Not so long ago, Sarah Palin gave a speech in which she praised small towns as the "real America" and as bastions of "pro-America" attitudes. She was roundly criticized and attacked by the left for her statements, and she later issued an apology stating that if people thought she meant some parts of the nation were not "real" Americans, "I don't want that misunderstood, if that's the way it came across, I apologize."
Still, the left holds this against her, angry that she might think some parts of the country are more genuinely American than others, and that some might be more pro-American than others. Not long before Palin's speech, President George W. Bush remarked that vacationing on his ranch helped him stay in touch with real Americans, and the same sort of outrage erupted. How dare he say people in Washington DC aren't real Americans!
At the time, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman growled: "And what are those of us who live in New Jersey -- chopped liver?"
What Krugman, and most, misunderstand is that this isn't about urban versus rural or big city versus small towns. When Sarah Palin or President Bush (or your average conservative) says something like this, the point is not "Americans only live in rural areas" it is more "the lawyers, lobbyists, and politicians in Washington DC aren't real Americans."
And by "real Americans" he's not saying these folks are somehow un-American - although they might be - he was pointing out that they don't represent the country at-large. That they are out of touch and in their own little isolated world. It doesn't really matter how many people live in what part of the country. It matters that the slice of particular people that are being referred to are unrepresentative.
There are slices like that all over: Manhattan's uber-socialite set, Hollywood's trendy cliques, white supremacists in Idaho, La Raza reconquistas in Los Angeles, and so on. They are little pockets of unreality, people who are out of touch with the nation at-large.
It is particularly true that people who are insulated from the general public to the degree that politicians often are start to form their own little cultures, largely out of touch with the rest of the country - in particular the people they are supposed to represent.
So referring to the "real America" is more a compliment to the hard working regular folks in the United States, than a slam on others. Real Americans are the people who drive the country's economy, who deliver goods, work in factories, grow food, teach schools, drive cabs, raise families, and all the other millions of activities that make up the American culture.
People who don't fall under this category are people that exist outside this core of the nation, people who live isolated from the way things get produced and delivered in the country. The super rich who never have to go shopping, for whom food simply shows up on the table; the billion dollar contractor who flies around the world and lobbies Congress but who never has time to get back home to his family; the superstar actress that can't figure out how to use a credit card, to whom everything is handed as a gift.
And yes, that includes Washington, D.C.'s political class, but that group comprises only a very small portion of the city, in its pinnacle where everything is made of marble and nobody has to scrape by a living on food stamps and dodge gangs.
It isn't that these people cannot understand America or have some connection with it. Some do, but most do not, simply because they become increasingly isolated and insulated from the rest of the country the more time they spend in office.
Those of us who work out here in America - wherever that may be - are almost alien to this sort of person, and in turn, they are somewhat alien to us. They don't make up the heart of America, even though they are Americans. So, in a way, they aren't "real" Americans.