Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Bitter people!

By now the quote is famous. You’ve heard it, Barack Obama at a fundraiser in San Francisco saying:

“You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years, and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate, and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Was it a polite thing to say? No, probably not. Was it politically astute? Nope, surely not. It is usually inappropriate to use broad generalizations when describing group of people or regions of the country. I live in Austin, Texas and please don’t paint me with the same brush as all my neighbors. They are good people but we are pretty diverse.

Here is a hard truth. People who have lost as much as some people in these rural communities have tend to become more traditional. In most cases this probably isn’t a conscious decision (i.e. they don’t know why they are sticking to traditional culture and values). It is called being reactionary. It is neither surprising nor an unreasonable response. Wouldn’t you get “bitter” and xenophobic if a bunch of politicians told you that Mexicans were to blame for all your troubles instead of the politicians that created tax loop-holes for outsourcing manufacturing jobs? I am a realist. Those jobs are leaving anyways. There is nothing to be done about that. But do we need to reward the companies for doing it?

Here is another hard truth: just like the working class people in Pennsylvania see San Franciscans as a total foreign enigma, the opposite is true as well. These are two different worlds and neither of them are one dimensional. But just like Pennsylvanians don’t like to be called gun toting, religious, xenophobic yokels, people in San Francisco are not all rich, liberal, intellectuals who shop at boutique super markets (though the ones I know are). There are Harvard alumni in the steel towns and there are uneducated folks in the Bay Area.

But let’s say, hypothetically, that all San Franciscans are rich, liberal intellectuals. What is wrong with that? I thought that the premise of this country that Republicans liked best was the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (which they always substitute with pursuit of wealth even though the Founders purposefully chose not to use the phrase ‘and property’, they must have done that for a reason). Is it not the goal of this country to provide opportunity for upward mobility? It isn’t San Francisco’s fault that there is a correlation between educational attainment, wealth and liberal political attitudes. It is called being panoptic versus myopic.

But I digress. In a media world where brevity is rewarded is it any surprise that people have trouble communicating broad issues in a format that sound bytes? It is no shock that there will be instances of misunderstanding. It is easier when you speak in platitudes and emotionalisms like Republicans (e.g. tax cuts good, criminals bad!).

All that aside, I am voting for Barack Obama, because I too like arugula and other organic veggies from Whole Foods! If that offends people in the Heartland – go shoot at some beer cans!

Sunday, April 13, 2008