WASHINGTON -- "A full-blooded American."
That's how 24-year-old Josh Fry of West Virginia described his preference for John McCain over Barack Obama. His feelings aren't racist, he explained. He would just be more comfortable with "someone who is a full-blooded American as president."
Whether Fry was referring to McCain's military service or Obama's Kenyan father isn't clear, but he may have hit upon something essential in this presidential race.
Full-bloodedness is an old coin that's gaining currency in the new American realm. Meaning: Politics may no longer be so much about race and gender as about heritage, core values, and made-in-America. Just as we once and still have a cultural divide in this country, we now have a patriot divide.
Who "gets" America? And who doesn't?
The answer has nothing to do with a flag lapel pin, which Obama donned for a campaign swing through West Virginia, or even military service, though that helps. It's also not about flagpoles in front yards or magnetic ribbons stuck on tailgates.
It's about blood equity, heritage and commitment to hard-won American values. And roots.
Some run deeper than others and therein lies the truth of Josh Fry's political sense. In a country that is rapidly changing demographically -- and where new neighbors may have arrived last year, not last century -- there is a very real sense that once-upon-a-time America is getting lost in the dash to diversity.
We love to boast that we are a nation of immigrants -- and we are. But there's a different sense of America among those who trace their bloodlines back through generations of sacrifice.
Meanwhile, immigration trends have shifted dramatically in the past 40 years, as growing percentages of Americans are foreign-born. In 1970, just 4.7 percent or 9.6 million people of the total population were foreign-born. By 2000, 11.1 percent or 31.1 million individuals were foreign-born, according to the Census.
Contributing to the growing unease among yesterday's Americans is the failure of the federal government to deal with the illegal-immigration fiasco. It isn't necessarily racist or nativist to worry about what these new demographics mean to the larger American story.
Yet, white Americans primarily -- and Southerners, rural and small-town folks especially -- have been put on the defensive for their throwback concerns with "guns, God and gays," as Howard Dean put it in 2003. And more recently, for clinging to "guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them," as Obama described white, working-class Pennsylvanians who preferred his opponent.