Sunday, September 14, 2008
Frank Rich draws attention to an aspect of Palin - Nick Cohen's personal Zahir - that has preoccupied me, her claim to small town authenticity. 'We grow good people in our small towns with honesty, integrity and dignity,' she said her her acceptance speech. Well yes, as undoubtedly they do in their big cities. H, I and D are not monopolies of the rural backwater. Judging by my own experience, I'd say the proportion of lying, corrupt bastards in the country is about the same as it is in the city, though it is probably true to say they are less able to express their unpleasant personalities in a rural context simply because their behaviour is more visible. Perhaps it's different in the States, but I doubt it. Anywhere in the world, the virtues of the country are the virtues of non-human nature. But sentimental political rhetoric often evokes the small town as some kind of paradise of hard work and solid values. It is, in America especially, a right-wing thing. The Republican 'base' is seen as predominantly non- and anti-urban by cynical party operators who wouldn't know one end of a pig from another, with or without the aid of lipstick. The left, in contrast, is more sentimental about the city; experience of the ghetto of the sink estate is seen as the true badge of political authenticity. None of this is true of British political rhetoric. Nobody's going to try and run with the small town thing since John Major sort of tried to do it with cricket matches and old ladies cycling to church. Nevertheless, the British left broadly derives its own unspoken idea of authenticity from the city and the right from the country. The country pub bore spouting Daily Mail leaders and pining for the return of Thatcher is as much a national figure as the Dave Spart demanding more 'resources' for his latest scheme to alleviate poverty and fight racism on South London estates. The apparent success of Palin suggests small town sentimentality is still a very potent force in American politics. It relates, I suppose, to the yearning of a young country for the simplification of life, for an essential purity. I sympathise. The possibility of truly escaping to simpler, stranger places is one of the things about America that makes me think when I am not there that I should be. But Palin is all too obviously a fake and, for the moment, a puppet. Even if she weren't, I think in the real world I'd rather have an urban sophisticate of the right or the left in charge than a rural hick. Big politics is a ghetto, not a village.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 8:17 am