Small Town

“I was born in a small town,” the John Cougar song goes, in one of the many songs that venerate small-town living.

Living in a small town is part of the America’s character. People like the idea of living in small towns, of knowing their neighbors, of being part of a community. Even if they live in a big city, they really want to live in a small town, so they slice their big cities into smaller neighborhoods.

Washington, D.C. is, in actuality, a pretty small town. Capitol Hill is like a college campus, the White House is its own small city, and all the departments that are sprinkled throughout the area are their own little small towns.

When Sarah Palin says that she is part of a small town, she is part of a long tradition of small-town leaders. My old boss, Denny Hastert, came from a small town in Illinois. Bill Clinton came from a small town: Hope, Ark. Even George Bush is a small-town guy. Midland, Texas is no metropolis.

Small-town politics in many ways can be more intense than big-town politics, because everybody knows what you are up to. There is no sense of anonymity in a small town. You can’t hide in a small town.

People who were born and raised in the suburbs of the big cities, like me, try to have it both ways. They want to have all the intimacy of small-town living, but all the opportunity of the big city.

And for that effort, they endure long commutes, stressed-out lives, and a sense of never really belonging to either the big city or the small town. When you live in a big city, you really live in a neighborhood (at least, that’s the way it is in Chicago). Those neighborhoods are organized by ethnicity, race or lifestyle. You live with folks who you want to be around, or with folks who you have to live with because of economic realities.

That Sarah Palin is from a small town, that she was a small-town mayor and that she was a small-state governor (in terms of population) should be venerated, not disparaged. Her sensibilities are more in tune with the struggles of everyday Americans, most of whom share that small-town outlook on life.

It is far harder to tell your neighbor that he is corrupt than it is your political opponent from the next county over. But that is what Sarah Palin did when she worked to reform the Alaskan government. She has the kind of political courage that has been largely missing from the Washington political scene.

Palin might be from a small town, but her political talent is clearly big-time.


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