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    Abandoned luncheonette

    [Added later: Or maybe I should have gone with “Your Imagination” as a title. “Love, Need, and Want You”? Maybe “When Will I See You Again”? “If You Don’t Know Me by Now”? “Hate on Me”?]

    I have a lot of affection for my home state of Pennsylvania. I grew up outside Allentown; my parents had the same house from the time they got married until I’d finished college. Then they moved four miles down the road, where they still are. My father was a plant worker for Bethlehem Steel while I was growing up, so there were a fair share of layoffs and lean years during the ’80s.

    Even though Barack Obama has been trounced already for his remarks about Pennsylvania, let me just add a bit. (Note to Tom Maguire about that headline, though: John Mellencamp is from Indiana. Keep your troglodyte-populated states straight! Then, too, I should be grateful he didn’t quote “Allentown” by Illybay Oeljay, which I have something of a hangup about.) This is where the audio is, apparently, and the key paragraphs are these:

    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. 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.

    And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, 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.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to do justice to how retarded that is–and I say that as an overeducated, corporate, atheist, homosexual urbanite who’s spent the last dozen years in Tokyo and is now happily returning to New York.

    The anti-trade part I do agree with. I’ve had (mild) arguments with my father over protectionism for the steel industry, which simply gives the shaft to American workers and their families further down the supply chain.

    The rest is ridiculous.

    As far as guns go, my father wasn’t big on hunting, but my uncles and cousins went regularly, and I don’t think they were taking out their job-related frustrations on the deer. Sport hunting is just one of those practices that the working class has in common with the aristocracy, and there are plenty of counties in the northern part of PA that are ideal for it.

    Furthermore, most rural areas are by definition somewhat less densely populated than Hyde Park, Chicago. My mother has two handguns and takes shooting lessons because my father works nights quite a bit. If someone broke into the house, she’d have to fend for herself until the township police arrived. That’s been a fact of life since long before manufacturing jobs started leaving.

    I also think it highly likely that commonwealth history has something to do with attitudes toward guns. In Pennsylvania, at least in eastern Pennsylvania, you spend your childhood taking field trips to Valley Forge and Gettysburg. In the borough where I grew up, there’s a preserved cabin, now nearly three hundred years old, called the Shelter House, where visiting schoolkids are lectured by their elders about the fragile existence of the first settlers as they carved out new lives in unknown territory. The idea that life can be harsh and that you may have to defend yourself violently is not alien to anyone who stays awake through state history classes.

    By the way, you noticed that my hometown is called Emmaus, right? My parents now live in Old Zionsville. The second-largest city in the Lehigh Valley is Bethlehem. There’s a Bethel in Berks County. Down toward Lancaster there’s a town called Smyrna. There’s also this little hamlet in Pennsylvania called Philadelphia–have you heard of it?–the name of which is Greek for “city of brotherly love” and is a place mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

    That’s, you know, in the Bible. Seekers of religious freedom were numerous among Pennsylvania settlers. William Penn was a Quaker whose beliefs had riled his father and the king. In Pennsylvania Dutch country, we’re famous for having Amish communities. Lots of old Moravian and Lutheran churches, too. A combination of religious fervor and tolerance is movingly woven into Pennsylvania history from day one, and people in small towns have been going to church regularly since long before the decline of the rust belt economy. The insinuation that people just kind of started turning to religion to give them a sense of shallow comfort when the layoffs started is deeply offensive. I rejected the theology I’d been brought up with years ago as an accurate explanation for the origins of the universe, but it’s just plain low to take cheap shots against the faithful.

    Things like “antipathy toward people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment” are so vague it’s hard to know what to make of them, but I will say that people tend to associate with those who are like them in New York and San Fracisco as much as they do in Reading. And the small towns have been diversifying, slowly but surely. It takes time for people to get used to one another, and everyone has prejudices that have to be discarded in the face of experience. That’s hardly some sort of distinguishing characteristic of Pennsylvania.

    Eric doesn’t have anything up about this yet, but when he does, it’s sure to be fabulous. In the interim, on a related topic, he’s posted about Mayor Michael Nutter in Philadelphia, who’s had the effrontery to compare himself to the Founding Fathers in signing gun control laws:

    “Almost 232 years ago, a group of concerned Americans took matters in their own hands and did what they needed to do by declaring that the time had come for a change,” Nutter said as he signed the bills in front of a table of confiscated weapons outside the police evidence room in City Hall.

    Jeff at Alphecca has also posted.

    Added on 19 April: Eric has posted.

    9 Responses to “Abandoned luncheonette”

    1. Internet Ronin says:

      It is a revealing statement, isn’t it? The unscripted usually is, and the more we hear of unscripted comments by both Obamas, the more questions are raised. Take, for example, the issue of religion. Shorn of the other issues he mentions, how does Obama characterize religious believers? they cling to … religion … as a way to explain their frustrations. Sounds like he believes people who are religious are religious only because of economic frustration. (They couldn’t possibly just believe!) And what, pray tell, does that say about this man who sat in the pews in Reverand Jeremiah Wright’s church for over twenty years without uttering so much as a peep (or apparently tithing so much as an occasional dollar)?

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I was wondering about that myself. You would think that Obama would know enough not to include religion in that list if only because he’s a slicko politician trying to get elected. I mean, people make slip-ups sometimes, but that’s a real blunder.

    3. XLiberal says:

      Reason # 5687 – or was it #249723- to note vote for Senator, and his long-suffering wife, the one who while she finds it difficult to be proud of the US, has no trouble accepting $300k/year for her efforts.

    4. Internet Ronin says:

      Look back at his vaunted speech on race and you will find a sanitized version of the same lines – very close but one was delivered under tightly controlled circumstances and the other was a much more informal. We’re supposed to believe that the prepared speech vetted by others is his real opinion and he just mis-spoke? Just like his wife mis-spoke? What was that rationalization for removing the American flag from his lapel again? Why is he hiding from the press except at carefully controlled venues? Anyone recall how, after 8 questions, he walked out of that press conference in Texas because a couple were tough questions? Does he really believe we are stupid enough to swallow his recent line about being not just more qualified in foreign affairs than Clinton or McCain but the best qualified candidate because he once visited Pakistan and lived in Indonesia when he was 6? It’s like a game of connect-the-dots. For some reason, I’m not sure that the picture will be very pretty come November.

      As I say, the unscripted comments are almost always the most revealing, and the most important. Everyone makes mistakes, but patterns do emerge.

    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      Yeah, XLiberal, I’ve always wondered what her (non-corporate) duties actually consist of.

      Internet Ronin, I agree with that. If this were an isolated incident, it could easily be put down to a poor choice of words. But it’s getting late in the campaign season–I love that I have to say that in April–and his remarks in Marin County fit his established pattern too well.

    6. Internet Ronin says:

      If I were Hillary Clinton, there’s no way I’d bow out of this campaign until Obama has 50%+1, possibly until the first day of the convention. It seems to me that the real testing has just begun and he’s not doing very well thus far. Time will tell.

    7. Zak says:

      I listened to his defense of the statement, and he very cleverly elides the most insulting aspect of his original statement. He focusses on bitterness of the economically downtrodden while not mentioning the fact that he posited a causal connection between this “bitterness” and their cultural norms.

      That being said, I don’t think this says anything bad about Obama other than the fact that he can’t really imagine ways of thought other than his own, a shortcoming he shares with probably 99% of humans who have ever lived.

    8. Sean Kinsell says:

      Internet Ronin, I think so, too. I can think of few things I want more than Hillary not to be president, but from her own point of view, staying in the ring makes obvious sense. It’s been really disturbing to see otherwise level-headed people go so berserk over Obama, given how little we really know about him.

      Zak, you’re right about the failure of imagination and that it’s not confined to Obama. The way a lot of commenters (not so much bloggers themselves) on the right are taking this incident as an opportunity to smear anyone with an Ivy League degree as a soulless elitist isn’t surprising, but it is kind of sad. I think the bigger problem for him as a candidate is that he didn’t stay on message and appears not to understand why people would regard what he said as a problem.

    9. Julie says:

      I know this is a long time ago, but I thought I’d add, for the sake of nothing really, that I interpreted this somewhat differently. For one thing, “turning to religion” or “finding religion” is not the same as “clinging to religion.” He did not say that people lost their jobs and then suddenly found religion; he said that people lost their jobs and therefore do not give up religion. This probably has some sociological truth to it; as societies become more educated and more economically powerful, they also tend to become more secular.

      Second, I don’t think he posited a causal connection between bitterness and these cultural norms. They’re conjoined, merely, not put into a causal relationship. From my experience, I think he’s right that long-term economic hardship can make people bitter, although it doesn’t always.

      Also, frankly, a lot of politicians don’t seem to really notice what has happened in big swaths of the heartland. I think they expected us to all just cheerfully convert to a service economy and be done with it, and I think there has been genuine surprise that it hasn’t been that easy. So, I admit that I appreciated him acknowledging that, however badly.

      It seems like it was around this time that the Daily Kos came out and said something very much like: We have to convince these people to vote their pocketbooks and not their culture. I was utterly shocked by that. I think Obama is implying a very similar message in this speech he gave, and that disturbs me. The further implications seem to be that a) we’re all rubes who can be manipulated by politicians and b) culture is not as important as money.

      Damn, I hate to be defending Obama, but I just wanted to say that I thought a lot of the hype about this couple of paragraphs got overheated. There were plenty of other reasons not to like or trust the man aside from this.

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