The “Bitter” Truth of American Politics

April 13, 2008

Why is it that white politicians only get in trouble when they tell a lie, and even then it’s only 50-50 that they’ll be caught, but African-American politicians get in trouble when they tell the truth?

Anyone who doesn’t think that Barack Obama was speaking the truth when he referred to the bitterness in rural small-town America, is either hopelessly naive or cynically seeking political advantage (Senators Clinton and McCain take note).  The economic dislocations of the past few decades have engendered resentments that manifest themselves in a variety ways including not only closer ties to religious communities, but also racism, homophobia, and hostility toward hispanic immigrants.

Did Obama phrase his statement perfectly?  No, probably not.  But war rages in Iraq (did anyone happen to notice that 17 American soldiers died in Iraq this week?), we are in the midst of a global environmental crisis, our economy is in shambles, our health care system desperately needs reform, and dozens of other important issues beg for our attention.  And instead, our political leaders and televisions talking heads are parsing the meaning of the word “bitter.”

I am SO sick of this process.

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8 Responses to “The “Bitter” Truth of American Politics”

  1. Mark Wise said

    I think it has been said that “The Truth is a bitter pill to swallow.” hehe…

    That being said, I think Obama made a grave error in grouping a whole segment of society into a uniform catagory. Is that not the definition of the word “bias” or “bigotry”? It would have been different if he said, “There are those in smalltown America who have nothing left to cling to except their religion or their Rights.” Instead, he lumped the whole lot of “Everyone who is in smalltown America are so weak willed that they can’t deal with the realities of the world. Therefore they cringe in their small corners clutching at the grass straws of their Religion and their guns.”

    Those are two wholly different statements and as such I feel that he is correctly being called to task on the comment.

  2. Tina Parker said

    The economic dislocations of the past few decades have engendered resentments that manifest themselves in a variety ways including not only closer ties to religious communities, but also racism, homophobia, and hostility toward hispanic immigrants.

    … or maybe we are just so tired of people who don’t know us at all making generalizations on how we feel about basic core values.

    Perhaps you have mistaken opposition to arrogance as bitterness. If you were to talk to me after I first read the above, I would not have seemed bitter. I went straight to white-hot anger. Now I just question the judgment of insulting an entire segment of the population that you do not know or seem to like.

  3. davidbcoe said

    Thanks to both of you for your comments. Mark, I think that Obama did err in the way he phrased his remarks. I said as much in my post; and Obama said as much in his subsequent statements. What bothers me is that his statement has been taken out of context and made into an attack on small-town America, when in fact it was intended as a discussion of how the economic dislocations of recent decades have manifested themselves culturally. And I’m not sure that your paraphrasing of his remarks is a fair representation of what he said.

    Tina, I’m sorry if my statement angered you. But as for me insulting “an entire segment of the population that [I] do not know or seem to like,” you couldn’t be more wrong. I live in a town of 2,300 people in rural Tennessee. I’ve lived here for 16 years. I’ve built a house here, raised my children here. I believe I know these people every bit as well as you do. I do like them. But I also see these resentments and manifestations of economic distress. Do you really deny that there is more homophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in the rural communities of the South and Midwest than there is in the wealthy suburbs of large east or west coast cities? Do you really believe that these increased incidents of prejudice are rooted in some inherent “badness” of rural people? (I don’t, by the way.) Or do you think it’s possible that the economic uncertainties of modern rural life have created anxieties that those wealthy suburbanites don’t face, and that this might explain social attitudes that reflect such anxieties? I’d add here, that conservative politicians, whose economic policies don’t benefit the rural poor at all, have used so-called wedge issues (race, gay bashing, anti-immigration sentiment) to exploit these fears to their political advantage. Others have written of this as well. If you’re interested, there’s a book called WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH KANSAS that deals with this phenomenon at length.

    Again, I wasn’t trying to insult anyone. I’m sorry that my remarks had the unintended effect of insulting you.

  4. Tina Parker said

    David, I thank you for your apology. I believe we can agree to disagree.

    I am glad that you enjoy living in a hamlet in Tennessee. I would say that you know those people rather well. I think the people I know in small towns across the Southeast are the salt of the earth. What I do not believe is that bitterness is an inherently small town characteristic. I don’t even know it is an economic marker. I know plenty of people across all walks of life that are optimistic, kind, and spiritual. I also know many that are bitter, bigoted, and proud of both. (I avoid them like the plague.) I think statistics in urban areas would be comparable.

    I have learned quite a bit reading your blog. I have learned some about the profession of writing. I have learned how someone who holds political views other than mine is every bit as passionate and caring as people who hold some of the same as mine. I don’t have a clue who to vote for in November but that is a subject for a different day.

    You said something in the very early days of this blog that made a big difference. In a discussion on global warming, you said something like, “do you think we want to believe this, in the destruction of our environment?” (Sorry for the paraphrase) That made me stop and realize that a dialogue is far better than reinforcement of our opinions. I was, therefore, somewhat taken aback to see that my beliefs about God and the 2nd Amendment had relegated me to small town bitterness and bigotry — neither of which is reality for me.

    Thanks again for your response. I love hearing about your photography and your family. I even read on Saturdays — no BOWs for me, thank you.

    PS I had just finished The Winds of War when I saw a picture of Cindy McCain standing behind the Senator. Thanks for that. All I will see from here on out when I look at her is Enid. That is not an image I want in the White House!

  5. davidbcoe said

    Thanks for your gracious and thoughtful comment, Tina. I have to tell you that I was preoccupied with our give and take for much of the day, in part because while I love to have discussions and to spark interesting back and forths with my blogs, the idea that I had insulted someone, particular someone with whom I’ve had such pleasant exchanges in the past, really bothered me. But also in part because the more I thought about this, the more I started to think that I had gotten it wrong (and so had Obama). You’re absolutely right. Prejudice exists all over. I remember an encounter I had years ago with a person in Providence, R.I. where I was living at the time. Liberal, east coast city. And this guy was as bigoted as anyone I’d ever encountered. There were bigots in the suburbs where I grew up. And, yes, there are bigots in my town here. I’ve also had plenty of encounters with people who are enlightened on race in cities and suburbs and small towns alike. Generalizations like the ones I made earlier make my blood boil. And yet, I made them anyway.

    I think that I was coming to Obama’s defense because a) I like him, and b) because I think his heart is in the right place and that this is yet another media-created frenzy that detracts from more important issues. But as I say, he got it wrong in this case. And so did I.

    I will stick by one aspect of what I said, and that is that economic dislocations can and often do breed the type of prejudices that I was referring to earlier. As a student of US History and someone with a deep interest in US politics I’ve seen again and again that class conflicts often morph into racial/cultural conflicts. And these prejudices have been exploited again and again for political gain. But as you said about the election issue, this is a discussion for another time…

    Thank you for replying to my comments, and thank you for making me see that I often don’t have all the answers.

  6. Tina Parker said

    David. This has been a wonderful exchange of ideas. I look forward to hearing what you have to say as the election progresses— mostly. I think the give and take of Blogdom (with respect for the parties involved) has to be the best thing about it. Thanks for the opportunity.

  7. Mark Wise said

    I always am glad to see constructive exchanges on issues.

    It takes a strong person to see where they may have err’d and admit it. That is why I like reading your blog, David. While your political views are so different from mine, you do keep an open mind in general and can take opposing views without going Bjork on them.

    Keep up the good bloggings (except lean more to the Right ok? 🙂 ) !

  8. davidbcoe said

    Thanks for the kind comment, Mark. If voices on the left spend all their time trying to drown out the voices on the right (and vice versa) we’ll never have the national dialogue we so desperately need. This was a good experience for me.

    But no, I won’t be leaning to the right any time soon…. 🙂

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