Faking it in Real America

Excuse me while I say a few words on behalf of us Fake Americans.

Not that I really think of myself as such. I mean, here in Fake America, life proceeds much as it does in Real America. We are raising our kids and paying our taxes, trying to keep up with the dishes in the sink, going to the movies now and then. In fact, if you didn't know better, you'd never realize our America was Fake.

But envoys of Real America keep insisting that it is. As in Sarah Palin, who declared at a recent rally in North Carolina what a joy it was to be in one of the "pro-American" parts of America. And Nancy Pfotenhauer, a top aide to Sen. John McCain, who recently proclaimed his popularity in the "real Virginia," i.e., everything south of the state's Democratic-leaning Washington, D.C. suburbs, the area McCain's brother, Joe, calls "communist country." Meantime, North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes told a crowd "liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God."

This line of attack is hardly new. Several years ago I met a woman who insisted Hollywood is not the Real America — as if nobody in the Real America ever bought a ticket to "Spider-Man 3" or watched an episode of "American Idol." But though the tack is an old one, it is being used with renewed ferocity by the GOP here in the closing days of Decision '08. Having failed to sway a sufficient portion of the electorate with other arguments, the Republicans now seek to stir Real Americans to anger against fake ones.

As near as I can tell, you are a Fake American if you live in a big city. Or on the coasts (Gulf Coast excepted). Or shop at any store ritzier than Wal-Mart. Or worship at a mosque. Or hold a college degree (Bible colleges excepted). Or — most important of all — espouse any ideology that is not hardcore social conservatism.

It's ridiculous that this needs saying, but: Fake Americans are Americans. And if we disagree with so-called Real Americans politically, our passion is nevertheless rooted in the same place theirs is. Love of country.

Many Real Americans won't believe that. For them, love of country and social conservatism are inextricably linked, one and the same. Me, I don't care for the straitjacket of ideology, preferring the freedom to accept or reject ideas on their merits. So when social conservatives championed, say, individual accountability and responsible fatherhood, I was happy to join them. But that was back when I knew what conservative meant.

Years later, I find that no I longer do, if I ever did.

Nor am I alone. Consider all the prominent conservatives breaking with the GOP lately. Consider in particular Colin Powell, staunch Republican and American icon, decrying a party he says has become "narrower and narrower" in its approach. Indeed, what does it say about the party's drift toward incoherence and demagoguery that this elder felt a need to remind the faithful — in the face of ever more strident, ever more naked bigotry — that Muslims serve this country too, love this country too, die for this country too.

The narrowness Powell condemns has seldom been plainer or meaner. To a degree, I understand the anger of Real Americans; they are often treated with condescending dismissiveness by the rest of us. After all, "flyover country" is only a funny term if you don't live in flyover country.

But cultural chauvinism on the one hand doesn't excuse hatemongering on the other. In their headlong, ends-justifies-the-means pursuit of victory, some conservatives have forgotten, betrayed and sacrificed the very ideals that supposedly defined them, one of the most important of which was simply this: decency.

As I said, I don't know who they are anymore. But you know what's worse? Apparently, they don't either.


Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. He chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT at http://www.miamiherald.com/qna/forum/ask_leonard/index.html.