By Dave Lindorff
I haven’t lived in rural Pennsylvania or in rural Indiana, but I have lived in rural upstate New York, in towns where there are so few Democrats that on some local election ballots, not a single position, from town council to justice of the peace, has a contest. As in China, your option is to vote for the Republican candidate, or to leave that line blank.
And many of the people in these towns, uniformly white, when they talk politics, spend a lot of their time complaining about black people, immigrants (neither of whom can even be found in the vicinity) and the threat to their guns.
Barack Obama is exactly right.
In Hancock, NY and Spencer, NY, there are no factory jobs. There used to be in Hancock, but the companies where hundreds of people used to work have long since folded or moved south of the border, courtesy of the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) aggressively promoted and pushed through Congress by Bill and Hillary Clinton during the 1990s. In Spencer, there are no jobs because in the free-for-all bidding by companies for tax giveaways between communities, Spencer had nothing much to offer. The town is so dirt poor that when the library board, of which I was briefly president, got a measure on the ballot to have one extra dollar per taxpayer of school district taxes allocated to support the local little library, which was at that time totally supported by donations, the measure went down to resounding defeat (I was labeled a communist by some for promoting the idea!).
In 1992, neighbors in Spencer told me they were voting for George H. W. Bush—a patrician blue blood if ever there was one—because Bill Clinton, if elected “would take away our guns.”
Of course, he didn’t, and had no intention of doing so, but that didn’t matter.
Don’t get me wrong—the people in Hancock and Spencer are good folks. I'm pretty sure many of them probably give a higher proportion of their meager incomes to charity than do millionaires John McCain and Hillary Clinton. But Obama is right that in their angst and frustration at seeing the good economic times pass them by, at seeing themselves abandoned by the federal government in hard times, and at seeing candidates promise them everything during campaigns, only to ignore them after winning, they are bitter and frustrated.
And they have a right to be, and they should be.
One response to that bitterness and frustration is that they are open to the charlatans in both parties, and especially the Republican Party, who have played on their basest fears. It’s Republicans who have whispered the poison in their ears that their high taxes are because “the Blacks” are getting all that welfare money and are getting all the jobs through “quotas.” It's the Republicans who have warned them about "hoards" of Mexicans coming across the border to steal their jobs. It’s the Republicans who have been warning them that Democrats are going to take their hunting rifles and shotguns away. It’s the Republicans and their Christian fundamentalist front men who have been saying that the Democrats have been causing the nation’s decline by supporting licentiousness and a “gay” agenda. And it's Republicans and Democrats who have been hyping the bogus issue of national defense to keep people from focusing on the deliberate dismantling of the US economy that is underway. (Over years of Republican and Democratic administrations, the tax contribution of US corporations to the national budget has fallen from 50% in 1940 to just 14% today. Between 1996 and 2000, 61% of all corporations and 39% or large corporations paid no taxes at all, and that situation has only gotten worse in the Bush years.)
Anything but the real issue, which is how to provide funds so that the children in places like Spencer and Hancock can get a decent education without bankrupting the local taxpayers, how those communities can get jobs again, so that their children won’t have to move out, how to ensure that everyone in town can have health insurance and access to medical care.
Barack Obama is right. I've seen it in person. The people in rural America are bitter and frustrated, and after years of being played by politicians, they fall victim to the charlatans who tell them it’s all because of “the Blacks,” or the immigrants, or who tell them that their guns are in danger. Or they turn to religions that preach division or apocalypse—a concept that offers the chance of a final, delicious revenge against the rich and the powerful oppressors on Wall Street and in Washington.
Now I don’t know what Obama has in mind to try and turn things around for these good people, but it’s a start that he’s at least talking to them, not down, but honestly.
His talk in response to attacks on his statement about rural residents being “bitter and frustrated” is as good as anything Ralph Nader has said about the power and mendacity of the ruling political elite in America.
“For the last 25 years they’ve seen jobs shift overseas, they’ve seen their economies collapse, they have lost their jobs, they’ve lost their pensions, they’ve lost their health care. And for 25-30 years, Democrats and Republicans have come before then and said we’re gonna make your community better. We’re gonna make it right.
“And nothing ever happens. And of course they’re bitter, and of course they’re frustrated. You would be too, in fact many of you are. Because the same thing has happened here in Indiana. The same thing has happened across the border in Decatur. (Wild applause) The same thing has happened across the country. Nobody’s looking out for you. Nobody is thinking about you.