Bradley Burston / When Sarah Palin runs for president
I may live in the Middle East, but GOP VP candidate Sarah Palin speaks my language.
TEL AVIV - I may live in the Middle East, but Sarah Palin speaks my language.
Like the Republican candidate, I am a native of the American West who lives outside the continental 48. I drop my G's. I can see my enemy from my front porch. I love the United States of America. I have a familiarity with and, I confess, a fondness for firearms. I believe in God.
So when Sarah Palin runs for president, as many pundits and, for that matter, plumbers, believe she someday will, I want to ask her a favor.
Speak to me.
I promise to listen.
Speak to me, though I don't live in what may be defined as a small town. Speak to me, even if I believe that taxes are a necessary expression of patriotic sacrifice, not a form of profanity.
Speak to me even if I believe that government has a responsibility and a moral obligation to provide the best public schools it can, even if that means taking a bit more money from people who have a great deal, in order to help children who should not be punished if their families have none.
Begin to speak to me, and people like me - in fact, allow me to come out and use the expletive, liberals, and the swear word, leftists - as if we were real Americans, too. Because we are.
Out there in Alaska, just like over here in Israel, there is a remarkable freedom in isolation. There is the sense of the frontier, in practice, a form of secessionism based on the luxuries of geography and distance, and, no less, on selective blindness.
Correct me if I'm wrong. But from this distance, it is difficult to tell if this is the 2008 race for the presidency, or the opening phase of the 2012 Republican primary campaign.
John McCain, who is a comeback battler without equal, may yet pull this one out. But if he does not, you're all the Republican Party has. That means that if the Democrats win in November, your hard work, your preparation for office, has only just begun.
The problem is not how you talk. I sense it's honest. It is, in fact, the way you really talk. The you-betchas and doggonits feel like home. And if you suddenly affected some sort of high language to assuage Peggy Noonan and others in your party who recoil, silently or not, at what may grate on them as faux populism, that is certainly their problem, not yours.
Neither do I have a problem with your political views, which you present with honesty. I agree with nearly none of them, but that is why in a democracy the majority, in the end, decides.
What I do have a problem with, however, is the reeling down of all political debate to the intellectual equivalent of fast food. As Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan's aide and wordsmith, wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal about the shabby state of campaign discourse: "You cannot speak like an adult in politics now, that's too austere and detached, snobby."
The majestic office you seek makes cruel demands of those who hold it. You have four years. You're going to need them.
You have assets. But you must look at them honestly. You speak the language of the frontier, and that is why it has worked. It is language at the core of the American personality, the language on which large swaths of America were built, language which, because it is electrifying and inspiring and visionary, is, at the same time, blinding. There is a tendency to see the path and the goals to the exclusion of what - and especially who - may be standing alongside, or left behind.
Living out here on the side of a hill, where we can see Gaza from out our living room window, and the West Bank from the master bedroom, I've learned something about the frontier.
The periphery, the frontier, teaches self-reliance, personal initiative, and independence of thought and action.
But the isolation of the frontier also teaches a kind of secessionism that we have come to conflate with the idea of freedom.
In theory, it teaches neighborliness and helping those less fortunate. In practice, it does not teach how to get along with others. Not with those next door, and not with those half a world away.
This month, you spoke of the world view you share with John McCain. "That world view that says that America is a nation of exceptionalism. And we are to be that shining city on a hill, as President Reagan so beautifully said, that we are a beacon of hope and that we are unapologetic here. We are not perfect as a nation. But together, we represent a perfect ideal. And that is democracy and tolerance and freedom and equal rights."
In invoking Puritan leader John Winthrop's 1630 sermon envisioning New England as a "shining city on a hill," Reagan concluded his farewell speech with a vision of America that is worth revisiting.
"In my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here."
Living in a tiny village in the shadow of the original, biblical shining city on the hill, I've also learned something about history.
We are a bright people with a dark past, we Americans. The Puritan heritage has spurred us and scarred us. We were swift to grant freedom to white males with property, and all others had to wait. There are those among us who still believe that success is a sign of God's grace, and distress, financial, emotional, medical, political, a sign that the sufferer deserved it.
Listen, if to no one else, then to Reagan. Tend to the country's walls, yes, but work as hard as you can, as well, to open its doors.
See the world. See the other half of your native land.
Listen to your neighbors, the ones with whom you directly disagree.
If you would lead them, grant them their humanity, and their full citizenship in the American dream.
They love America no less than you. Not one heartbeat less.
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