” or “discussions”, but not things like press availabilities, fundraisers or debates.

I looked at the racial composition of voting-age (18+) population in these 44 cities as according to the 2000 census.** They are, on average, 83.3 percent non-Hispanic white, 7.5 percent black, 5.2 percent Hispanic, and 4.0 percent “other”. By comparison, the US 18+ population in 2000 was 72.0 percent white, 11.2 percent black, 11.0 percent Hispanic, and 5.9 percent other. Thirty-four of Palin’s 44 cities were whiter than the US average.

…Obama’s cities have also been a bit poorer than average, with an average median household income (as of 2000) of $37,743, as compared with the US average of $42,100. The average income of the Palin cities is $42,500, very close to the national norm.

Since white voters have historically turned out at higher rates than minorities, and since there are probably proportionately more swing voters among whites than among minority groups, one can argue that Palin’s choice of locales reflects optimal strategy. Still, the difference between her geography and Obama’s is fairly striking.

Despite evidence that it’s in the process of getting a deep tan.

By 2050, minorities will be the majority in America, and the number of residents older than 65 will more than double, according to projections released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Minorities, classified as those of any race other than non-Hispanic, single-race whites, currently constitute about a third of the U.S. population, according to Census figures. But by 2042, they are projected to become the majority, making up more than half the population. By 2050, 54 percent of the population will be minorities.

Minority children are projected to reach that milestone even sooner. By 2023, the bureau said, more than half of all children will be minorities.

“Part of it is a higher fertility rate for some of the minority groups, Hispanics in particular,” said Dave Waddington, chief of the Census Bureau’s population projection branch, which issued the report. “Those groups also tend to be more of the childbearing age. Non-Hispanic white people tend to be a little bit older.”

Even president Bush knows “American” really means white.

“There’s a lot of people in the world who don’t believe that people whose skin color may not be the same as ours can be free and self-govern. I reject that. I reject that strongly. I believe that people who practice the Muslim faith can self-govern. I believe that people whose skins aren’t necessarily — are a different color than white can self-govern.”

Josh Marshall and Kevin Drum have already commented on this presidential slip of the tongue. When I came across the quote, I had to read it twice, just to make sure I was reading it correctly. I kept stumbling across the phrase “people whose skin color may not be the same as ours.”

Ours? Ours? I literally looked at the back my hand. Ours? “People whose skin color may not be the same as ours“? Last I checked, as an African American my skin color is much closer to that of your average Iraqi citizen than to, say, George Bush.

So, my first question was who is this “we” implied in Bush’s statement? It was clear to me that, in a desperate attempt to label people who oppose his misadventure in Iraq as racist without actually calling them that, Bush had inadvertenty revealed something about how he thinks in terms of race. When George Bush thinks “American” some part of his brain—perhaps by default— automatically thinks “white.”

“Us” or “we” in terms of “American” means people with “white” skin. A racist assumption in and of itself. Even George Will recognized as much.

What do we know about the “real America” It’s a Christian nation, or at least a nation of believers.

The average American will not vote for an otherwise qualified candidate who is an Atheist:

  • Cliff Walker, webmaster of “Positive Atheism” made the following observations:
    • 1986: Wendy Kaminer wrote that as late as the 1980s: “….intolerance for atheism was stronger even than intolerance of homosexuality.”
    • 1999: The Gallup Organization concluded that being an Atheist was “the most discriminated-against characteristic of the eight tested in the research.” Only 49% of American adults would vote for an otherwise qualified presidential candidate if he was an Atheist; this compared to 59% who would vote for a homosexual candidate and over 90% who would vote for black or female candidates. 2
  • Rasmussen Reports stated in 2006-NOV-20 that 60% of voters said they would never consider voting for a presidential candidate who is an Atheist. 3
  • A public opinion poll was conducted by Opinion Dynamics for Fox News during 2006-DEC. It found that 50% of voters would be less likely to vote for a presidential candidate who is an Atheist. Only one category was worse: 53% would be less likely to vote for a Scientologist. The flip side is that 5% would be more likely to vote for an Atheist; 4% would prefer a Scientologist. 4
  • Gallup conducted a poll on 2007-FEB-09 to 11. They asked American adults whether they would vote for “a generally well-qualified” presidential candidate nominated by their party with each of the following characteristics: Jewish, Catholic, Mormon, an Atheist, a woman, black, Hispanic, homosexual, 72 years of age, or someone married for the third time. Only 45% would vote for an Atheist. Atheism is the only category for whom most adults would not vote. 5

Non-believers don’t count.

As the presidential candidates come together to discuss faith and issues of morality — at Saddleback last week and at the Democratic National Convention this week, there’s a large contingent feeling excluded. American atheist and agnostic voters are increasingly feeling left out of the debate or flat out ignored and taken for granted as politicians scramble to better woo the “faithful” .

And non-believers know it.

From the time last spring that Jeanette Norman first heard of Amendment 48 in Colorado, she simmered with the desire to do something about it.

Conservative Christians and their allies had collected more than 100,000 signatures to put the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. If enacted, it would define human life as beginning at the moment of conception, essentially turning abortion into murder without the need of overturning the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade.

As an atheist, Ms. Norman felt indignant about what she considered an intrusion of religious dogma into public policy. So she decided to hold a rally of like-minded nonbelievers, who might variously describe themselves as atheists, humanists, freethinkers or secularists. By various polls, such people accounted for nearly one-quarter of Colorado’s citizens.

Over two months, Ms. Norman made all the necessary arrangements — getting a parade permit, delineating the schedule for state officials, even buying a megaphone. She put out word about the rally not only through a variety of local atheist groups but also on the heavily trafficked Web site of Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist who has become a best-selling author for his broadside against religion.

When the appointed day of Sept. 28 arrived, no more than three dozen supporters joined Ms. Norman on the steps of the State Capitol in Denver. No newspaper covered the event. The speechmaking and picketing concluded a half-hour before the rally’s designated closing time.

Despite evidence that most Americans are open to other faiths as a path to truth.

What do we know about the “real America”? It’s packed to the gills with “rugged individualists,” who make their own way and like it that way.

Despite evidence that, well, it’s not.

But what’s really outrageous is the claim that the heartland is self-reliant. That grotesque farm bill, by itself, should put an end to all such assertions; but it only adds to the immense subsidies the heartland already receives from the rest of the country. As a group, red states pay considerably less in taxes than the federal government spends within their borders; blue states pay considerably more. Over all, blue America subsidizes red America to the tune of $90 billion or so each year.

And within the red states, it’s the metropolitan areas that pay the taxes, while the rural regions get the subsidies. When you do the numbers for red states without major cities, you find that they look like Montana, which in 1999 received $1.75 in federal spending for every dollar it paid in federal taxes. The numbers for my home state of New Jersey were almost the opposite. Add in the hidden subsidies, like below-cost provision of water for irrigation, nearly free use of federal land for grazing and so on, and it becomes clear that in economic terms America’s rural heartland is our version of southern Italy: a region whose inhabitants are largely supported by aid from their more productive compatriots.

What do we know about the “real America”? It’s the moral bedrock of the nation.

Certainly the heartland has no claim to superiority when it comes to family values. If anything, the red states do a bit worse than the blue states when you look at indicators of individual responsibility and commitment to family. Children in red states are more likely to be born to teenagers or unmarried mothers — in 1999, 33.7 percent of babies in red states were born out of wedlock, versus 32.5 percent in blue states. National divorce statistics are spotty, but per capita there were 60 percent more divorces in Montana than in New Jersey.

And the red states have special trouble with the Sixth Commandment: the murder rate was 7.4 per 100,000 inhabitants in the red states, compared with 6.1 in the blue states, and 4.1 in New Jersey.

Despite evidence that, well, it’s not.

If blue states care less about moral values, why are divorce rates so low in the bluest of the blue states? It’s a question that intrigues conservatives, as much as it emboldens liberals.

As researchers have noted, the areas of the country where divorce rates are highest are also frequently the areas where many conservative Christians live.

Kentucky, Mississippi and Arkansas, for example, voted overwhelmingly for constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage. But they had three of the highest divorce rates in 2003, based on figures from the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics.

The lowest divorce rates are largely in the blue states: the Northeast and the upper Midwest. And the state with the lowest divorce rate was Massachusetts, home to John Kerry, the Kennedys and same-sex marriage.

In 2003, the rate in Massachusetts was 5.7 divorces per 1,000 married people, compared with 10.8 in Kentucky, 11.1 in Mississippi and 12.7 in Arkansas.

“Some people are saying, ‘The Bible Belt is so pro-marriage, but gee, they have the highest divorce rates in the country,’ ” said Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. “And there’s a lot of worry in the red states about the high rate of divorce.”

What do we know about the “real America”?

We know that the economy created by 30 years of conservative-dominated government is causing more people to leave it.

The USA’s population history is most often a story of growth — of people moving to ever-growing metropolises and the challenges of accommodating them. The nation, which has one of the highest growth rates among industrialized countries, passed the 300 million mark in population almost two years ago and is expected to reach 400 million by 2040. But vast sections of the nation are seeing heavy, sustained population losses, a reflection of the decline of family farming and the lack of rural jobs and economic opportunities.

Some of the most drastic population decreases in the 20th century occurred in a wide swath of rural counties in the Great Plains, from the Canadian border to Texas.

…But there’s another story here — about places that have seen their populations fall decade after decade. Sumter and most of the Southeast’s other shrinking counties are in the so-called Black Belt, where vestiges of the Old South — de facto school segregation, poor race relations and entrenched poverty — are most prevalent. Rural towns in the Carolinas and Georgia, and especially in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas, are hollowing out.

We know that it’s hemorrhaging revenue, as foreclosures rise and revenues plummet.

We know that its working people are less likely to be able to stop working in their golden years.

So — despite being black gay male, a member of the upper middle class, a college-educated white collar worker, and a non-Christian and non-theist, who doesn’t reside in a southern state, a rust-belt state, a battle-ground state, a small town or a rural area, and someone far enough to the left to be out of the mainstream much of the time, and thus on of the most irrelevant and least important voters in this election — I have to ask: Does it mean anything that in the last presidential debate both candidates spent an inordinate amount of time addressing a guy who was supposed to be a kind of stand-in for the (white, working-class, small-town, conservative) “real America”?

Does it mean anything that he turned out to be an utter a fraud?

If Joe the Plumber is a fake, how real is the “real America”?

As a denizen of the “ersatz America,” I’d like to know.

One Comment

  1. I second that sentiment with the disillusionment about the value of my vote. Indeed the concept of “real America” is really a tiny portion of the population that is supposed to represent the greater population of America. Being similar class of voter as T (except being black — I’m Asian), plus being an immigrant, I’m even further removed from being the “real America”

    Yet I see on television, how they keep encouraging to vote — more and more these days, I’m wondering, why bother? does my vote really count? Being one among millions of voters in California — or for that matter, one in the conservative Orange County — does my vote really mean anything?

    That image of fake “real America” is even more perpetuated and perhaps satirized by the movie Swing Vote, where the Presidency of America comes down to one single vote of a older, white, small-town, beer drinking, neglectful single parent, trailer-park-dwelling, fly-fishing redneck who cares less about who the next President is than where his next beer’s going to come from. The idea of the movie seem to suggest that the vote of the people matters, if the vote comes from “real America”.

    It’s another form of the “ownership society” in that the electoral power (= wealth) is obscurely distributed to a select few, and yet the image of those select few somehow represent the rest of the country when they in actuality do not….