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Obama and the Heartland Letters from the Bitter Belt

Letters from the Bitter Belt


I find it interesting that among the responses to a recent column of mine 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. 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."

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?"

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