Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New Glory

I've lived in liberal places my entire life. The town I grew up in was nicknamed “The People’s Republic of Johnson County” and provided a happy home—complete with a seat on the city council—to a prominent member of the Socialist party throughout my childhood. I got my undergraduate education at Swarthmore “Where Women Will Shave Their Heads But Not Their Legs” College, where campus Republicans numbered twelve. Then I spent two years in Madison, Wisconsin, happy home of The Progressive and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. And I'm sure you've heard about Seattle's organic-produce-eating, WTO-protesting, gay-rights-marching, church-shunning, tofu-friendly, compulsively recycling populace.

When I returned to Iowa City for graduate school in my mid-twenties, I told the guy I was dating I was thinking about moving to Seattle after I got my degree. “You can’t just flit from one liberal hotbed to the next,” said the man who had left the liberal—and beautiful—Oregon coastal college town of his youth for Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home of General Mill's and Quaker Oat's stinky cereal mills and Cargill's even stinkier corn wet-milling plant. (Cedar Rapids gave itself the nickname “the City of Five Seasons”—the traditional four plus a fifth season: Time to enjoy the other four. But growing up downwind, we said the fifth season was the smell.) “This is real life,” my Gender-Studies professor boyfriend argued, right before hopping in the car to drive 25 miles to Iowa City for organic carrots and soy milk and a copy of the latest issue of Granta from Prairie Lights bookstore where Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes, and e e cummings used to try out their newest work on Iowans.

Was he right? Is there something wrong with hopping from one liberal town to the next? Am I elitist? rigid? self-limiting? Is that a problem? Will I lose touch with The People? Have I ever been in touch with them? When George W. Bush’s approval rating soared to 90% in the days shortly after September 11th—the highest approval rating ever recorded for any president—I looked around at my Bush-hating creative writing graduate student colleagues and wondered—frequently out loud—about that 90%. “Who are those people?” Every person I knew was in the other camp, the 10% camp—well, everyone but one uncle in Texas who is not a blood relation.

Yesterday (and in the early voting days leading up to yesterday), 52% of the nation voted for an urban, Harvard-educated, blue-state African-American liberal. Hallelujah, praise Jesus, and hot damn! In the People's Republic of Johnson County and the county surrounding Seattle, 70% of people voted for him. Everyone I know voted for Obama—including the not-related-by-blood Texas uncle who twice voted for Bush and the now-infamous white southern couple who, when asked by a reporter, said they were voting for "the nigger."

So I'm wondering, on this post-election day, this glorious antidote to the one four years ago when we donned our mourning clothes (or at least the dramatic among us did) and stumbled about in an incredulous and horrified haze, is it maybe possible that perhaps, ever so slowly, "Real" America is becoming a teensy, tinesy bit more like the liberal make-believe lands where I myself have always felt so at home? Might every American one day drink organic, antibiotic- and rBGH-free milk and recycle even their smallest paper scraps?

Today, as I troop though three airports on my way from the liberal hotbed of my youth to the liberal hotbed of my adulthood, a small American flag sticks out of my handbag, a token of my glee, my hopefulness, my pride.

Yes. Today, I am proud to be an American.

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