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Are You a Real American? Olbermann Hits McCain/Palin on Divisive Politics

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Keith Olbermann lashed out at John McCain, Sarah Palin, and other Republicans on his Oct. 20 edition of Countdown, charging that the GOP campaign is attempting to win by sowing seeds of racial and cultural division among Americans. In a "special comment" for his Monday night show, Olbermann took particular issue with GOP attempts to divide citizens into "pro-American" and "anti-American" camps along cultural and even racial lines, arguing that in doing so it is really the GOP itself that is "anti-American."

In recent weeks the McCain/Palin campaign and other Republicans have sought to "divide and conquer" an electorate that is slipping from their hands by repeatedly attempting to position themselves as representatives of some "real America" that includes small towns and conservative, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant values but excludes big cities full of liberal, cosmopolitan "elites." Real Americans, according to Sarah Palin in a recent speech cited by Olbermann, live in those parts of the country Palin calls its "pro-America" parts, which obviously don't include Barack Obama's Chicago or Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco: "We 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 you hard working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation."

This is, of course, pandering of the very worst sort, and has been a favorite tactic for generations of far-right demagogues. It's all about exclusion, and if America is supposed to be about inclusion, then Olbermann is right to call these Republican tactics "anti-American." Palin's words suggest to me that, if you are a college-educated, urban liberal as I am, if you are an immigrant, if you are a Muslim or a Hindu or a Buddhist or an atheist, if you are the least bit curious about the world beyond America, if you have read Dostoyevsky or Marx or Foucault, if you speak French or eat arugula, and if you think it's okay for people to have different opinions about things, then you are not a "real American" and your middle name might as well be Hussein.

"Real Americans," according to Sarah Palin's warped version of reality, live exclusively in small towns and have good Anglo-Saxon surnames and attend evangelical churches and vote Republican. "Real Americans" don't carry passports or speak French or consort with foreigners. "Real Americans" know that nothing worthwhile ever came from a book unless it was the Good Book. "Real Americans" get their news from Fox.

Sarah Palin's "real America" is like the "real Virginia" of McCain spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer, with whom Olbermann also takes issue: According to Pfotenhauer in recent comments, the "real Virginia" consists exclusively of its rural southern parts where most people vote Republican, not its urban north where Democrats hold sway. The northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC are not the "real Virginia," according to Pfotenhauer, because "Democrats have just come in from the District of Columbia and moved into northern Virginia." In other words, Pfotenhauer like Palin suggests, urban Democrats cannot be "real Virginians" any more than they can be "real Americans" (After all, didn't John McCain's brother Joe tell us recently that northern Virginia is "communist country"?).

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Olbermann also takes aim at recent comments by Republican congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who likewise suggested that Barack Obama and other liberals are "anti-America" and that members of Congress ought to be subject to investigation to determine how "pro-America" or "anti-America" they are. As Olbermann notes, Bachmann "made her first political bones by keeping the movie Aladdin from being shown at a Minnesota Charter School because she thought it promoted paganism and witchcraft"; and now holds a congressional "seat from which she has spewed the most implausible, hateful, narrow-minded garbage imaginable." Given the backlash against Bachmann's remarks that has paid off handsomely for her Democratic opponent, Bachmann may not hold that seat for long.

Finally, Olbermann jumps on Republican attacks against Colin Powell following Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama, particularly those from Rush Limbaugh and others suggesting that Powell endorsed Obama simply because they are both black. John McCain's failure to repudiate these attacks, Olbermann charges as he concludes, lays a full measure of responsibility for them on McCain's own shoulders: "When Colin Powell endorses your opponent...," Olbermann says, directly accusing McCain, " say nothing as your supporters and proxies paint him in this 'anti-America' frame and place him in Governor Palin's 'un-real America'."

Indeed, John McCain has not only failed to repudiate such attacks, but has actively sought to benefit from them as we have heard in his and Palin's speeches and as we have seen in the ugly behavior of McCain/Palin supporters at rallies and elsewhere. John McCain and Sarah Palin are as guilty as any rallygoer of theirs who shouts "Kill Him!" at the mention of Obama's name.

This "special comment" from Keith Olbermann comes as highly recommended viewing.

Mark C. Eades
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Mark C. Eades is an American writer and educator currently based in Shanghai, China. He has taught at Fudan University, Shanghai International Studies University, and in the private sector in Shanghai.
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

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