Friday, April 18, 2008

Village Idiots

The recent brouhaha over Senator Obama’s statements about small town voters is still being used, to a much greater extent, by the media and, sadly, by what constituted ABC’s debate questioners the other night. What is not being done by the Newsweeks and Times’ is to review exactly what Senator Obama said and test the results of his statements. The Senator’s sentiments are as follows.


You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, a lot of them — 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’ve gone 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, and they cling to guns, or religion, or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

It is understandable why Hillary Clinton would accuse this of sounding “elitist.” After all, it was Bill Clinton’s Presidency who was one of the guilty parties in helping to bring this about, especially his support for free trade (which Senator Clinton supported during her years as First Lady). And naturally, as a member of a party that represents the interests of the upper income tax bracket, it is even less surprising that Senator McCain would disagree with such views.

What is not addressed often enough, however, outside of the liberal media sphere, is the use of those wedge issues to maintain political power, or as Senator Inhofe once said in responding to how the Republicans became the majority party in the ‘90s, “God, guns, and gays.” To that ends, the unfortunate truth is that for the most part Senator Obama is right about small town and rural voters in America. They do tend to represent the most religious and violently reactionary elements in our society, historically and even today. I know because I have lived among these people for the past several years, and it is at times during my encounters with these folk that I realize what Marx meant when he referred to the idiocy of rural life. Certainly, this is not a nice thing to say about voters come election time. No one likes being told that they are using their belief in a make believe friend (on par with Santa Claus and the tooth fairy) to justify hating someone for being a faux Muslim, further rationalizing their racially-motivated disinclination to vote for a black person that is running for office.

And yet, why is it that we do not ask these questions about small town and rural white voters? We see nothing wrong with attacking poor people and especially minorities who live in inner cities. We even give air time to millionaire members of such communities, who attack their own with the glee that only Rush Limbaugh could admire. But if you attack the Christian religion and the values of the same people who gave us the Ku Klux Klan, you are suddenly committing political suicide? How many of those voters are voting for a progressive anyway? Maybe in the minds of those few remaining leftist Ron Paul supporters, but no one in the real world can be that deluded.

I will never forget an encounter I had with one of these beloved white rural Americans back in 2004. She was a nice enough lady, in her 60s, just retired as a secretary at my university, but was in dire straits because her husband had no health insurance from his employer and just suffered a heart attack. This poor woman did everything she could to come back out of retirement, so she could receive the university’s health insurance (the one for retirees apparently did not cover most of the costs for her husband’s mountainous debts from his extensive hospital stays). There were people in my department, the chair, and a few of us who went to bat for this lady, trying to convince the administration to re-hire her, but like most university admin they ignored us.

This proud lady that I had come to know and like over the years was forced out of retirement and taking a job at a particular chain store, just to receive the extra insurance to take care of her husband. The man almost died in between all of this. What makes this significant is that when I asked her who she voted for in the elections, she proudly said George Bush. When I informed her that the man she voted for opposes the universality of the kind of healthcare services her family most needed, she defended herself by saying, “but he supports the life of the unborn. He believes in our God.” Her Christian values, in her mind, compelled her to vote for a candidate with a healthcare plan that equaled having tax shelter accounts for payments to the same unregulated industry that was legally allowed to overcharge her husband tens of thousands of dollars for healthcare--to summate, she knew she was voting for someone whose remedy for her ills was to not get sick.

And that is not the first time I have encountered voters like the lady I used to work with. Still, there comes a time when the obvious needs to be stated, even at the expense of someone’s feelings. If you are willing to die or potentially allow someone to be physically injured or waste away in bankruptcy because you think some invisible man tells you that a fetus is equivalent to a live human being, then you are the last individual who should be voting in any election. Having the vote does not mean having to intellectually suffer fools, and there is nothing more foolish than hearing someone who should know better, who has the personal experience and circumstances to fully comprehend the situation, and yet willfully chooses the blissful ignorance of the make pretend. Admittedly, I too once believed in Santa, but I grew up, and I certainly do not base my politics on such trivialities, particularly as an adult. It is a sad state of affairs that people continue to live in such blindness, and if it insults them, then they deserve nothing less.

And speaking of bitterness, what about the special treatment of small town and rural voters? When whites complain about affirmative action, what about the greatest affirmative action for rural white people in the US, the Electoral College? Rural states (filled primarily with these hateful voters) receive approximately 10% more electoral representation overall through the Electoral College--a handout that not only overinflates their numbers, but allots them with extra protection of their political interests. Imagine if we gave extra electoral votes to all states that had sizable minority voters. You would be sure the Limbaughs would complain about that.

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