In 1992, the Republican National Convention opened the “Culture Wars” which would define American politics over the next decade. On the floor of that convention, Pat Buchannan famously declared, “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”
That war is over but there’s a new culture war in America.
With the juxtaposition of this year’s Republican and Democratic conventions and the game-changing nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin as the next Vice President of the United States America entered a new Culture War pitting two visions of America – and two parts of America – against one another.
The new Culture War is big city versus small towns.
The new Culture War will be fought between the beer-drinking, jorts-wearing Florida Gator fans and the chardonnay-sipping Trojan nation of the University of Southern California.
The new Culture War will be waged between the bicoastal jet-set and those that they refer to as “flyover people”.
The new Culture War is Scranton versus San Francisco.
On one side of the Culture War are two lawyers, Barack Obama and Joe Biden; one a big-city machine politician, and the other who hails a train station along the Boston-Washington corridor, home of the Eastern Establishment.
On the other side is a self-described maverick senator from the wild west, John McCain. Joining him is a small-town mayor who surprised her detractors beating incumbents time and again in a meteoric rise to power.
This is a subtle change, but an important one, and is a distinction that the left-leaning media missed dearly when they derided Palin’s years of experience on the city council and as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. Why? The fiercest battles between Obama and his former rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton were not fought in the metropolises along the coast. The votes that dragged out the primary were cast in small cities, with small-town mayors and small-town issues.The swing voters in November’s general election will also be in these small towns, the communities that dot the landscape you can see from from Row 1, Seat A on the redeye out of San Francisco.
In many ways, Wasilla, Alaska may become a proxy for each and every one of those small towns. These are cities and towns where the politics of Washington are impossible. The divisiveness and partisanship of Washington won’t work in Wasilla, or any other small town, because everyone knows each other, everyone’s kids know each other, and people know better than to make enemies of their own neighbors.
When people in Latrobe or Scranton (once Biden’s hometown but he’s long since rinsed the coal dust off his Gucci loafers) hear Palin’s story they understand and respect it even if they disagree with her on the issues. They can relate to a working mother who got involved to stop her home town from being a place where going off to war was a more attractive than staying. They can relate to Bristol Palin’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy because, well, what else is there to do in Wasilla? And kids, well, they make mistakes. They can also relate to the story of a hometown girl who skyrockets into the spotlight. And they want her to succeed, because her success is theirs.
In the new culture war, Palin the the voice for the residents of small towns across America, the towns where those crucial swing votes will be cast. Deriding Palin and her experience in Wasilla, is deriding not just the Governor of Alaska, but all of Wasilla, and every town like it across America.
Former would-be vice president John Edwards was right to say that there are two Americas. There is Wasilla and there is Washington. There is Newark, Ohio and there is Newark, New Jersey. There is Scranton and there is San Francisco. And the first battle of this new Culture War has been engaged.