As a hopeful Democrat, I’m so disappointed in Barack Obama’s recent stereotyping of working class, religious, rural, and small town people. In the small Midwestern town where I grew up, there are doctors, teachers, farmers, business owners, and lawyers. There are rich people and poor people, smart people and dumb people – pretty much like the west coast city I live in now, only with fewer places to hang out on a Saturday afternoon. I suppose that Obama shouldn’t be expected to know first hand what shapes the values of ordinary Americans, but even George Bush, who had the most pampered and privileged upper class upbringing possible, has a better intuitive grasp of it (or at least his speech writers and advisors do – maybe Obama could borrow one).
The truth about rural, small town people – particularly in the Midwest – is they really don’t care what people are doing in San Francisco. “If you want to live in California with all them crazy people, go ahead,” I’ve been told on more than one occasion. They do care, however, if the government is going to tell them what to do with their land, what to drive, what to eat, what doctor to go to, et cetera, and 'progressive bordering on socialist' candidates just don’t speak to their values.
When I was a kid the dumbed down version of politics went something like this: Rich people are Republicans and poor people are Democrats. But the reality is Republicans attract two types of lower income voters. The first are fiscal conservatives who don’t want to pay too much in taxes and most definitely do not want to accept anything that resembles a “handout” from the government. They don’t want the Democrats’ pity – they might not have what Bill Gates has but they respect that he earned it and they’ll pay their own way, thank you very much.
The second type are the much maligned social conservatives. They’re the ones who allegedly hate everyone who is different from them.
For years everyone in my hometown knew that my cousin was gay, but he was scared to admit it. Now it’s all out in the open and you know what? Nobody cares. Well – people talk, but if you’re not gay, they just find something else you do that they can talk about – that comes with the “small town” territory. I don’t love my cousin any more than the rest of my family does just because I went to college and live in a big city now.
I happened to travel to my family’s house in rural Indiana the day Hurricane Katrina hit. The victims of Katrina were overwhelmingly much “different” from the people I was hanging out with. Yet the first thing a neighbor said to me when I arrived was, “Can you believe? If this had happened in Timbuktu, we’d be pulling out all the stops, airlifting in aid… where the hell is the government when OUR people need them?”
My father once explained that he and his siblings are all Democrats, but his parents are Republicans. I asked my grandfather (a retired farmer and county worker) once what he thought of his kids’ political conclusions and he shrugged, “I’d never tell anybody what to believe.”
Pretty compassionate and empathetic for a bunch of bitter, gun-wielding xenophobes, no?
It would really be something if Barack Obama, the most progressive viable candidate for office we’ve had since – maybe ever – could take his own advice and exhibit a shred of open-mindedness toward people who are different from him.
People don’t “cling to guns” out of fear of anything. They wonder what the big deal is all of a sudden and why they have to suffer just because inner cities have gang problems. They don’t “cling to religion” out of fear of anything. The vast majority of Americans are not particularly over-the-top religious, but Christianity is still part of their tradition, part of their family history, part of their understanding of their place and responsibility on this planet. Most American Christians are closer, in practice, to the “atheist Jew” or the “cultural Catholic.”
It’s not about fear of anything. It's just a piece of your identity, part of what has shaped you as a human being, an important connection to the people you love. And to value that and take comfort in it is not some outrageous fear-mongering. It’s human. It’s what people do. Maybe that’s not what they do at Harvard, but then, potential Democratic candidates listen up — no regular person really gives a damn what people do at Harvard.Powered by Sidelines