Turnabout's fair play -- I've bashed Daily News conservative (but Democrat, go figure...) columnist Christine M. Flower here several times, so in her weekly piece today she makes a run at me. No problem with that -- I always welcome debate, and I also appreciate her respectful tone as well. I did think it was funny that she illustrated a column criticizing me, and apparently some people who support Barack Obama, as elitists, with what she acknowledges as HER preferred drink, a glass of wine. In an effort to restore some balance, I've posted the drink I ususally order if I'm out and about at the top of this post.
First, here's the gist of what Christine had to say in "Snob Appeal":
I knew it would be extremely hard to talk about the intersection of racism and "para-racism", politics, and personal responsibility in America in 2008, and the response from people like Christine was what I expected. I bent over backwards not to generalize about all West Virginians, and certainly not to call them "hillbillies" or worse names, as was the case on some other Web sites. Instead, I tried to address highly offensive statements by real people, identified by name in news articles by reporters who added that they interviewed others in West Virginia who had similar views, or who insisted on believing falsehoods about Obama (even when they are aware of the truth, as this woman insisting to ABC that Obama is a Muslim.)
There people aren't a majority of West Virginians -- hey, 100,000 of them actually did vote for Obama, and certainly many of those who supported Clinton did for other reasons, whether they thought she's "a fighter" or liked her gas-tax holiday or wanted to vote for the first woman president. But the reporting on the ground also suggests that this mindset may explain why she won a landslide in West Virginia well beyond other states with large white or working-class populations.
What bothered me was that the U.S. media, particularly the TV pundits, were not only scared from touching this aspect of the story but were suggesting it was somehow Obama's fault for not "connecting" with this kind of voter. Forty years ago, individuals with defiantly backwards views on race were criticized, and marched against; today, in our I'd-rather-win-elections-than-be right society, individuals with similar views are voters, to be pandered to.
I would never generalize or rant about "hillbillies" because, to paraphrase the swamp cartoonist Walt Kelly, I are one. My ancestors, especially on my father's side of the family, are intertwined with those defiant Scots-Irish types that people have been writing about over the past week. They meandered across Appalachia and into the Ozarks over the course of the 19th Century, and ended up on farmland outside of Osceola, Missouri (current population, 835, also 97 percent white). The thing that ultimately changed the family trajectory was a strong belief in education. My grandmother, Arline Bunch, taught herself how to type and then dedicated herself to teaching others, especially other job-seeking farm girls who'd once been like her. She ultimately took over what was then called "a business college" and today is an accredited four-year college in Peoria, Ill., the city where my grandfather A.B. Bunch got a job with Caterpillar Tractor as America clawed its way out of the Great Depression,. On that foundation, my dad became the first person in his family to attend college -- yes, a private college in New England (Trinity), because that's where he won a scholarship. He landed a good job, which helped me and my sister and brother go to college as well. That's America for you -- from hillbilly to being labelled "a snob" on the op-ed page of a major American newspaper in just three generations!
But that's just one "hillbilly"'s story -- everybody's is different. We each chose our own path, and our own ideas on things like race, or what it means to be American. I think people are ultimately accountable for what they believe -- even people from "hillbilly country."
As for Christine's column, she writes that I "implied" certain things (always a dangerous word to use) that I really didn't. I wasn't talking about "supposedly" racist voters in West Virginia, but specific individuals who discussed their racial or para-racial views on the record. And I never SUGGESTED, as she write "that people who don't crack some imaginary education or affluence threshold shouldn't matter as much as we the enlightened." I SAID maybe we shouldn't worry so much about whether or not the next president is appealing to people with abhorrent views on race (nothing to do with education or affluence).
You know, if the definition of "elitist" or "snob" has become someone who loathes any form of racism and who wants a nation where people have full access to education and where people highly desire that access, and who wants a democracy where both voters and the media work together to keep people rooted in facts and not in rumor, then, God yes, I am an elitist. But I never thought that's what it meant to be an elitist. I always thought that was what it meant to be an American. Forgive me if I am mistaken.