Sarah Palin spends a lot of time lambasting Wall Street corruption, beltway insiders, and the urban elite. In far (even remote) contrast, she throws up Main Street, Wasilla, and during last night’s Vice Presidential debate she invited all Americans to come visit to see what things are all about up there.
New York City, the veritable empire of Palin’s detested urban elites, has probably only one thing in common with Wasilla: both places are out of step with the way Americans live today.
Main Street, like the “kitchen table” evoked so often in last night’s debate, is one of the great and persistent myths in American political life. That is, despite the fact that for the near majority of Americans Main Street is a strip mall or a freeway, the concept continues to hold weight and political power. We’re clinging to what we’ve lost, and Sarah Palin represents our collective yearning for a fiction; she hails from one of the last American frontiers, a place where, yes, there still is a Main Street to drive through (though from the pics, looks like Wasilla has no shortage of strip malls these days either). So maybe even in Wasilla, Main Street is a myth too.
Joe Biden also has a mythological Main Street: the Scranton, Pennsylvania of his boyhood. It’s the source of his American authenticity, and in last night’s debate, he used the word “dignity” to describe the people there. Main Street anchors us in what we think are our values and our sense of ourselves. It evokes a simpler time when there were jobs for people without a college education, when those who did go to college could pay for it with cheap loans, and health care was affordable. The kitchen table stands for universal concerns about the loss of those things.
But if Main Street is a symbol of community and of a prosperity that now seems unattainable, the same can be said about New York City, the bastion of Sarah Palin’s liberal elite. Over the past eight years, the boom times of Wall Street have transformed Manhattan’s Main Street — from the manufacturing jobs that are no longer around, to the upscale restaurants and condos that have transformed its neighborhoods, to the people who have been displaced from them. The transformation has been just as striking here as in other parts of the country. Sure, we New Yorkers may earn a little more on average, but the explosion in rents and the cost of living conspire to make sure that we don’t live so much better.
So the next time Palin suggests that liberal elites are out of touch, consider that, living in the Kingdom of Capital, we’ve witnessed firsthand just who has prospered — and who hasn’t. Every day, we see how both halves live, and those of us in the middle are none too pleased about it, either.