Notes from the "Bitter and Frustrated" Heartland

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By Dave Lindorff

I find it interesting that among the responses to my recent column about Obama’s “bitterness and frustration” comments regarding rural Americans, those that came from rural folks—including from the two towns I mentioned in Upstate New York—backed him up.

I don’t know how this will all play out in Pennsylvania’s primary next Tuesday. I’m terrible at predicting these things. But I have a suspicion that the people who are in a snit over Obama’s comments are either rabid Republicans or are already firmly committed Hillary Clinton fans (who seem perfectly happy to have this $100-million net worth child of wealth and privilege pretend, Bush-like, to be a good 'ol gal). Those who support Obama are unlikely to change their views, and may even become more committed to making it to the polls. In the end, it all could be a ratings-driven media dust-up. But meanwhile. It’s worth reading what some country folk have to say about it all.

Here’s one from observation from a guy in Spencer, NY, where I lived in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and about which I wrote in my piece:

“I have lived in Spencer for the past 20 years, and I have found that your sentiments match my experience. Folks who live in places like Spencer vote for Republicans and conservatives. However, when they when engaged on the issues and how policy affects them, they seem to realize that voting as they have is against their interests. Yet, they don't change their voting habits due to false images from the media, particularly from political advertising.

“I believe that one solution to the problem of people voting against their interests can come through public financing of elections. The issues are taxes (i.e., they vote for tax cuts that hurt them but help those with much higher incomes), health care ("socialized" medicine would help most rural people), and war (that hurts Americans and Iraqis).

“It might take a complete collapse of our economy on par with the 1930's coupled with an increasingly disastrous war in Iraq (and/or Iran, and/or Venezuela) to bring about real change and a movement back to a republic from an imperial empire.”

From Hancock, NY, where my wife and I own a summer house—actually a neutered old Methodist church and rectory we bought back in the mid ‘80s for $16,500—and which I also cited in my column, comes this comment:

“Since I'm an Obama Mama, can I be dismissed from the description of upstate New Yorkers? I so agree with you though. When our son (now grown) was a little tyke and he tanned so easily, I would sometimes get funny looks from the `good old boys’...the sad part was, many of them were related to us!”

Then there’s this note from Florida:

“I grew up in the rural midwest--a farmboy. Largest town I ever lived in was pop. 3200 but I graduated high school in a town of 608--so white the bedsheets looked pale in comparison. I graduated with honors in '68 and everybody wanted me to go to college--fair in math, but excelled in English and history. I was a good athlete, but no star. I was 17 and my parents didn't want me to join the Army so they wouldn't sign--waited till I was 18 and went.

“My dad was a WWII vet in the Navy {all the Pacific Theater}, my two older brothers had already been to Nam and back. My dad said a time comes when a man's family has given enough--I didn't disagree with that, but at the time felt I needed to go and do it. Can't describe the hurt in his eyes the day I left home [I don't think I ever hurt the old man more with anything I'd ever done--I am not proud of that moment either,

“I could see the fear in his eyes, but was too full of myself}.
Did my 3 years and maybe would have stayed, but had issues with command decisions that were getting people dead...kind of like today. I did my duty, and then some, no big medals, just the usual. Took the heat I needed to and dodged most of the fast moving metal objects. Came home sans bodybag, more than I can say for some friends. I didn't mind the death and carnage around me, I was a soldier, it was our business, but felt too many of the wrong people were dying.

“Got married, started a business, raised 3 kids--all through college now and successfully on their own (I was lucky, they were smart and knew where they were headed from the start). The oldest is 35 w/PhD in English and is teaching at a midwest university, the other 2 have computer degrees and develop software.
“Everything you wrote about in this essay is true. It was like going home again. Scary.

“You are most correct in your assessment and Obama needn't retract a word--it's all true. After all those years I never understood why the people hurt the most by the politician they voted for --just keep on voting for him/her/them.”

From Wisconsin (which voted heavily for Obama in the primary there), a rural correspondent writes:

“Where I live. I’ve noticed the same thing for years. It’s all about them, and if they’re not making it, blame blacks, or liberals (mainly liberals, because there are hardly any blacks anywhere in sight) or people needing any form of public assistance, or of course “illegal immigrants” stealing all the jobs they won’t take in any case.
“They’re the heart and soul of knee-jerk American fascism, and they’ll comprise the core of the party that forms around those reactionary values as soon as the effective rightwing populist rises up out of the heartland. If Obama can preempt that reflex by appealing to them from a quasi-liberal angle (and I agree that Edwards was doing it better, and Kucinich better still, but the centrists at the DNC weren’t going to permit that, so those two rabble rousers were predictably stifled), I’m for him. Anything that can pacify the disenfranchised rural white conservatives is a good thing for the progressive cause. Let him throw them a few bones.”

Another rural writer who doesn’t identify what state he or she comes from, pointss to the role of the corporate media, which has been busy 24/7 painting Obama’s latest comments as a huge gaffe, even as it is seeming to have no impact on the polls in Pennsylvania.:

“We seem incapable of having that kind national conversation without running into the resistance of an activist press that pushes opinion and propaganda as if were newsworthy facts. Senator Obama seems to offer us an alternative to the bought and paid for crap that has passed for political discourse in this great nation. And yes, I’m one of those pissed off country bumpkins who is tired and frustrated at watching everything I love and care for reduced to a commodity that can be traded away by a system that offers allegiance to no one. Call me old-fashion, but I need to work and I like to earn my own way and over the last decade it has gotten harder and harder. I want change, now.”

Meanwhile, one Pennsylvania writer weighs in saying:

“I did grow up in a town in Levittown, PA. There’s Bristol, Croydon, Tullytown, Bensalem, Feasterville and Trevose. Albeit these are outlying ‘burbs of Philly, yet this part of Bucks County was built on the steel mill, paper mill and 3M. M Night makes his flix in many of the aforementioned towns now because he grew up in Bensalem. All have long been closed, I do think the steel mill belonged to a Brit company for a time.

“Awhile ago few drunken white boys decided to strike up a conversation with a gay young man, lured him to their car, slit his throat and set the car on fire. Nice fellows. Drugs are the norm out here, not the exception, crime is rampant, old folks are being robbed by the use of push-in robberies, which have gotten horrible now.

“I no longer live in PA but am back often to visit mom, grandma and my younger sister, and I can report that Senator Obama is 100% correct in saying they are bitter, and about their getting guns and clinging fervently to religion.

“What in hell is wrong with him stating the truth?”

Says another country resident:

“Until poor, rural, whites wake up from their stupor, they will continue to be used by conservatives as cannon fodder in the culture wars.

“To my fellow crackers in the countryside - if you vote republican and you are not a millionaire/billionaire, you are a sucker - nothing less.”

Finally comes word from another Pennsylvania correspondent, who says:

“I am also happy to hear a politician finally describe with pin-point accuracy the mindset of the large majority of rural Pennsylvania voters. I live in rural PA, and in my job in social services I meet with low income rural residents in eleven west central and north central counties here on a daily basis. Obama is absolutely right. They fear all outsiders, they fear change, they fear anyone who isn’t one of them, and they blame whatever is wrong with the world on what they fear. I have lived in the same small town (less than 4,000 people) for more than 25 years. I am still considered an outsider. I am tolerated, because I stick to myself (aside from performing my job, which is appreciated) and don’t try to change anything. But I will never be accepted. I was warned before I moved here that life with the “woodsies” would be lonely and frustrating. Until this election, it hasn’t been a problem. But just last week, as I was leaving the beauty parlor, I mentioned that I was supporting Obama. It was clear, by their reactions, that I need to go somewhere else next time I need a haircut, or I could end up regretting it.”

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DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment" (St. Martin's Press, 2006, and now available in paperback edition). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net