A site of satirical musings, commentary and/or rhetorical criticism of the world at large.

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Location: Southeastern, Pennsylvania, United States

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Chug It, Hillary! (Or Bitter Pennsylvanians)

One of Hillary Clinton’s campaign stops over the weekend became fodder for the morning television news outlets. She was shown enjoying a beer and shot of whiskey at a bar in Crown Point, Indiana. Supporters who egged her on surrounded her while she did her drinking late in the afternoon. One news commentator (who works for a network named after a small, furry forest resident) wondered aloud in what kind of shape would she be if she kept drinking until 3:00am when (presumably) the White House phone would ring with an emergency national crisis.

Oh, the scandal! A presidential candidate imbibing in alcohol! Oh, the shame!

What I have just done is create a controversy out of a non-event. If the media were not under pressure to sell ad time on their networks, or sell newspapers, then most likely the event would not have been noticed at all.

A similar media-created controversy happened when Sen. Barack Obama stated that residents of many small Pennsylvania towns were “bitter” and had “lost faith in their government.”

Hey, what can we say? Guilty as charged!

As one who was born in the big city (Philadelphia) and spent about one-third of my life in a small Pennsylvania town (Catawissa), I believe I can see both sides of Obama’s statement. Let’s take it one sentence at a time.

He was asked a question about why he wasn’t doing as well in Pennsylvania as in other areas. Obama started his response: “You go into 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."

True enough. When we moved there in 1970, Catawissa had a lumberyard, two clothing factories and a pipefitting manufacturer. Today, only the lumberyard remains. The jobs in the clothing factories moved out of the country, and most of the pipefitting operations were moved to Texas years ago.

Obama continued: “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.”

In actuality, Catawissa’s boom time ended before World War I when the railroad industry left. The same holds true for the nearby anthracite coal region just to the south and east of the town. Neither area has ever fully recovered economically from the bust.

Then the statement which has caused Obama the most grief, “And it’s not surprising then they get bitter...”

Okay, I’ll admit that perhaps not all of us in small town Pennsylvania are "bitter", but we’re not exactly shiny, happy people either!

“...they cling to guns or religion...”

True again; many rural Pennsylvanians do own guns and they take their right to own these guns very seriously. Many rural Pennsylvanians are also very devout in their religious practice. I dare say that many of these gun owners see their gun rights as their own religion. Just look at the cultural tradition. The first day of buck hunting is the first Monday after the Thanksgiving holiday. Many rural school districts treat it as another holiday that makes it a five-day weekend for students and teachers. If you want to see bitter Pennsylvanians just try to take that day, or their gun rights away.

The quote ended with: “[they cling to...] antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Upstate rural Pennsylvania is a microcosm of the nation as a whole; there will be many small town Pennsylvanians who embrace other cultures just as there will be many people who are highly prejudiced. I have seen an increase in minorities settling in the area since 1970, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the entire native population has welcomed them with open arms. There have been several incidents of Klan activity in Catwissa’s history. The nearby city of Hazleton made international headlines last year when they attempted to pass their own anti-immigrant ordinance. The anti-trade sentiment to which Obama referred is rooted in the industry closings I mentioned above. If the people are bitter, then there is ample reason for it.

I really can’t see why people are offended at these statements, or as Clinton and McCain have suggested why we should be offended. However, Senator Clinton’s comments have me concerned about her suitability to lead this country. If she is able to perceive some offense over some honest comments made by a political opponent, then couldn’t she also imagine that some other country is threatening us (when they aren’t) and launch a pre-emptive attack a la George W. Bush?

Once again Barack Obama has spoken with a grain of truth, and once again he is called onto the carpet for it. Maybe the American people aren’t ready to face the truth. Too bad, since we can only solve our problems once we look them squarely and honestly in the eye. Truth can be funny sometimes; everybody wants it, but nobody wants to accept it.

Bottoms up, Hillary!


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