In the last presidential election, Sarah Palin provided the strongest suggestion of local “color.” John McCain had his backstory (Vietnam) and Barack Obama had his (Muslim); Joe Biden was your east-coast everyman, and Palin took it upon herself to rep a different kind of backwoods style than Washington generally sees, at least at the level of executive power. The southern accent is a standard political dialect; here was someone out of Fargo, not so much hiding her ignorance as boasting it, and justifying the whole Alaskan-hillbilly act as a gesture of cultural difference—a way in which she, Sarah Palin, could transcend all the elitism and speak a certain kind of truth to politics.
That Palin was ever taken seriously points up the ways that rural America is fetishized, to just about everybody’s detriment, by electoral politics and by the media that report on it. So it was heartening earlier this week to see Walter Kirn’s salvo about Ohio on the New Republic website; Kirn’s been covering the campaign for TNR, and an earlier filing, a memoir of the author’s time as a Mormon, is still one of the loveliest and most thoughtful things I’ve read about (at least tangentially related to) the presidential race this year. In that essay Kirn was nostalgic for Mormonism; this week he is not nostalgic for Ohio, where he’s from. Why is it Ohioans who decide the presidency? Kirn wonders, with just a touch of forgivable hyperbole.