Author's note: "Our nation needs essays far more than it needs bumper stickers." That's a line from early in my book, Tales of a Real American Liberal. The book is a collection of 60 essays that explore current events and issues from the unapologetically viewpoint that liberals are the standard-bearers of the American values, despite right-wing propaganda to the contrary. This article is an excerpt from the book's introductory essay. More information about the book follows at the end of the article. Many thanks to Rob Kall, publisher of Op-Ed News, for inviting me to post this excerpt from my new book, Tales of a Real American Liberal.
How I Became a Real American Liberal
Back in 2008, Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin said, "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.'" I was struck by Palin's strange comment because someone running for high office saying that one place in America is somehow more "pro-American" than another place is simply ignorant and insulting. And her words hit me hard on another level. I grew up in rural southern Pennsylvania, an area that Palin would certainly consider "real America." But Palin would be shocked to discover that I'm the kind of person she wrongly dismisses as an over-educated, elitist, America-hating leftist. In fact, as a unionized teacher now making my home in liberal Massachusetts, Palin and her extreme-right-wing comrades would probably want to put crosshairs over my face and rant about "reloading."
My upbringing taught me many essential lessons that form the core of my liberal viewpoints. Most importantly, I was taught by my parents and my community that we are all in this life together. If relatives were having a hard time, people in our corner of "real America" took them in or helped them get back on their feet instead of blaming them or casting them aside. If the barn at a neighboring farm burned down, we didn't say, "tough for them" or "God must be punishing them." We pitched in to care for their animals and helped them rebuild. They worked hard for themselves while we worked hard right beside them.
When our gardens came in, we took bushel after bushel of tomatoes, peppers, beans, and cucumbers to our neighbors, friends, and relatives--whether we had extra or just barely enough. We didn't question who deserved the food that we worked so hard to produce. We spread the fruits of our labor around because it was the right thing to do.
When new people moved to the area, they were often greeted with those bushels from our gardens. We didn't immediately distrust them because they were new and different from us. We welcomed them into the community. Of course, in the rare cases when they turned out to be jerks who abused our sense of community, they were crossed off our garden list.
A small percentage of the "real Americans" I grew up with resembled people like Sarah Palin today. They ranted about "commies" or "darkies" who didn't want to work and just wanted to take everything we had. They kept a rifle by the door because, as they warned us, those "darkies" were coming from the cities to take our money. Worst of all, some were convinced that the government would swoop in and capture us all and make us renounce our faith in Jesus.