If Hillary Clinton manages somehow to wrest the Democratic Presidential nomination from Barack Obama, it will serve as a bitter reminder that telling the truth is all too often suicidal in politics.
Obama told the truth when he said small town America is bitter about the declining quality of life. He told the truth when he said the small-minded cling to their guns and their religion as crutches to prop themselves up against the pathetic realities of their failed lives.
I’m a product of small-town America, raised in a Blue Ridge mountain community: Population 435. I gladly left that restrictive, fundamentalist-dominated environment behind in 1965 to pursue a career that included big cities, world-wide travel and life in the fast-lane. Yet, with a big-city born wife, I returned 40 years later, seeking refuge in that same small-town solitude that seemed so stifling four decades earlier.
We saw some signs of change: Barack Obama carried our small county in the Democratic primary earlier this year; a mixed-race couple owned the town’s most well-known restaurant and a Catholic Church was under construction in this bastion of Southern Baptist fundamentalism.
But change comes hard in small town America.
Outside one local polling place, a local musician overheard an overalls-clad farmer telling someone that “when Hillary Clinton is the only other choice, I’m forced to vote for the nigger.”
Local blogger Colleen Redman reported the following:
Animated Woman: If Obama is president the black people are gonna take over. They’ll line us white people up and shoot us.
Postal Clerk: I think you should go home and go back to bed so you can wake up again.
The local woman’s club sponsored an annual arts and crafts fair at the local high school and invites a revisionist, self-published “author” whose books claim blacks prospered under slavery. That same high school has a “redneck hall” where only like-minded white boys are allowed to “hang.”
When I left the area, the small-minded directed their bitterness towards blacks. That bitterness remains with aging old-timers but they have a new target: A growing community of Mexican immigrants – both legal and illegal.
Fundamentalist preachers rant and rail against plans to put a state-owned liquor store in the county but those same ministers look the other way at the entrenched racism. In an adjoining county, the Ku Klux Klan thrives and holds rallies at the birthplace of Booker T. Washington.
Yes, small town America is bitter. Small town America is angry. Small town America is ignorant, frightened, intolerant and small-minded.
Barack Obama told the truth when he said small town America is bitter. That bitterness gave George W. Bush eight years in office. That same bitterness could put another Clinton in the White House.
Legendary journalist H.L. Mencken once said that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.
The same is too often true of politics. Few, if any, politicians ever lost an election by underestimating the ignorance, anger and intolerance of the American voter.