With the nomination of Sarah Palin, presidential politics is no longer a battle of economic policies and national security; it's a Saturday night brawl between the Rednecks and the Elites.
On the left, we have the smugly smiling, smarter-than-thou, Ivy Leaguers. On the right, we have the gun- slinging, God-toting, cowboys.
Make that cow girls.
The two parties are both more and less than that reduction, of course, but this is approximately how each side now views the other.
Barack Obama is viewed as an elitist who doesn't understand small-town America no matter how many times he cites his Kansas roots. And John McCain is, well, who knows?
McCain isn't a redneck, but his running mate meets most of the criteria from the elitist's perspective. She hunts, fishes, loves driving four-wheelers, making babies and beating up the boys.
She gets small-town America because she is small-town America. The question is, does she get the Great Big World? Can she lead it, if necessary?
McCain seems to think so. Or does he? Whatever the case, his political judgment in selecting the Alaska governor was keen. He signaled the Republican base that he isn't a RINO (Republican In Name Only) after all. And he co-opted the Democrats' claim to represent women's interests by picking a woman who makes feminists look like sissy-girls.
Caricatures partially true
Both a frontier woman and beauty queen, the square-jawed Palin not only neutralized the sisterhood, but she animated the brotherhood. Men are suddenly riveted by the frontal lobes of the vice presidential candidates.
Like all caricatures, the elitist and the redneck are based on partial truths, but there's enough substance to justify some of the contempt from both sides. Obama does have that little chin-lifted, smile-down-his-nose, teacher-pet look that says, “I know more than you.” Palin does exude the kind of biblical certitude last observed in a president by the name of George W. Bush.
It was Obama who said that some small-town Americans, embittered by a lack of jobs and government accountability, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
A big game hunter like Palin couldn't ask for better ammo. She knows that her neighbors don't cling to guns or religion because there's nothing left on which to hang their hopes. They cling to guns to hunt and to protect their families; and they cling to religion because they believe in a power higher than themselves.
The arugula uproar
It was also Obama who, in trying to commiserate with Iowa farmers about low crop prices, said: “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?”
I confess to arugula fatigue at this point. Arugula may be a funny name for lettuce, but arugula has been on American plates for a couple of decades now. It isn't the symbol of nouvelle cuisine that it once was.
That said, Obama's lament before a crowd of soy and corn growers was so out of tune, he made Hillary Clinton sound like Sarah Brightman.
To sway voters, it isn't necessary to agree on every issue, but it's helpful to share a worldview. From that perspective, Palin is a perfect storm of God, Mom and apple pie.
The truth is that both elites and rednecks could use a little more of each other. If some rednecks are a little too proud of selective ignorance, elites are too confident that rednecks know nothing useful. A little less smugness on the left and little less righteousness on the right would be refreshing.