It's a campaign season, which means certain politicians are making the I'm-more-American-than-thou pitch. What's new is how many of those pols are apologizing for it.
Alaska Sen. Sarah Palin apologized on CNN for designating some parts of the country as the "real America."
While campaigning in North Carolina, the Republican vice-presidential nominee had said she and her running mate Sen. John McCain "believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of youhardworking, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation."
Really? Which part of America, I wondered, is the real America, according to Palin? Where can I get a passport? If I go there, will they take me in?
"Home," Robert Frost wrote, "is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." That's America to me. It feels like home.
Anyway, the Alaska governor later expressed regret to CNN: "I certainly don't want that interpreted as one area being more patriotic or more American than another. If that is the way it has come across, I apologize." Yup, that's how it came across.
I, for one, accept your apology, Governor, if you'll help spread the word that this is one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
And you might have a little chat with Rep. Michele Bachmann, the conservative Minnesota Republican who told Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" that she was "very concerned" that Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama "may have anti-American views." She further suggested that the media should investigate which members of Congress might harbor anti-American views.
After her remarks triggered an overnight bump in the polls (and in campaign donations) for Bachmann's memorably named Democratic opponent, Elwyn Tinklenberg, she backpedaled. She meant to criticize only Obama's liberal views, she said, not his patriotism.
Down in North Carolina, Rep. Robin Hayes tried to deny that he said, "Liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in G-d." Then the video turned up, along with a boost for his Democratic opponent, Larry Kissell, who came close to ousting Hayes in 2006.
Wrapping oneself in the flag is one of the oldest tricks in American democracy. Why isn't it working so easily this time?
Obviously these days the economic crisis on Wall Street and Main Street has eclipsed all other issues. As one friend put it, when your house is on fire, you don't care about the race or religion of the firefighter who shows up to put it out.
Any candidate who is appealing to patriotism this close to election day is preaching to the choir at a time when he or she should be looking for converts. Swing voters are looking for problem-solvers, not flag-wavers.
Besides, there is a certain arrogance in candidates who profess to oppose "elitists" while dictating to Americans what the "real America" is. This is especially true for the McCain campaign as it battles a man who came to national fame on a theme of national unification.
The danger of rhetoric that divides Americans was cited by Republican superstar Colin Powell when he endorsed Obama on NBC's "Meet the Press." The former secretary of state was particularly "troubled," he said, by fellow Republicans who spread the falsehood that Obama is a Muslim.
"Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian," said the retired Army general. "But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? . . . This is not the way we should be doing it in America."
No, it's not. Powell poignantly described a mother weeping at the grave in Arlington National Cemetery of Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a 20-year-old Muslim corporal from New Jersey. He was deployed with a Ft. Lewis-based Stryker brigade when he died in combat last year in Iraq.
"He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11 (the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks), and he waited until he could go serve his country, and he gave his life," Powell said. "Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourselves in this way."
Yes, we do. Group fear, anger, resentments and suspicions are a sign of a weak and insecure nation. We're better than that. We're Americans.