“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. Â And they fell through the Clinton Administration and the BushÂ Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonnaÂ regenerateÂ and they have not. Â 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”
It’s now been more than a week since Barack Obama uttered those words. Â In the intervening time, Hillary Clinton and John McCain have bashed him as an elitist and Obama himself has said that he chose his words poorly. Â Maybe if the goal is to win a presidential campaign, he did, but if the goal is to tell the truth, he was right-on.There are people who truly believe that two men bumping uglies will lead to the downfall of the Republic, or that the most important issue facing America today is the inability ofÂ ChristianÂ students to use a Muslim’s tax money in order to pray. Â But, these people are few and far between. Â However, when they do not see any tangible improvement in their daily lives when a Democratic Congress or President is elected – when Democrats fail to get their parents health care or their children home from Iraq – it engenders one of two responses. Â Either people begin to feel like economic change cannot be effected through the political arena. Â They retreat to issues that they feel like they can effect, issues like abortion and gays. Â The second possible response to the feeling ofÂ disaffectedness that ObamaÂ describesÂ is to scapegoat. Â When people feel that things aren’t going their way the cling to a way to define themselves that makes them feelÂ positivelyÂ about themselves. Â In the same way that the dirt-poor white Southerner took comfort in knowing that he wasn’t a slaves, so too the jobless mill worker can take comfort in knowing that at least they aren’t gay, or Mexican, etc. Â How then can we capture back the Reagan Democrats who have abandoned the Democrats for the Party that screwed them in the first place? Â The answer cannot be to forget our tolerant values, we will never out-hate the Republicans. Â Instead we have to make aÂ commitmentÂ to the people left behind in our economy. Â Let’s stop talking about the middle class, let’s dare to speak to the issues that effect the lower classes of America. Â Then, maybe, the rural poor will start to come back. Â Until then, they have reason to be bitter.