Bitter in Pennsyltucky (and everywhere)

Posted in Stumble and Fail at 2:20 pm by George Smith

National Public Radio swell:

With its mix of rural and industrial, mining and manufacturing, big cities and sprawling suburbs, Pennsylvania is a natural as a battleground state. But this season, the pendulum seems a more apt metaphor. And with hard times hanging on as they are all across the so-called rustbelt, Pennsylvania seems poised for a potentially big swing back toward the GOP.

It was only little more than two years ago that the national media was obsessed over Pennsylvania and its curdled white southern state-like interior.

Hit in the chops for decades by GOP policies, it nevertheless tends to always vote against its self-interest.

The NPR fellow doesn’t look at the old maps and take into account how narrow the margins of victory were for Democrats. The interior red of the state, which I wrote about at the time, even though sparsely populated, speaks volumes.

After Kerry.

Obama vs. McCain.

The statistics were striking in one respect during Obama’s election. GOP margins shrank in the interior.

However, that part of the state — still like Arkansas or a white country southern place in the interior — never liked Barack Obama.

It is a place of ignorance and reactionary politics. Here, you can find the ex-union steward from Bethlehem who regularly hates on unions. Now he’s a Tea Party man, obsessing over gold and failure to heed the words of Jesus.

If you still wander out to the newspaper of the Lehigh Valley — one of the markers for deindustrialization in the rustbelt — you can’t find a single local blog that stands for anything Barack Obama campaigned on. Even the token Dem places, if you can discern them, hew to the right.

And so the NPR reporter wanders from Pennsyltucky white voter to voter, getting exactly the same Republicans-who-insist-they’re-Democrats and hardened GOP who speak about throwing the majority party out in November:

[Florence Troyan] is a Democrat who says she’s thinking of voting for the Republican for Congress this year just to shake things up. And that even though she says she still supports President Obama.


More of the same:

Bob Curtin is an electrical contractor. His business is way down. He says he’s not a Tea Party member, but he likes their message. He’s a registered Democrat. His vote this year?

Mr. BOB CURTIN (Electrical Contractor): I’m not sure. I’m very up in the air right now what I’m going to do. I cant say that Im decisive on anything right now as far as, you know, who Im going to vote for. But Im going to vote.

NPR swell: But he says he’s not happy with the Democrats.

Seated three stools over is retiree Mike Oktishuk, who chimes in with some pride that he didn’t vote for President Obama.

The reporter from NPR, like most upper tier journalists, can always leave Pennsylvania. The outcome of the November elections won’t have an impact on him.

If the Pennsyltucky voter helps put the GOP back in power, they’ll have another two years of enduring very personal catastrophe before they get an opportunity to express their anger again.

But this is the state that put Rick Santorum in the Senate a while ago.

And they’ll send Pat Toomey, a hedge-fund manager of all things, if I’m reading the future with any certainty.

Reads a recent Mother Jones piece:

In an attempt to close the gap, Dems have latched onto Toomey’s Wall Street past, hammering the Republican for opposing financial regulatory reform and supporting deregulation. Toomey’s an easy target for economic-centered attacks. As a Wall Street banker, Toomey helped pioneer the use of some of the same financial products that have caused fiscal chaos for American towns, cities, and states. He spent years as a derivatives trader for Chemical Bank and at Morgan Grenfell, a British financial firm. While at Morgan Grenfell, Toomey focused on things like interest rate swaps—complicated debt instruments that poisoned many a municipality’s portfolio. Shortly after he was elected to Congress in 1998, a trade magazine rejoiced that “now the derivatives industry can claim representation by one of its own.” Toomey parlayed his trading experience into a spot on the House banking committee, where he crusaded against regulation of financial markets—especially derivatives. And unless Sestak can stage an epic comeback, Toomey will soon be back in Congress, with a vote on banking regulation, if not a seat on the upper chamber’s powerful banking panel.

It needs repeating that the voters in the interior will almost always go against themselves.

They hate those unlike them and they cleave to the failing white man’s delusion that supporting business tycoons and their enablers is something to do because they wishfully believe that if just for a little more luck, they’d be there, too.

That luck never seems to come their way, or any semblance of economic fairness at all, doesn’t seem to matter.

While they may rail against the bailout and the wealthy people in Washington, when it comes down to it they still harbor the hard kernel belief that they might be part of a class-less society, or at least one in which they share something with the old customary rulers — their whiteness. Its irreconcilable — but the human brain can carry such collisions around for a lifetime.

In “Class: A Guide Through the American Class System,” Paul Fussell wrote that bitterness was often not very far from the surface here. It has never been new.

It has many reasons to always be close to breaking through, not all coming from the prole’s susceptibility to crazes, delusions, rip-off advertising and the myths concerning values or the supposed lack of them among Democrats — although these are certainly strong.

Fussell believed class consciousness was rock solid in this country. In one way, yes. However, in others, delusions and illogic cloud the picture.

“Anyone uncertain about class consciousness in this country should listen to a working-class father whose son was killed [in Vietnam],” Fussell wrote, specifically addressing the S-2 deferment, one college students used to escape the draft. “Class” was published in 1984.

“I’m bitter,” Fussell quoted the man as saying. “You bet your goddamn dollar I’m bitter. It’s people like us who gave up our sons for our country. The business people, they run the country and make money from it. The college types, the professors they go to Washington and tell the government what to do … But their sons, they don’t end up in the swamps over there, in Vietnam. No sir.”

But in the end, they have always voted for the worst patrons of the ‘business people’, anyway. And they will again.

The Democratic Party always runs afoul of it, Too much Max Baucus, Bart Stupak, Ben Nelson — pick your favorite among the feckless. Not enough Alan Grayson.

It is easy to understand the great anger in the Tea Party, or the hinterlands of Pennsyltucky. The urge to give a presumed tormentor a good punch in the face when you get the opportunity to swing is strong and human. It’s a motivator even if the result eventually has you wondering why things are worse come 2012.

DD can only marvel at the many folk music videos the opposition puts on YouTube, all with more enthusiastic fans than anything from my side. The music may be bad, the lyrics awful, the sentiment horribly misguided.

One thing it doesn’t lack is gutsiness; the willingness to be taken for a fool in letting the raw shout of hurt out.

Unemployment and “a static economy” have set into stone conditions in which “the mass of Americans now find themselves” moving down. So they’re always going to be bitter. It’s a natural state and it should be very worrying to any sane national leader who wonders how a big complicated nation can compete on the world stage when its working class is demoralized, only rising to strike out at the polls every couple years.

“There used to be room at the top,” Paul Fussell wrote in Class.

Now we have a good view of the bottom.

1 Comment

  1. Dick Destiny » It’s always raining near Philadelphia (and everywhere) said,

    October 11, 2010 at 8:36 am

    […] As a piece, it was like NPR’s, commented upon last week here. […]