Finding Real America.

One of the interesting things that happened after September 11, 2001, was that many of the people Sarah Palin calls "real Americans" -- meaning those who live in small towns away from the two coasts -- suddenly became big fans of New York City. This was, to put it mildly, a new development. For many Americans, New York is everything they can't stand. It's hard and fast and brash and noisy and expensive. The people there can sometimes be brusque, even rude. You don't like it when you hear somebody speaking Spanish down at the local pharmacy? New Yorkers speak 170 different languages. In 2000, there were almost 40,000 New Yorkers who spoke Urdu at home, and another 45,000 who spoke Tagalog, and 25,000 who spoke Hindi, and 58,000 who spoke Greek.

Politicians regularly extol the virtues of small-town life, where everyone knows your name, neighbors help out neighbors, dads play catch with their kids, the smell of burgers on the barbecue floats down the street, folks are possessed of common sense, a man's word is his bond ... you know what I mean, because you've heard it a thousand times before. But you'll almost never hear a politician wax poetic about the virtues of life in the big city. But guess what: Big cities have a culture, too, and one that the people who choose to live there feel pretty strongly about.

Ben Adler makes this point in an article at Newsweek that's worth reading, because it gives a perspective on the controversy over the Islamic center in Lower Manhattan that we haven't heard much:

Arguments in defense of the Park51 project in New York tend to fall into two categories. Some people assert, correctly, that to limit First Amendment protections to those activities we like is to eviscerate the Constitution. Others maintain that tolerating the project is smart geopolitics, that we must reach out to Muslim moderates at home and abroad. But what about the case for the Islamic center as an actual cultural benefit to the rest of us because of what it offers, not just what its presence says? One thing that has seemingly been lost in the debate is the beauty and cultural wealth that religious and ethnic pluralism brings to America as a whole and New York in particular.

The linguistic, religious, and cultural cacophony that exists in a place like New York is off-putting to some. But many people find it fascinating, exciting, dynamic, and enriching. Maybe it's not your cup of tea. But it's real America.

-- Paul Waldman

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