The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank is employed by a newspaper that publishes in the heart of a city—Washington D.C.—that has been identified by the McCain campaign’s chief geographer, Sarah Palin, as a place where real America does not exist.
The trouble with Washington, she has been advising real Americans, is that it attracts too many fake Americans who coddle terrorists–such as Democrats, independents who act like Democrats and Republicans who sometimes vote with Democrats, which obviously explains why Washington has been so corrupt the eight years of the Bush administration.
Impressed by these discoveries yesterday, Milbank went in search of real Americans in this political season.
He chose the nearby state of Virginia. You would suppose that newspaper sleuth could have flown to Utah or southern Alaska. But newspapers in Washington aren’t in much better shape financially than they are in Minnesota, Texas or California. So he judiciously decided to stay on budget and wound up in the city of Richmond, Virginia.
“I can’t get much more real American than Richmond, Virginia,” he told himself. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, the political hub of a state that has voted Republican in every presidential election in the last 44 years.
So here was a journalist Diogenes, on the prowl for real Americans. His roamings took him to the Richmond Coliseum, where 12,000 people had jammed their way to hear a political speaker. It was the maximum they could pack into the building. If you got there late, you were going to have to depend on loudspeakers or Fox News to meet the real Americans in Richmond. Milbank got there in time.
In fact he got there a couple of hours before the speaker came on. They played the national anthem. People sang it with gusto. Some of them had American flag pins. You couldn’t tell offhand whether they were hard-working and kind and good and courageous. This is the McCain campaign’s description du jour of people who are now enshrined as the real Americans, as opposed to Democrats. But Milbank figured there was a fair chance that some of them in the Coliseum might qualify.
He interrogated folks in the front row, people who looked suspiciously like genuine Americans despite the admission that most of them were Democrats. The interrogator was expecting anger and scorn in the wake of the McCain campaign’s robocall offensive depicting Democrats as subversives.
He got laughter.
“I’m a terrorist,” said a woman food vendor. “We’re probably communists,” said one of her partners. But what the crowd was there for was to hear the main speaker address whatever furies they were feeling over the phony “we’re the real Americans” postures the McCain people have adopted in the flagging weeks of the election bombast.
The speaker was Barack Obama.
What he said deserves an audience wider than the one in Richmond, not so much because it reflects a man still walking a higher road than his detractors but because it reflects a simple truth and a reality of an America that for all its present turmoil and pain and division is still a country capable of something rare and good and great when it remembers its history and its strengths.
“There are no real parts of the country and fake parts of the country,” he said. “There are no pro-America parts of the country and anti-America parts of the country. We all love this country, no matter where we live or where we come from. Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, young old, rich, poor gay, straight, city dweller, farm dwellers, it doesn’t matter. We’ all together.”
But sometimes we’re not. National elections have that wicked genius, bringing out the worst of what we are and who we are.
But coming together, in the worst of times, not necessarily the best, is the indispensable part of the American pilgrimage. Just as indispensable are leaders who remind us of what we have achieved when we come together to recognize our deepest needs and our deepest worth.
“There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq,” Obama said, “and patriots who opposed it. There are patriots who believe in Democratic policies and those who believe in Republican policies. The men and women from Virginia and all across this country who serve on our battlefields, some are Democrats and some are Republicans and some are independents. But they fought together and bled together, and some died together under the same proud flag.”
The temptation for some is to discard this as campaign rhetoric. I don’t. It’s something to remember when most of the rest is forgotten.