I was born and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana. For 26 years, I attended Lafayette schools, went to Lafayette activities and festivals, patronized Lafayette businesses, made Lafayette friends, dated Lafayette girls, played sports for Lafayette teams, worked for Lafayette employers and paid Lafayette taxes. Despite this, many people have told me I'm not really of Lafayette.
I know what they mean. I may have Cajun blood, but I don't have the name. Or the accent. Or the hobbies. Or a taste for seafood. Definitely not the politics. No one's ever going to hold me up as the quintessential south Louisianan. Under the narrow cultural definition of such, I just don't fit.
But narrow cultural definitions are dangerous. Those who subscribe to them tend to declare themselves the norm and others as dangerous outsiders. And what does that lead to? "LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!" "TIME TO TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK!" "I CAN'T WAIT UNTIL YOU MOVE FAR, FAR AWAY FROM HERE."*
When Rush Limbaugh says Barack Obama cannot relate to the American experience, what he's saying is that the American experience is a static thing, and is something Rush is qualified to judge.
So just what is The American Experience? There are many, many answers. No, strike that — there's exactly one: "Whatever someone experiences in America."
Rush Limbaugh making millions upon millions with his media empire? That's his American experience.
Barack Obama's humble origins and rise to the American presidency? That's his American experience.
Struggling to get a financial foothold despite education and experience? That's a much-shared American experience.
A drug-addicted homeless woman who lives under a highway overpass and pimps her body for a fix? That's an American experience too.
I could go on all day. Hell, for the rest of eternity. Because the American experience is an infinite concept experienced not just by all Americans and all American visitors every second of every day, but also comprises the entire history of everyone who was ever here before. To reduce that to the rich, white, male, Republican happy ending is a grave omission at best. At worst, it's the latest addition to the orchestra of dog whistles meant to appeal to a segment of Americans who think they're more worthy of the tag than their neighbors.
America is far too diverse to accept that. At least, that's my experience.
* - Someone once actually told me this in Lafayette. And he wasn't even from there.