Friday, September 5, 2008

So,what do we feel and think of America's last frontier?

Timothy Egan argues in a column in today's New York Times that the country isn't ready for at least one aspect of what Sarah Palin represents: our nation's last frontier, a place that evokes the America of yesteryear.

Here's an excerpt:

Among Alaskans, drunken driving, teenage pregnancy, shooting wildlife out of season and courting an independent political party whose founder once said, “the fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government,” are not disqualifying issues. They’re dinner-table stories.

* * *

But what many of us find, um, memorable, the rest of America may see as alarming, or at least strange. The CBS news survey on Tuesday, taking into account the Palin nomination, showed Obama with a 14-point lead among women. And a fresh Gallup poll suggests that the Palin pick has not helped McCain with Democratic or independent women, to date. It’s hurt.

Shooting wolves out of airplanes is something Palin backs with zest. But most Americans have never seen a wolf, let alone considered shooting one from a Piper Cub.

Egan lists a few other examples to make his point of how Palin and Alaska aren't like the "rest of us," and he concludes that, while Alaska may be what America used to be, "it may not be what America wants to be."

Certainly, we have become a nation that is primarily urban. By the 1920 census, more than half the country was living in metropolitan areas. By 1990, one half of the country was living in metropolitan areas with populations greater than 1 million. As our urban population has grown, so we have become increasingly urban-focused. Indeed, there is some rural discontent around the Presidential candidates' neglect of rural America (post-Iowa, of course).

Today, most of us encounter rurality through reality television and out our car windows as we drive to rural resorts. So Egan may be right. America may not be ready to embrace its frontier past, especially if it means putting a political greenhorn like Palin in the executive office. But I see plenty of evidence that the appeal of our rural, frontier past dies hard. Besides, whatever the current appeal of the rural myth in isolation, in Palin it is almost inextricably entangled with some other powerful, iconic, and appealing images: God, motherhood, and hard work.

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