Archive - May 14, 2008

What's Wrong with West Virginia?

Many of my online Obama supporters have been asking this question over the past few days, and I am sure are bound to be thinking this again today. Does Obama have a problem with poorer, less educated, white rural voters? What should be done?

Well, yesterday, I drove from Connecticut down to Virginia to pick up one of my daughters from college. I stopped in Martinsburg WV and spent a few hours canvassing for Obama. Martinsburg is in Berkeley County, part of the Washington DC exurbs. Obama did better in Berkeley County than just about any other county, with the exception of neighboring Jefferson County. Yet my experiences did not match those of the pundits.

I didn't see a poorer less educated rural white America. I saw a wild and wonder state that is part of the United States of America. To borrow the words from a famous speech,

Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.

Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too:

We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States.

We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States.

There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

(For those who don't recognize it, this is an excerpt from Sen. Obama's speech in 2004 to the Democratic National Convention.)

So, why did Clinton do so well in West Virginia? Let me offer a few thoughts. First, and I know that some of my online Obama supporting friends are going to jump down my throat on this, Sen. Clinton is not a bad person. I believe that she does care deeply about this country. I would gladly vote for her over any of the Republicans. More importantly, what is wrong with West Virginia is related to what is the matter with Kansas.

Thomas Frank explores What's the matter with Kansas in a book with that title. The key idea is that voters have been distracted by the wedge issues, abortion and gay marriage, by conservatives who are opposed to the key message of progressive Democrats, because they know that this key message is something they cannot stand against. What is this key message? Well, let's return to Sen. Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention speech.

It is that fundamental belief, it is that fundamental belief, I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams and yet still come together as one American family.

What is wrong with West Virginia? What is the matter with Kansas? It is that we have lost this fundamental belief. Yet it is here that I diverge from the pundits and the bloggers. The problem isn't with the good people of West Virginia or the good people of Kansas. The problem is that the pundits, and the bloggers, have gotten caught up in the horserace and have forgotten to talk about our fundamental beliefs.

Yet as I walked around parts of Martinsburg, I found people that hold fast to this fundamental belief that we are our brother's keeper, that we aren't a Red America and a Blue America, we are a United States of America.

So, let me be bold, and perhaps offensive for a moment. The problem is not the good people of West Virginia or Kansas, the problem is every blogger that is pontificating online about West Virginia without having gone door to door to talk with people about being our brother's keeper, without having gone door to door to help us be one America.

And this is bigger than just the Presidential Election. Yes, I know that this is supposed to be the most important presidential election in a generation, but unless all of us work together to help perfect the vision of a more perfect union, of 'E pluribus unum. Out of many, one', then it may not matter who gets elected president.

Knocking on doors in West Virginia was very different than knocking on doors in New Hampshire. It was a beautiful warm sunny day. People here had not been contacted by campaigns and they were grateful that someone cared enough to come to their door and talk about our nation and who should lead it. I believe that the people I visited will be more involved in helping set our nation back on the right path.

So, I end this with a challenge. On May 20th, there will be a primary in Kentucky. Use this as an opportunity to get in touch with people there about our fundamental beliefs about being our brother's keeper. Help people across this great nation of ours become more involved in repairing the moral fabric of our country.

What's wrong with West Virginia is that we are not talking enough to all Americans.