"Real" America Ignores Real Problems

11/29/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'm a Kentucky girl. I can ride a horse. The closest restaurant to my house is Billy's BBQ. I wear cowboy boots and I love boys who mow the lawn in Hanes tees and tight jeans.

I can play this game. The Carhartt, steel toe rhetoric is sexy. It puts people at ease. And it's not that hard. I talk about my summers working on a farm, not my summers working in LA and NYC. Sarah Palin talks about moose, not her daughter's Louis Vuitton handbag.

I'll admit that as a Kentuckian at Yale, I have embraced, defended, exaggerated and exploited my roots to construct an appealing persona. I admit this not because I am proud of it, but to show that I understand how enticing and effective it is to portray yourself in a "down home" way. We want to be likeable -- and this usually involves being non-threatening. At Yale, lots of us are looking for something to set us apart from the stereotype of Privileged Ivy League Douche. Politicians want something that will set them apart from the Old Boys Club, and that will make them attractive and legitimate to voters. I understand the motivation, and I empathize.

I can play this game. But it's not nearly as pretty when you play it right. My state is beautiful and it is troubled. Some of our quintessential country girls in cut-off denim are 15, scared and pregnant. Some of our hard workin' men are making and selling meth. Some of our small town doctors are writing prescriptions for huge amounts of painkillers. Nearly a million of us function at low literacy levels. We're Americans.

The conception of "real" America that McCain and Palin are putting forth is baffling, not only because it labels entire cities, states, and cross sections of the US as un-American. Even operating within the stereotype, their rhetoric is inherently exclusionary.

I picture the McCain/Palin Real America as an imaginary, iconic small town in an imaginary, iconic state. In Real America (a white, Christian town) families are done just right, with one man and one woman. There are no single mothers or single fathers. Women always want babies, and they're always ready to take care of them. Men are the breadwinners, and they all do hard, physical labor. These men belong on the covers of romance novels -- sweaty, hairy -- chested and tan, tight jeans, wrench in hand.

Real Americans have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but they didn't go to Harvard and get uppity. They've pulled themselves up -- just not too far.

In Real America there is no rape, incest, domestic violence, school violence, threat to the "mothers health." Joe Sixpack never has a few too many.

I want to visit Real America. Things seem pretty nice there.

By emphasizing their support for this fictionalized America and posing as the friend of the working man, rich Republicans are making themselves feel good, and wooing those voters who prefer Real America to reality. But it's very easy to pay campaign homage to Joe the Plumber. It's a lot more difficult to confront real problems in "real" America. Most of these distasteful issues are not even blips on the Republican ticket's radar - as evidenced most recently by McCain's awkward stumbling when asked about birth control.

So if you want to talk about Real America, then let's get real. Illiteracy is real. Addiction is real. Unsafe coal mines that still get away with murder are real. Racial bigotry is real. And you can't say "No ma'am, he's not an Arab, he's a good family man," as if those two descriptions were in opposition. We have serious problems that aren't glamorous or pleasant. If you're gonna support the working class, you're gonna have to get a little dirty.

If you want to play this game Sarah Palin, alright, let's play. But do it right. I'm sure Miss Kentucky can out-real you.