Real Americans

In yesterday’s column, John Tierney moves in on David Brooks’ territory — explaining those salt-of-the-earth red staters to oblivious blue state elitists. As grateful as I am for the efforts of these selfless columnists, I have to admit that I still have a few questions. To wit:

1. Are red state and blue state Americans isolated tribes separated by an impermeable barrier or an unbreachable wall? Do Tierney and Brooks not understand that most of the people who live in the supposedly elitist enclaves they like to decry are actually from somewhere else — i.e., people who grew up in red states, probably still have families there, and yet actually chose to move to the city? That many of the clueless Democrats they so enjoy denouncing actually have formed their opinions about the more conservative parts of America from life experience, rather than elitist ignorance? (Tierney, for instance, mocks Thomas Frank’s view of Kansas without noting that Thomas Frank grew up in Kansas).

2. I know that there’s this idea that we coastal elitists don’t understand what Real Americans are thinking because we’re all too busy doing whatever it is we do in our elitist enclaves — but why is it that Real Americans are always presumed to be white exurbanites in SUVs? I’ve seen more than one writer declare that New Yorkers know far less about Real America than someone who lives in exurban Houston or Indianapolis or wherever. When I lived in New York City, I was surrounded by a constant cacophany of humanity — men, women and children of all races, ages, and presumably ideologies. Are they denied the status of Real Americanhood due to their skin tone, their accent, the fact that they ride the subway rather than drive an SUV? Is there an underlying racist assumption that they are all illegal immigrants, each and every one, and therefore not Real Americans?

3. I currently live in a college town in a blue state in the Northeast. Three strikes against me, right? I’m surrounded by latte sippers, and once again, completely out of touch with this noble species, these Real Americans about whom Brooks and Tierney and their ilk wax so rhapsodically. But it’s strange. I’m a homeowner now. I go to Target, I go to Home Depot. I buy tools and gardening implements and jackposts to shore up sagging beams in my basement. I’m surrounded by SUVs with those ubiquitious ribbon magnets. In the course of my daily life, I come into contact with a wide variety of people — many of whom, astonishingly enough, do not seem to share my political beliefs. How is it, again, that this adds up to a portrait of someone completely out of touch with SUV drivers who shop at Target and Home Depot?

Of course, Tierney and Brooks aren’t really writing about red states and blue states. They’re writing about the assumptions about red states and blue states which seem prevalent at the cocktail parties they attend, the dinners they go to. This isn’t about liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans — it’s about the elites trying to comprehend the lower classes, spinning out competing fantasies at those cocktail parties and on the op-ed pages of major newspapers: you don’t understand real Americans like I do! And in a way, it’s true — you’ll never understand someone else’s fantasies as well as they do…