Saturday, October 04, 2008

Alaska vs. Hawaii:

Why is Alaska authentically American when Hawaii is not? At bottom, of course, it's a silly question. Both states, while disconnected geographically from the continental United States, are populated with people whose American-ness is beyond dispute. Every corner of each one of the 50 states is "authentically American." But Alaska leans Republican while Hawaii leans Democratic, and the GOP long ago intimidated the media into believing that only Republican strongholds represent the "real America." These Republican strongholds are usually sparsely populated, and I suppose the media's been sold on the idea that because the United States started out as an agrarian nation, rural areas are somehow more authentic than urban ones.

But if it's really true, as Palin said in the debate, that Americans are tired of "constantly looking backwards," then perhaps it's time we noticed that, as Rachael Larimore points out in Slate's "XX Factor" blog, 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in metropolitan areas. We city-dwellers make no claim to being more "authentically American" than Alaskans or the inhabitants of any of this country's many other big open spaces. But we are, by dispassionate numerical reckoning, more typical. And while most people probably don't think of Hawaii as an urban state, 70 percent of its 1.3 million inhabitants live in and around Honolulu, the state's biggest city. In Alaska, by contrast, only 42 percent of its 670,000 inhabitants live in and around Anchorage, that state's biggest city. So if either of the last two states admitted to the union has any claim to being more characteristic of the nation as a whole, it's Hawaii, not Alaska.

I'm not suggesting that Obama start prancing around obnoxiously declaring himself more authentically American than Sarah Palin. But I do wish the press would set aside its sepia-tinted glasses and consider this country as it is, and not as self-interestedly sentimental Republicans want us to think it is.

10:10 AM