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Obama Was Right About Some Small Towns

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Mary Shaw     Permalink
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Over the past several days, Barack Obama has been criticized mercilessly by the Clinton campaign, the McCain campaign, and the media for some comments he made on April 6th about small-town America. Among other things, Obama asserted the following:
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. So it's not surprising then that 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.
As someone who was born and raised in small-town Pennsylvania, I know what Obama was talking about. While his words surely don't apply to every person in every small town in America, they apply to the world I grew up in and the world with which I still have some contact. From my perspective as a former small-town American, Obama spoke the truth. In some rural parts of Pennsylvania, people live unimaginably difficult lives. Decent-paying jobs have been hard to come by for decades. And, without good jobs, the residents cannot afford to venture far from home. This breeds the kind of homogeneous, xenophobic culture that I grew up in and couldn't wait to escape. And it breeds bitterness and distrust of everything and everyone outside their tight-knit communities and their narrow worldview. So they live their lives more simply than most city folks can imagine. They go to church, because it gives them hope. They go hunting and target shooting because it gives them a diversion from the difficulties of everyday life. Some do both. This is the reality in which I was raised. Hillary Clinton responded as though Obama's comments were an insult to small-town America. But I believe that Obama's words were intended to be sympathetic and motivational and hope-inspiring, not insulting. As a former small-towner, I was not at all offended. Perhaps instead we may want to consider that Clinton's and McCain's criticism of Obama's observations reveal that they are the ones who are truly out of touch with those who are most strongly feeling the pain of this economy, this war, and the current state of America in general. Now let's move on to the real issues.

 

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
 

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