By Dana Milbank
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Something unreal is happening here in the real America.
Two hours before Barack Obama's appearance at a campaign rally here Wednesday, they played the national anthem -- and people stood and sang. Some even put hands on hearts! In the first row sat a woman -- we'll call her Margaret the Corporate Trainer, in Joe-the-Plumber style -- wearing an actual flag pin on her shirt. "I'm American!" she said proudly. Really.
Then Obama took the stage and gave a stirring speech about those soldiers who "fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America! They haven't served a Blue America! They have served the United States of America!"
The audience took up a chant of "USA! USA!"
And these are Democrats?
This scene did not fit neatly into the Sarah Palin view of the world. In that view, there is the "real America," the "hardworking, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation," the place where "we find the kindness and the goodness and the courage of everyday Americans." We can identify this part of America because they vote Republican.
By inference, there is also a faux America, where people are slothful, unpatriotic, anti-American, misanthropic, bad and cowardly. We know these areas because they vote Democratic.
By that definition, you can't get much more real-America than Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy and the political center of a state that hasn't voted for a Democrat for president in 44 years. And yet, a CNN poll released Wednesday found Obama leading Republican John McCain by 10 points in the Commonwealth. And Obama, taking the stage at the Richmond coliseum Wednesday afternoon, just a few blocks from the Museum of the Confederacy, eagerly mocked Palin's two Americas.
"There are no real parts of the country and fake parts of the country," he told 12,000 supporters. "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're all together."
In recent elections, Democrats were cowed by challenges to their patriotism. But the crowd in Richmond, confident of an Obama victory, brushed off the Palin insult with laughter, a survey of the first row in the arena revealed.
"I'm a terrorist," said Kathleen the Food Vendor.
"We're probably communists," added John the Other Food Vendor, sitting with Kathleen. "I've been hating America ever since I was a young man."
"I was a baby terrorist," offered Terrence the Unemployed Guy.
If anything, it is those who have lobbed the anti-America charge who are in retreat. Palin herself apologized -- sort of -- for "the way it has come across." In Minnesota, GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann found her previously safe seat in jeopardy after going on MSNBC's "Hardball" to question Obama's patriotism and to urge media outlets to find other "anti-America" members of Congress. And Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) had to climb down from telling the crowd at a McCain rally that "liberals hate real Americans."
By contrast, the phony American folks at the Obama rally in Richmond -- those who got in before the arena reached capacity -- were in a celebratory mood. They danced, hands overhead, to Kanye West's "Touch the Sky," then to the party favorite "Celebrate," then, "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now." Tim Kaine, the Democratic governor of Virginia, told the crowd it's "looking good" for the state to "go Democratic for the first time since 1964." Next up was Mark Warner, who is cruising to a victory in his Senate race over Republican Jim Gilmore.
Obama, hoping to sit on his lead in the polls for another two weeks, left nothing to chance: He had both a teleprompter and a paper copy of his speech. "There's just something I like about Virginia," he told the crowd.
Obama wasted little time getting to the "careless, outrageous comments" of McCain. "That's what you do when you are out of ideas, out of touch, and you're running out of time." He then had some fun with McCain's Joe-the-Plumber offensive: "He's not fighting for Joe the Plumber; he's fighting for Joe the Hedge Fund Manager." Eventually, he arrived at Palin's "pro-America" charge.
"There are patriots who supported this war in Iraq; there are patriots who opposed it," he said. "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, some are Republicans, some are independents, but they have fought together and bled together, and some died together under the same proud flag."
In the heart of real America, the crowd gave Obama a cheer that did not seem at all phony.