Real vs unreal Americans

By Bernd Debusmann
October 29, 2008

– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

By Bernd Debusmann

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – What is a real American? As opposed to an unreal American, a fake American, an un-American American or an anti-American American.

The answer is in the eye of the beholder and his or her political orientation. The question, and variations of it, has been asked in several periods of U.S. history and has bubbled up again, one of a number of odd sideshows, in the closing stages of the campaign for the presidential election on Nov. 4.

Are real Americans a minority in this richly diverse country of 300 million? You might well come to that conclusion if you believe the definitions publicly provided by several Republicans, including Sarah Palin, the vice presidential candidate, and conservative radio and TV talk show hosts.

“We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit and these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working, very patriotic, very pro-America areas of this great nation,” Palin told a campaign rally in North Carolina in mid-October.

John McCain, the Republican candidate, has also sung the praise of small town (real) America. “Western Pennsylvania … is the most patriotic, most God-loving part of America,” he said at a rally there.

A belief in God, judging from speeches by both McCain and his Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, is an essential part of American-ness.

Robin Hayes, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, provided details on Americans who do not qualify as real. “Liberals hate real Americans that work, and accomplish, and achieve, and believe in God.” Both Palin and Hayes later “clarified” their remarks to say they had not actually meant to suggest the existence of pro- and anti-American parts of the country. Nevertheless, their words prompted a vivid debate in cyberspace and on talk radio.


It quickly went beyond geography and into political beliefs. “Is it possible to be a real American and to be a socialist?” radio talk show host Chris Plante asked his listeners in the Washington area. “Can you still be a real American if you believe that the regimes that govern in Western Europe are a better way forward than the system that we have here?” Callers reassured him that no, that was not possible.

How much influence conservative talk radio has will be apparent on election day. The Rush Limbaugh Show alone claims 12 million daily listeners and other conservative talking heads, such as Sean Hannity, also pull in huge audiences. But listening to them, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that they are preaching to the converted and their shows function as big echo chambers.

As the real vs unreal Americans debate unfolded over a few days – teacup storms have been relatively short in this election — another Republican member of Congress, Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota, poured fuel on the argument. She suggested in a television interview that the U.S. media should “take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out if they are pro-America or anti-America.”

That conjured up the ghost of Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who was helped in his hunt for hidden communists in the 1950s by a congressional investigative body called the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Sorting the populace into good people and not-so-good (or downright bad and dangerous) people is nothing new in an election campaign – the not-so-good people are always those of the other party. Seen in historical context, today’s good vs bad rankings are tame, as are negative advertisements.

When John Quincy Adams ran for re-election in 1828, for example, he called his opponent Andrew Jackson a cannibal and a murderer and he had unkind words for Jackson’s followers. The charge didn’t help. Adams lost.

In the 2008 campaign, attempts to portray one set of Americans (those living in rural areas and small towns) as more American than their big-city compatriots run counter to demographics. Nostalgia for a country that no longer exists?

According to the 2000 census – the counts are taken every 10 years – America’s big cities and their suburbs are home to 192 million people. That compares with just under 60 million in rural areas overall and 30 million in towns of fewer than 50,000 people.

A community of 50,000 people is large in comparison with Wasilla, the Alaskan town that had 5,000 people when Sarah Palin became its mayor in 1996. It has since grown to close to 10,000 – still small enough to fit the latest definition of real America.

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Either this is just the typical anti-urban, anti-change tirades of a few of the rural populace feeling left out of the perceived prosperity of the cities that one often exists in many other countries or it is the sinister embryonic beginnings of something akin to Kristalnacht in 1938 Germany.
Lets assume and hope it is simply the former.

Posted by JF Chalmers | Report as abusive

Sarah Palin is real, well, at least the $150,000 wardrobe she sports is.

Sarah Palin is also the real QUEEN of PORK in Alaskan politics:

–to the tune of hundreds of millions of real dollars as Alaskan Gov., which included pocketing the many real $ millions earmarked for the Bridge to Nowhere,

–and even real $ millions in US taxpayers’ money harvested in Washington by hiring a D.C. lobbying firm while the small-town mayor of Wasilla (population 7,000).

While mayor of Wasilla, she also became really “famous” for manipulating the city budget to force real female r@pe-victims to pay, either with their own insurance, or out of their own pocket, for the forensic-kit and exam needed in the r@pe work-up (see NYT 9/26/08).

That ties in with her publicly stated belief that even women who become pregnant as a result of r@pe should be required to carry that real pregnancy to full term and birth.

Her use of r@cism against Obama at her rallies in recent weeks, eliciting real screams like: “t-rrorist”, “b-mb him”, “off with his head”, and “k-ll him!” by the frenzied crowds, is really off the charts!

A few news cycles ago, Ashley Todd, the white woman McCain-campaign operative, was caught really playing with fire by making up her story of being mugged and brutalized by a black Obama supporter.(Exposed by smart Pittsburgh police detectives, she confessed, and was charged with filing a false police report).

The two recently apprehended real skinheads, with swastikas tattooed on their shoulders and chests, and real automatic rifles in their arms, planned to take the hatred and vindictiveness of the McCain/Palin campaign to its final, logical step.

Rogue actors, sure! But they have been shown the way, and incited to their actions, by the real rhetoric of Sarah Palin and John McCain, – who’s gutter campaign tactics have been bringing just this element to the surface at their rallies these past weeks.

However, the problem with Palin is not just that she is really ignorant, incompetent, and utterly unqualified for national office, but rather,

1.) that she has real high odds of taking over as President in the next four years, and

2.) what appointing her to be second-in-command shows us about the really poor judgement of John McCain when making important decisions.

How ironic that with his campaign really unwinding, McCain is now confronted with a Palin going “rogue”, biting, so to speak, the hand that had been feeding her. Real honor among thieves? Never was, never will be.

Posted by fbla1805 | Report as abusive

Progressives vote aspirationally, for the people they look up to and wish they were more like. Conservatives vote via identity politics, for people they believe are most like themselves. Both claim their candidate would be better at running the country. The problem is, for conservatives, this means that they’re arguing — and voting — for an ordinary person, when it takes a truly extraordinary person to run the country. Superior-minded conservatives like George Will or William F. Buckley could never get the Republican nomination, because they’re not “ordinary” enough.

We elected an “ordinary person” in the shape of George W. Bush, and look where it got us. It’s time to give the presidency to an extraordinary person: Barack Obama.

Conservatives often attack progressives as unpatriotic. But it’s a poor sort of patriot who doesn’t want someone smarter and more capable than himself in the White House.

Posted by Ernest Adams | Report as abusive

It is disappointing, to say the least, that this column does not address the issue of aliens. Regrettably, the two presidential candidates have also failed to speak to this extremely important subject.

What needs to be asked are these questions:

1) Can an alien ever become a real American?

2) What is being done to make sure that aliens who apply for citizenship have the potential of becoming real Americans.

Now, on question 1), it is clear that some aliens do qualify. Would anyone question that Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former alien born in Austria , is a 100% real American? He even drives a Hummer!

But the process of making aliens Americans is in dire need of revision. As it is, all these aliens have to know is American history, what’s in the constitution, how many stars there are in the flag, how many people in congress etc. etc.

Is this really enough?? What if they know all the answers but sympathize with European socialism? Like wanting health care for everybody, public transport to all sorts of places, free or almost-free education? Should such a person be given an American passport?

Is the knowledge-based test adequate? What about values? If these aliens support abortion, for example, or progressive taxation, or limits to CEO bonuses (no more than $300 million, for example),they clearly are NOT real Americans. Should they even have the right to live in the U.S.? Not even to talk about getting a U.S. passport.

The answer seems obvious to me. No, no, and no.

Posted by Jack Serkoff | Report as abusive

The sad part is not how inappropriate Palin is for office but how gullible the American population is. How can we be convinced to think in terms of “real” Americans ? That is so unAmerican. This is the stuff that Rwandans massacred each other about, Timorese displaced half their population for, Sudanese suffer in camps in Darfur and Zimbabweans are being kicked out of their country after being there for several generations. Palin tactics are plain hate-mongering. These are destructive and divisive Hitleresque strategies. Let’s not buy into any of this lowbrow, ignorant rhetoric that is not befitting of our great nation.

Posted by ProudAmerican | Report as abusive

I think the most important question is this: can you be a “real American” if you are married to a person (the “First Dude”) who believes that Alaska should secede from the union? That’s about as un-American as it gets.

Posted by Catherine Kirsch | Report as abusive

Thanks for doing the math. We so often forget to do it.

Posted by Claudia Dunitz | Report as abusive

We are all REAL Americans.

It is unAmerican to question someone’s patriotism just because they disagree with you.

McCain, Palin, Samuel the self promoting fake plumber, should all be ashamed of their smear tactics. It must be the death throes of the far right base of the Republican party.

Can Perrot and Ventura take up the banner of the loyal opposition with the Reform Party? If Palin leads the Republicans in 2012, it is the end of the Republicans as we know them. Lincoln,Teddy and Goldwater are spinning in their graves.

Posted by Lee in Minneapolis | Report as abusive

“Is it possible to be a real American and to be a socialist?” radio talk show host Chris Plante asked his listeners in the Washington area. “Can you still be a real American if you believe that the regimes that govern in Western Europe are a better way forward than the system that we have here?”

To the best of my knowledge there are no “socialist” governments in Western Europe. This is a frustrating, limiting, uniquely American philosophy.

To my mind, no other western democracy amalgamates God in to political philosophies more than America. This extremely diverse, cosmopolitan country, the self proclaimed leader of the free world seems to be the least secular of the advanced western democracies-An interesting similarity to draw between America and the Middle East.

It would never be tolerated in Europe if presidential or prime ministerial candidates so often referenced God as a fundamental characteristic of being patriotic or authentic, even though there are far fewer prevalent religions in Europe.

Would the other readers agree that one of the benefits of intelligence and education is the ability to question the structures around us? And implying that there is only one correct method or system, or in this case insinuating that to be a real American, you have to be a God loving, God fearing American is a regressive approach?

My biggest criticism of this country has long been the unwillingness to question or admit wrong doing, a trait I have always associated with ignorance. This is well illustrated by people’s polarised view on the 2 political candidates. Many people are stubbornly unwilling to credit their opposition candidate with any progressive or intelligent ideas, instead implying they are ignorant, short sighted or idiotic to a disproportionate degree. Surely if this was the case it would be the greatest indictment of America; that potentially an ignorant short-sighted idiot could be in contention for the most prestigious office in the land.

My bottom line is that all four candidates are intelligent capable people, with flaws and talents, that all have the countries best interest at heart. Your vote should be cast not for the person with the best ideas, the most experience (being experienced doesn’t infer you are best equipped to utilise it), the most charismatic (they’re have been many poor charismatic leaders) or indeed the most God fearing but rather to the candidate you believe can best utilise all of the resources at their disposal. This may necessitate questioning if Americans are actually the best at everything in the world, and if not who is, and can we implement their systems and processes, so enabling us evolve and prevent stagnation.

I’d love to hear feedback,for or against, anything I’ve wrote.

Posted by John Egan | Report as abusive

“Is this really enough?? What if they know all the answers but sympathize with European socialism? Like wanting health care for everybody, public transport to all sorts of places, free or almost-free education? Should such a person be given an American passport??”… asked Mr Serkoff.
I think i rather see 50 mill people uninsured in the country and the huge crowds of homelesses i saw in cities like NYC!. Your loathed France has one of the best Medicare sistems in the world… but anyway, keep being so “American”, i am sure your average JOE will definitely like it.

Posted by Fausto | Report as abusive

To claim to be the whole when you are a piece of the whole is the pattern with this rhetoric. It was first used, without challenge, by bible thumpers twenty years ago or more when they defined themselves as “Christian” and thus excluded more traditional denominations which do not practice adult baptism from using the word. In the vocabularly they defined one could not be a liberal, or a socialist, or a lover of neighbors of the same sex, and be a christian. Now essentially the same subset of the population wants to take over the use of the word “American.” What next, the take over the word “person” or “human?” It is, in essence, the ultimate expression of selfishness, and would appear to be a group form of narcissism at its worst- self important and delusional.

Posted by Bradford C. Riendeau | Report as abusive

I was going to write a lengthy exposition on this as from a European perspective, but John Egan beat me to it on almost every point and made them far more articulately than I ever would. Very well-written, sir.

One paradox about the right in the USA that never ceases to amaze me is that the very people who repudiate Darwinism in evolutionary terms are those who espouse economic Darwinism as an article of faith and an act of patriotism in the most overtly ‘Christian’ nation on earth. The dictum seems to be ‘if you’re poor and you get sick, you’re gonna die and that’s good because it makes America stronger’. How is that a ‘Christian’ attitude? I defy anyone out there to find me a passage in the Bible that supports it.

Jefferson wrote the constitution on the basis of freedom of religion, that also includes the right not to believe if you so choose. This is another fundamental liberty of which the USA appears to have lost sight over the last few decades.

The USA really needs to lose the ‘with us or against us’ credo. A lot of people in Europe grew up admiring and looking up to America and we’d like to be able to again, but in a spirit of adult debate. We may not agree with you on everything, but that doesn’t make us all terrorists, Muslims or ‘socialists’, much less communists (and there is a BIG difference between the two). It is (still)the only nation that can lead the world and believe me many of us in Europe would like you to again – as partners and friends.

Just look back 40 years – this was the nation that put men on the moon. 60 years ago, you saved the world from fascism. I grew up watching in amazement a country that had the energy and imagination achieve such a thing.

The USA should be something for the rest of the world to aspire to. You have an opportunity to begin the process of restoring that next Tuesday.

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive

If these aliens support abortion, for example, or progressive taxation, or limits to CEO bonuses (no more than $300 million, for example),they clearly are NOT real Americans. Should they even have the right to live in the U.S.? Not even to talk about getting a U.S. passport.

The answer seems obvious to me. No, no, and no.
- Posted by Jack Serkoff

So, Jack.. since I am an American, born here, and hold some of the views you object to, do I have to then renounce my citizenship? Do only those that accept your definition of a ‘real American’ have the right to vote, and participate as a citizen of this country? Frankly, I find your position arrogant, and yes, unamerican!

Posted by Lou Crisp | Report as abusive

Re the post from Jack Serkoff. I note that he has no problem with Arnold Schwarzenegger being regarded as a true American although it is not clear if this is because he drives a Hummer or because he is a white aryan. Presumably Schwarzeneggers countrymen (ie Adolf Hitler, Jorg Haider and Joseph Fritzl) would also be acceptable if they drove the right car and agreed with Mr Serkoff in every respect.

Posted by John Duncan | Report as abusive

Standing on the outside it is hard not to get the impression that the Republican (neo-con/evangelical) vision of the American dream and American values are largely based on greed and avarice, and an attitude of ‘every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost’.

It’s seems to me that anyone should have enough compassion, love and respect for their fellow man to want to build an inclusive society. One that takes care of the poor and the sick – even while working to stimulate the industry needed to pay for that. Yet in America – an overtly and in your face Christian country – that’s a compassion that for many seems sadly lacking. It’s a lack of charity that is shocking.

As for un-American? America is a land built on immigration; people arriving to seek their fortune, people fleeing persecution, and people arriving in slavery. (True native Americans are in something of a minority). Diversity has always been a part of America. To try to redefine ‘American’ around a narrow white small town rural image is frankly to not understand the country you live in. It is an unnecessarily narrow and narrow minded view.

And that other question.. Can you be American and be socialist? Now let me see… Isn’t that government by the people for the people? ;-)

Posted by Paul C | Report as abusive

I love the touting of the european system with all it’s free this and free that, of course one never mentions how much taxes are paid for these “free” things. Also people neglect to mention it’s easy to provide social services when your national defense is being subsidized by the US. I don’t know what America some of these people grew up in, but I grew up in one where people strove to be self sufficient and make something of themselves rather than one where the government is there to provide everything and redistribute the hard work of people to those who choose not to.

Posted by Frank Castle | Report as abusive

how disappointing that intellectual elitism and progressive humanism have so deeply gouged the roots of “real” America – hard work, fierce individualism, and a revolutionary spirit that resists the encroachment of federal interference in all aspects of life. These ideals should transcend geography, race, class, and religion – that they no longer do is a sign of the waning spirit that was once America.

Posted by da6d | Report as abusive

any politican using the word ” hate ” is UNREAL

Posted by oberst | Report as abusive

No offense, but I don’t think that Americans are required to consider the European perspective in this election year or any other. I understand that our choices affect the rest of the world, and we can be mindful of that, but in the end we have to do what is best for us. So, though I would like to see us move toward a more secular public speaking style, the occasional reference to God just doesn’t get my hackles up as much as my European friends. Maybe that’s what it means to be a “real American”: the ability to tolerate and even welcome those with whom you disagree in an attempt to build something better for yourself and your family. In the end I think that dream ends up benefiting the whole world.

Posted by Jen C | Report as abusive

What about Canadians? They live in North America too.

I’m shocked that label-pasting has become the modern proxy for rational thought and intelligent, repsectful debate. Today’s issues have more shades of grey can be counted, yet loud-mouthed extremists have convinced a large minority of voters that it’s all black and while; “real” and “unpatriotic”, liberal and conservative. It’s disgustingly simplistic and, worse, totally misleading.

Above, Mr. Jack Serkoff states that some aliens, like CA Governor Schwarzenegger, are more “real” because of his choice of vehicle. Serkoff claims that an American can’t sympathize with European government regimes (“socialism”, as he calls it, obviously not understanding the many parliamentary systems in place overseas). The US government, it may be news to him, has always played an active role in the economic affairs of US enterprise, sponsored programs for the benefit of citizens. In the current “conservative” administration, the greatest government expansion in the history of the county occurred, with token tax cuts for popularity’s sake, dramatic increases in unchecked government spending, and shocking government bailouts of enterprises that overextended themselves in times of lax regulation. This is more “American” than true fiscal responsibility where the government only plays essential roles that private enterprise cannot, and spends only what tax proceeds will allow?

Issues of affordable health care, public transport, and affordable education are indeed critical issues that Americans must improve, since they lag far behind other industrialized in most objective measures of these issues. Serkoff apparently advises that “real” Americans should stick their heads in the sand.

Serkoff further questions “values” of these supposed unreal Americans. He seems to have forgotten the Constitutionally guaranteed right that Americans enjoy – freedom of religion. The separation of church and state allow people of different value systems the right to live and voice their opinions. It should be well remembered that the first European immigrants to America were religious refugees whose beliefs were not mainstream in their native lands.

“Real” social conservative Americans always push their Judeo-Christian beliefs system into matters of the state. Serkoff provides an example. Abortion, in his opinion, must be regulated according to his narrow views, and all other viewholders should be deported. While 99% of the American population agrees that abortion should be avoided in all possible cases, it would be an extremist view that would propose deportation of all women who demand the right to protect their health in the instance of rape, incest, or life-threatening pregnancy complication. Perhaps this issue might best be addressed by a constitutional amendment banning all taking of human life, including the death penalty and offensive war except in cases of self-defense. If you are a “conservative” and/or Christian who believes that it is acceptable to kill an adult but not a child, then your review of the Bible is necessary.

Serkoff goes further to propose that progressive taxation is anti-American. Apparently he doesn’t realize that there are so many progressive and many regressive taxes, they vary dramatically from state to state. Moreover, the loopholes that are best exploited by the financial elite who have teams of professional planners and attorneys managing their offshore estates, effectively burden the middle class much more today than in recent history. Do “real” Americans want to see their society strongly stratified like the European societies that US Founding Fathers specifically went to great lengths to prevent from occurring in the new American society? It will happen when power – the fiscal power – is increasingly held in the hands of the few.

Limits to CEO bonuses wouldn’t be un-American, but they would be fiscally wise for investors. There should be, I hope, a large percentage of Americans who are intolerant of corporate corruption. As it is in the USA, there is inadequate visibility of the riches that corporate officers pocket. There is no incentive for corporate boards not to enrich their friends at the expense of all others, and that is the very definition of modern corruption.

Serkoff, I’m glad to be able to disagree with you on all your points. Because I’m a Canadian-American, and I know my rights, my freedom to publicly disagree with your closed-minded views. The country you describe, with its closed religious-based dogma and doctrines, with restriction of all dissent, more closely resembles Iran than it does the USA … except, of course, that most Iranians were born to a different faith than you were.

Posted by Jean | Report as abusive

Some might remember the famous letter:
“Dear Red States…” A Letter From The Blue!
( o/80714812.html)

I think we Americans should not be that narrow-minded and super-patriotic about Europe. There are some good things there to borrow, just like there are some good things to borrow form the USA. I find that the secondary education of Europe outstrips the high-school education. There is far to much “Euro-trashing” in the states, it’s much too easy. And gradually, Europe is forging stronger ties to other countries and the risk is a sort of isolationism. Some countries, and I would rather not mention them, cling to the USA the way that fawning waiter does because he wants a tip. But is that what Americans want? A bootcleaner? Perhaps. But the choice is between forging solid ties again and winning by synergies, or becoming irrelevant. It’s up to the voters, I guess. Because today, unlike what Jen C says, all due respect, you have to vote with a global mind. You want a hothead like McCain, who has no idea where Pakistan is, or that Sunnis and Shiites are different? Or who, embarassingly, believes firmly that Russia aggressed Georgia and whose foreign affairs adviser is a lobbyist for Georgia? Go ahead, lets vote for him, and in a few years we will have about as many friends as North Korea does, because we haven’t grown out of the Cold War mentality.


Posted by Talleyrand | Report as abusive

Jean mentions that Canadians live in North America, too. True enough. So do Mexicans, who resent that U.S. nationals call themselves Americans, as if they were the only Americans in North America. Now what about uniting Canada, the U.S. and Mexico in one big, new America? No need for the border wall, then, nor Predator spy planes flying along the U.S.-Canadian border.

Posted by Metternich | Report as abusive

What is a real American? I think that question was best answered back in 1835 by Alexis de Tocqueville in his “Democracy in America.” It’s still accurate. Try reading that instead of listening to self-serving politicians.

Posted by Paul Levin | Report as abusive

If I am an un-real American then perhaps I should start paying my taxes with monopoly money.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

I’ve personally noticed some horrible backlash against individuals advocating the McCain/Palin ticket, much more so than the Dem side. And, in terms of racial aggression, it’s been unreal the comments and actions of blacks in the past several months, as it relates to talking about this election. As a white person, I’ve felt the discrimation has reversed during this election term. It seems almost dangerous to speak any negative against the Dem ticket, because it is immediately perceived as racisit or elitist. In my own case, my views are very conservative, and any liberal would not get my vote. Obama and race? For me, it’s not an issue, but the attitudes and actions of Dem supporters I’ve met have been almost 60ish in nature, in terms of their radical and totally disrespectful nature. And to think, as a child of that era, we worked hard for equality and brotherhood, and now look- it seems to be the reflection of just the opposite.

Posted by Rick | Report as abusive

I am glad to see that “real Americans” are reading the news and commenting on it as we are exercising our constitutional right to freedom of speech! I just hope Americans can remember that this nation is wonderful because it has a history of tolerance for differences. I for one do not care to live in a country where everyone looks the same, talks the same, thinks the same, and people self-censor because they fear the actions of their neighbors. We should not set the bar so low, we turn into a nation of bitter and divided individuals. Are there not enough places like that?

Posted by Carolyn B. | Report as abusive

Change is inevitable. Political systems change to meet the needs of their populace. McCain’s administration, though, will be a change from the ultra-[social]conservatism we’ve seen for the last eight years. A simple examination of the 2000 Republican primary race demonstrates the chasm between Bush and McCain.

The answer to your question as to what differentiates a “Real” American from an “unreal” American is that “Real” Americans subscribe to the idea that the US is a meritocracy. You hear people [immigrants] talk about coming to the US to achieve “The American Dream”. Most of the best works of American Fiction surround themselves around that very theme. “Real” Americans, regardless of socio-economic status, believe that if one works hard enough or is resourceful enough, they can rise above less desirable socio-economic conditions. There is a belief in “pulling oneself up by their bootstraps.” It is this meritocratic belief that is the most crucial element of the American Spirit [and arguably, derivatively, the American Economy].

It has nothing to do with faith in God, small town values, or patriotism. It has everything to do with meritocracy.

I confess that simply hearing the phrase “real American” puts me on guard and especially so in connection with a political campaign. Somehow we have forgotten how difficult it would be to describe such an ideal. We are, after all, constructed as a nation on a foundation of diversity. That construction comes about not simply because we were and are a vast land, and that our history of opening the doors to immigration is unparalleled. It has come about because of the wisdom our founders expressed in the construct of the constitution. In this document, hastily written, lie the tenets that eschew eltism and rejects separation of classes based on wealth or perceived birthright. It also provides the basis by which we celebrate our differences, which understandably are many. Villification of the “other” is not an American ideal, yet inevitably and especially in difficult times, it rears it’s threatening menace. The degree to which we individually express and practice tolerance, in my view at least, reaches for the apotheosis of “real American”.

To Mike: The Constitution of the United States was not written by Thomas Jefferson, he was outside of the United States during the Constitutional Convention. The “individual” most often credited with assembly of the Constitution is James Madison.

That being said, the influence of Thomas Jefferson can clearly be seen in the First Amendment. Thomas Jefferson is noted as having worked with James Madison on this – most importantly on the Freedom of Religion. Thomas Jefferson fought hard to get the Constitution of Virginia to include Freedom of Religion in it – and beseeched James Madison to carry this into the Constitution.

What many people seem to forget, not know, or ignore is the lack of Religious Involvement wanted by the Framers of the Constitution. The Framers saw first hand how Religion was used in Politics to gain additional control of the people – and how effectively it could be used to turn them against one another.

As the majority religious doctrine practiced in the United States is currently Christianity, many want to perceive the nation as a Christian Nation. This, again, is against what was conceived by the Framers and Founders of this Country. There is no mention, whatsoever, of Christianity or a Divine figure in the entirety of the United States Constitution. This is for good reason. While many of the Framers did believe in a deity – they felt any relationship with a Divinity was a personal one – and not something subject to public scrutiny or governmental regulation.

As seen in this link, Article 11 of the U.S. Treaty with Tripoli of 1796-1797 ty_tripoli.html, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen…” the United States was NOT founded as a Country of any Religion.

It is important to note that John Adams, one of the Founders, was the President who signed this Treaty into effect. This Treaty, which was signed less than 10 years after the penning of the Constitution of the United States, clearly states, with no ambiquity, that this is not a Christian Nation. That this is not a God-Fearing nation (on that note, shouldn’t you Love your Deity, not Fear it?). That this is not a nation of a Religion.

The only Faith the Constitution has is the Faith in the People of the United States of America.

Posted by Jeffersonian | Report as abusive

I live in California and I support Obama, as much of the state does. I have noticed among Obama supporters a level of intolerance that I had not seen before, and it is disturbing. Tolerance is the cornerstone of our country – without it we are not America. One might even say, intolerance is truly “un-American.” In a campaign of gray issues, the one clear distinction, is Sarah Palin’s ploy of playing off rural America against urban America. Whereas, Obama or Biden has argued for inclusion and unity. The fact that Palin is unqualified is undeniable (read the Anchorage endorsement for Obama), but the fact that Palin seeks to polarize Americans, makes her un-American and dangerous.

Posted by Jim | Report as abusive

All that matters is FREE Americans. Stay that way and resist enslavement to bigotted regressive ideology and we in the rest of the free world can all breathe easier. May the Force be with you next week

Posted by Dundee | Report as abusive

I read and liked the commentary. But your choice of best comment was a perplexing. How is the best comment on the column an article about negative retoric – a comment which espouses negative retoric? Either the writer never fully read the column or he didn’t fully understand the column. Perhaps the commentary should have been about how dense people can be. Or perhaps how missing the point is the point! Either way I sure am looking foward to the election ending. Then all of this poorly disguised republican hate speech will go away. Because you can soften criticism of it but we all know its meant to be mean and divisive, you bet ya.

Posted by wayne | Report as abusive

Great comments everyone!

Now that the task of defining the concept of the “real American” has been ‘tackled’, let us digress further by defining the concept of what it is to be a “real Human Being”… dum dum dum… And then let us move on to what the difference between a human being and a human organism is ;)

And laugh out loud (not abbreviated) at fausto for not catching onto Jack Serkoff’s satirical style… i.e. He is mocking the person who he pretends to be!

Some brilliantly written pieces on the Nation that could Still stand as the quintessential result of Enlightenment thought in action. How could any real member of the American nation exclude the products of Ivy League universities or the animal-righters who may squirm at the thought of gun toting governors blasting God’s creatures off the face of the tundra?

Not that God has anything to do with anything; tell my fellow atheists who happen to live in America that they are not real Americans because they have dismissed a fairy tale.

I’m not surprised at this direction in tactics; the politics of division is alive and well and stalking the TV screens in bumble bee hair style and glasses.

Posted by Aussie Eddiie | Report as abusive

And further I am sure my sympathy with the facts of history, combined with the clarity of distance in assessing the big picture allows me claim to be a real American ‘on this distant and fatal shore’(Gold Coast, Queensland). ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…’ Where’s the spirit of inclusion of the most cosmopolitan nation on earth?

Posted by Aussie Eddiie | Report as abusive

“how disappointing that intellectual elitism
and progressive humanism have so deeply gouged
the roots of “real” America – hard work, fierce
individualism, and a revolutionary spirit that
resists the encroachment of federal interference
in all aspects of life. These ideals should transcend
geography, race, class, and religion – that they no
longer do is a sign of the waning spirit that was once America.”

-Posted by da6d

So, I reread this ‘best comment’ and offer my own aphoristic rebuttal—and then some:

Dearest da6d,

Out of your grandiosely ambiguous ROOTS has grown a TREE which—quite simply put—is much more complex and diverse then whence it grew from a seed.

The moral of my trite maxim you ask? If you haven’t already deduced for yourself I will help you. Although the roots have their place, there has been an additional base added (which would be the trunk if I am to continue using this boring analogy). On top of this base, or trunk, has even more complexity added to it with branches and leaves. Basically, I am suggesting you are far oversimplifying things and looking how things were and how things now aren’t (which is a conservative impulse in thinking—this idea of looking back at how things were).

And I believe you were aiming for “RUGGED INDIVIDUALISM” rather than “FIERCE INDIVIDUALISM” ; from which has been borne the notion that people simply can ‘pull themselves up by their bootstraps’ and elevate their social class through “HARD WORK” (I used the bootstrap cliché hoping that it might resonate with my idea of the likes of you).

Be careful not to too quickly jump into categorizing me with YOUR concept of ‘intellectual elitism’ and ‘progressive humanism’…. And as far as I can tell YOUR ‘progressive humanism’ is only a website, not some larger school of thought as you seemingly suggest. You might have meant secular humanism? I can only infer. Cheers! :)

Posted by Potential Carnie | Report as abusive

You know how I know I’m a real American? I look at my birth certificate and then I stop wondering.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive

I am astonished that some “americans” believe that others are “non american” because they have different views? How can the USA be the most free country in the world etc. if this is true?

And im not being funny but surely if anyone is a “real” american its native americans and not the european settlers who claim to be?

Posted by Gary | Report as abusive

Dear Sir,
I have just read your article and I am even more confused than before.
I am a non-American and have over the years met many Americans all of whom had some sort of prefix: Irish-American, Native-American, African-American. Now we have Real-American. Why on earth can’t people in the States just be Americans and be happy with it?

Posted by simon marriott | Report as abusive

Thanks Mike for the compliment. I absolutely agree with you that America was essentially the big brother we all looked up to. The majority of humanities major achievements in the earlier part of the last century were the result of American ingenuity, Wright bro’s first flight, space exploration, Capital markets etc, and it was the Marshal Plan that allowed the rest of post war “Western Economies” to flourish.

A Caveat: this may stray way off point

Frank Castle;
In response to Franks comment “love the touting of the european system with all it’s free this and free that, of course one never mentions how much taxes are paid for these “free” things. Also people neglect to mention it’s easy to provide social services when your national defense is being subsidized by the US…..”

I would consider myself moderately socially conservative, idealistically capitalist, and feel similar frustrations with my own political system (Irish in America). It irks me to see 3rd generation social welfare families who in no way contribute to the national well being or national productivity, I do feel that these people are a burden, who decide not to contribute (In Ireland an individual can claim approx $300 a week basic, before rent, child allowances, free health care etc from social welfare) and rely on tax payers to fund there relatively avaricious life style, But…..

…..Like a lot of Europeans I feel there is a balance to be struck between the free market and social welfare policies (this does not make us socialists!). A balance to be struck between the initiative and ambition created by capitalism and the belief in the nation state fashioned by social systems. A social welfare system like the ones seen in many parts of Europe ensure that people don’t fall under a certain base level of poverty, below which people often descend into serious criminal or anti social behaviour. The ideology behind it from a capitalist stand point is that by giving these people something to lose, they are far less likely to engage in behaviour that results in their imprisonment etc, allowing the residents and visitors to the country to live without that level of fear, hence enjoying there life and expressing themselves to a greater degree.

And without trying to antagonise people, it’s impossible to estimate Europe’s required defence spending without U.S involvement – It is possible for instance it may be less if European countries weren’t allied to the U.S. I personally don’t feel like it’s the U.S.A’s spending on defence infrastructure in Europe that allows E.U countries to provide social welfare to it’s citizens.

I completely agree with what you said and I didn’t mean to sound so presumptive as to suggest what was “Real American” or “Un-American”. My reasoning for mentioning the “God” issue was primarily because America is so staggeringly diverse, and rapidly evolving due to it’s relatively recent beginnings that I always found it an interesting irony that the God Issue held so much weight on a cumulative stage. I didn’t mean to say it was wrong to do so, but religions in general have always been something I’ve found interesting and it’s not that I get particularly annoyed when I hear it mentioned, but more that I find it intriguing that it holds such weight in a country whom most people would identify as secular. So while I agree with you that my point may not be relevant in the context of this election, I do feel that it’s always worthwhile to be aware of how other countries approach similar situations
Very good point about that possibly being what it means to be real American.

I’d be interested to hear how people would identify a “Real” or “Unreal” European? An American (Canada and Mexico included) would be particularly interesting.

Posted by John Egan | Report as abusive

A real American is a citizen of the USA. Thinking of people as “other” is tolerable but unfortunate. However, considering yourself a real American but not your neighbor, for whatever reason, is bigoted and depending on the reason may be racist.

Posted by DavidBaltimore | Report as abusive

I guess by definition, I’m a “real” American. I was born and raised on a small, family-owned dairy farm in central Ohio. I’ve lived in towns of under 50,000 or in rural areas all of my 64-year life. I consider myself a Christian and try to live a Christ-like life. Our household makes less than $100,000 a year. We took a vacation last fall to Branson, MO, for goodness sakes!

But herein lies my confusion! I’m college educated. I have friends who aren’t just like me (thank Heaven!) I’ve lived in Ohio (rural and small town), Missouri (suburban St Louis and the eastern Ozarks), and coastal California small town. I’ve worked as everything from a car salesman to a teacher to an editor and sales & marketing director of a small business. I bore three children and they all went to (and graduated from) college — with loans. I’ve divorced and remarried.


I wouldn’t go back to Branson if the vacation were free!

Posted by Carole | Report as abusive

I chuckle when I hear people that live in urban areas wanting to or travelling through rural areas. They find it so quaint and cute and expect it to remain that way for ever. They travel out of their cities to ‘look for America’…how many times have you heard that expression? It’s all over popular culture. It’s not that ‘America’ doesn’t exist in cities, it’s that we identify with our agrarian past and every so often want to take a trip out there and see if it still exists.

Not that people in urban areas aren’t, most people that live in rural areas are ‘genuine’ (for lack of a better word) toward one another and hard working people trying to make their families lives and their communities lives better as they make it through life.

Church is often the central meeting place for many rural persons and so is the focus of their life. Our country was founded with a religious premise and freedom was given to us and ensured by thousands who gave their lives for the cause.

As someone who lives in a rural area, I get a kick out travelling to cities. Shakespeare was right when he said that we are all actors upon a stage. I see so many people in ‘costumes’ trying to impress one another and there is such a lack of connection to nature. It’s almost as if weather is something that get’s in the way of things, but things carry on the same way, everyday in a city. Life in the country is so cyclical and dependant on the seasons.

We’re all American’s and real in one way or another, but why do people feel the need to visit rural areas to ‘find America’ if it is where they already are? Can’t we be tolerant of one other, even if the other person has a different thought pattern than you do? We’re tollerant to so many different so-called alternative lifestyles but not to lifestyles that used to be traditional.

Posted by DaveB | Report as abusive

John McCain and Sarah Palin show once again how “McSame” they are with George W. Bush and how they at “Uniters not Dividers”. LOL

Posted by BlueZolar | Report as abusive

All the rhetoric. The accusations. The pityful illusion of a world they insist that exist. After years of watching the G.O.P do their thing. Lie, cheat, steal and spin logic, their recent antics that seem to have come from a disgruntled teenager brings forth an image with in my head. An image a the devil himself poubting, stomping and crying, when he finally doesn’t get what he wants. I am disgusted and oh so ever tickled pink at the same time.

Posted by Priza | Report as abusive

I love a good debate!

I dont understand people’s fear of socialism. I accept that it’s a step towards communism but they’re are aspects of the socialist premise that i support.

If my neighbour has lost his job or has become ill, I think it is right to offer him support. Whether that’s my taxes to help him meet his mortgage repayments or some of my home made chicken soup . If his illness is a little more serious than a common cold however, i think he’d prefer access to free medical care, it’s not like he chose to get ill.

Obviously this is a simplistic form of socialism but in this instance is it not a case of ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you’? With reccession looming and unemployment rising all of us without access to private hedge funds, off shore accounts and Double Yaa’s friendship will have to either ‘pull up our boot straps’ or pray to God/god/gods. Instead, why can’t we can all help one another?

I dig the idea of progressive taxation for many reasons but the main thrust is this. Capitalism at it’s best works. Being encouraged by the state to be innovative, hardworking and fruitful is a real blessing. Being given the environment to do so is another and I think it’s right that the better I do in my endeavours because of that freedom, the better the nation does as a whole. i.e more tax. “What belongs to Ceaser….”

I also find it interesting that a country built on the truely aspirational values of freedom of speech, religion and liberty that it wouldn’t vote for a man who wasn’t a Christian. Religion is personal thing and judging a man on by your own beliefs often undermines the religion you espouse. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” As a practising Christian ( i actually go to church and sing the songs willingly…;-)) i’ve found i have enough sin of my own to worry about…let alone that of others.

Religion and politics are powerful bed fellows and in my opinion any democratic election influenced by anything other than politics itself isn’t a free election. I welcome the day an American citizen stands for presidential election and declares himself to be a Muslim.

And i can imagine the shiver thats just run down your spine. But it’s his constitutional right and you can’t take that away from him.

The whole world has been inluenced by the internal and foriegn policy of the USA and it’s allies. On Nov 2nd the whole world will be watching and hoping for a new beginning. A world where any life is precious, we can all realise our ambitions, a world where we can be exactly who we want to be without fear of recrimination or reprisal. So for me their is only one clear person to vote for and I hope that America agrees with me.

Posted by The King | Report as abusive

It seems clear we do need change here in the USA. We need to be gutless and self centered like the europeans for a bit, just so we remember why it doesn’t solve anything. We also need a democratic executive and legislative branch to remind us that they are just as bad, well IMHO far worse than the current batch of clods and cronies we have now. Then the next congressional election we can get rid of many of them and bring the needed dual party system of gridlock to keep the federal government in check. I look forward to the disillusionment that will occur once Obama actually gets elected and people see what an empty promise his non policy of being not George W. Bush gets them.
Change in and of itself is not good. Don’t ever forget it can get worse, and if you actually work and try to better yourself it will under the new socialist programs being touted. I’d be all in favor of redistributing the money of corporations and old money, but sadly the only people who get punished by these socialist policies are those people who manage to drag themselves up to the top of the middle class. They pay for the excesses of the truly rich and the laziness of the poor.
Oh well I don’t get mad anymore, I just chuckle thinking about how foolish some people will look in a few years. Anyways, like I said sometimes you need to suck it up and deal with a few bad years of liberal nonsense to try to get us back to the center where we belong. I’d hope for a real viable 3rd party but I fear it will never happen, so the best we can hope for is that the people realize that neither party, in their current forms represent most people and hopefully they will be forced to change.

Posted by Frank Castle | Report as abusive

As someone who tends to have conservative views on many subjects and progressive ones on others, I find it increasingly disheartening to listen to the arguments that America can only move forward in a purely conservative or a purely progressive manner. Conservatives tend to think that America needs to be what it once was, and progressives tend to think that America needs to be what it should be. Both forms of thought utilize idealized and unrealistic concepts. Unfortunately, both sides seem to think that the ideas of the other are unworthy of consideration. What ever happened to the idea of taking a bunch of ideas THAT MAKE SENSE from both sides and the middle and trying to make America what it will be, regardless of what it should be. This would, however, entail giving the finger to the 15% of people on BOTH far ends of the spectrum who long ago stopped giving a rat’s a$$ about an original thought.

Posted by Simandl | Report as abusive

Independence from some centralized power, conservatism in applying only what our own knowledge dictates or keeps interpreting from older experience including what we learned, some type of fear of the unknown, seem to be the philosophy of those who call themselves “real Americans” opposed to the other ones who are curious, try to rely in some way on an increasing and developing knowledge, on an undefined future which, obviously, creates some anguish and who, in some way, could maybe question, at the end of the day, about God reality.
This becomes a highly philosophic question.
However Human progress – and America has widely cooperate to it – obeys to 2 human gifts:
Curiosity and the law of the less effort (better use of our own Human energy) as the invention of the wheel provided us.
We do need experience in order not to repeat former mistakes but we need, as well, curiosity in order to know how to go ahead.
Feeling that only past is reliable means refusing future and, therefore, implies “de-synchronization” with our present.

May I add that Europeans believe that Governments are (or at the least) should be aware of EVERY development and their future implications?