Monday, September 15, 2008

The American Mainstream and My Place Outside It

It's a strange thing to realize you're strange.

One of the most effective slurs leveled by the Republican attack machine over the past few decades is that Democrats in general, but those nasty "liberals" specifically, are far out of the American mainstream. They don't get it. They don't identify with average people.

It's a nasty claim, a brutal insult devised by a collection of fabulously wealthy, fabulously powerful individuals. Al Gore's out of the mainstream, doesn't display American values, but that George W. Bush, he's salt of the Earth, a guy who "gets" the average American. But as much as I hate hearing the argument, I've come to realize in recent weeks that it is, in my case, depressingly accurate.

This election has brought that home to me, but not because I've potentially backed the wrong horse. Again. If everyone who supported a losing presidential candidate was out of the mainstream, we'd have tens of millions of loner freaks out there, and that's not the case. The problem isn't even that I'm dramatically more liberal on a number of issues than the average American; by the definition of average, there are going to be a lot of people who are more liberal or more conservative than normal. Again, that doesn't cast someone out of the mainstream.

I have, instead, come to the realization that those things I value are not considered important by the general public, and I have come to the realization that I do not consider important those things valued by the general public. If that's the case, you are out of the mainstream. No debate.

Sarah Palin has become many things to many people, but right now she is a personification of my alienation from the mainstream. I find myself reacting viscerally, with disgust and dismay to the news reports chronicling some of her Alaska Adventures. I find myself convinced that this time, this revelation will shock and appall the American people.

And I find myself wrong.

Sarah Palin is opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest? Why, polls constantly show that while Americans are divided on abortion, but they also show that most Americans are willing to allow it in cases of rape and incest. This will really hurt her.

McCain's poll numbers shoot up.

Sarah Palin had conversations with the Wasilla librarian about banning books? There's very little that offends me more than the idea of banning books. Basically, if the offense doesn't involve killing people, it doesn't bother me as much as the concept of banning books. You can sodomize a puppy in front of my eyes and it won't offend me as much as if you propose to remove The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the library.

McCain takes a four-point lead in Ohio.

The New York Times publishes a story detailing multiple examples of Palin engaging in Cheney-esque secretive behavior, deliberately skirting public records laws, turning every political dispute into a personal one and elevating friends to important governmental positions. I spent four and a half years at journalism school being taught that the government must be open and transparent, that there's very little more important than that.

McCain and Palin draw thousands at rallies across the country.

What I'm facing, then, is the simple reality that my values largely conflict with those of the average American. That being the case, I could act like the stereotypical liberal and insist that my values are the reasonable ones, the mainstream ones, the correct ones. Or I can come to peace with the idea that the Republicans are largely right: I'm not part of the American mainstream, and those who share my values are in the same boat.

This isn't really a matter of wrong or right; I'm not prepared to renounce all I hold dear because my candidate might well lose an eminently winnable election. Being out of the mainstream doesn't mean you're wrong.

But it doesn't mean you're right, either. And holding your breath until everyone acknowledges that your values are the only correct ones won't accomplish anything.

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