The Voice of Small-Town America
Like the majority of Americans, and to quote John Mellencamp (who’d not appreciate it, I’m sure), “I was born in a small town” and I was raised by small-town parents, grew up with small-town people and married a small-town gal. That’s why, even as Sarah Palin introduced herself to America last night, many people like myself felt like we already knew her. I’ve mentioned before George Will’s construction that sensibility (or disposition) comes before philosophy or ideology. Last night’s speech exhibited small-town, middle-America sensibility and it will resonate with millions of Americans who can identify with Palin and her family.
Just like Palin, small-town folks are fiercely protective of their family, particularly their children, who they consider their personal stake in the future. This also extends to friends and neighbors. They work hard and they play hard. They are in the PTO, they volunteer, they coach sports teams and they help at shelters, soup kitchens and churches. And small-towners are smarter than their given credit for. They know that simple words that get to the point are more effective than running to a thesaurus–who has the time for that? They know B.S. when they see it and they don’t want to deal in it. (New Englanders should know this–what is Yankee wit, after all?). Most importantly, they know the genuine article when they see it.
Does this make small-towners somehow unique or better than other Americans? Of course not. For while city and suburban folks may not share the same background as Sarah Palin and the rest of small-town America, they are just as protective and just as devoted to family and community. Yet, there are differences in the city, suburban and small-town sensibilities. Sarah Palin is the first national politician in a long while who can legitimately speak to and relate to small-town America. She addressed their concerns and sensibilities on the national stage in a way that goes beyond lip-service and pandering.
It goes even deeper, though. For while Palin’s political rise has been mercurial, her small-town roots are important in understanding the type of politician she is. She wasn’t just the mayor of any small-town, she was mayor of the town she grew up in. Then she ran for lieutenant governor and, later, became governor of her home state, Alaska. As her confidence in her ability to serve her community grew, the size of that community–small-town, state, nation–has grown along with it. That doesn’t mark her as unique, but it does explain her ability to relate and speak to first her neighbors, then her state and, now, America.
Fundamentally, then, it is the small-town roots that have helped her grow to national prominence. Her sensibilities that were cultivated and grew in a small American town inspired her “servant’s heart.” Her actions and words reveal that she is a woman who is consistent in her service to those she represents. She means what she says. That’s all small-town Americans, any Americans, can ask for.