Tuesday, April 15, 2008


I am a native of Western Pennsylvania, grew up in what used to be a small steel town. My father, grandfather, and uncle worked for Alcoa. I left the Pittsburgh area when I joined the army in 1980; the only relatively local teaching job I could find paid $8500.

I still visit my parents in the house where I grew up. My roots to Pittsburgh are deep and solid; the Post-Gazette's web site is regular reading for me. I've lived from Atlanta to Boston to Chicago to Washington DC, but I still consider myself a Pennsylvanian.

That's why the furor over Obama's "bitter" comments offends me. Over the past forty years, the people he's talking about—people I grew up with—have seen their jobs, their medical insurance, and their pensions disappear. Their children—such as me—have moved away to find jobs with futures. Every "improvement" in the American economy has passed them by. Damn right they're bitter. If they seem insular and untrusting, that's because they're down to a few things they can depend on, and they're holding onto them for dear life. If they think every advance made by another group comes at their expense, they have forty years of experience of watching it. The anger is misdirected—more of what they lost has gone to wealthy whites than poor blacks—in large part because Republicans have based their success over the past three decades on portraying the races as natural foes, when the real issue has been class.

Obama’s comments will not play as much of a role as the media predicts for one reason: little offense will be taken. These people know they're bitter. They're used to it, and they might even like Obama a little more for recognizing it in them.

My life and family are established here now; I'm not likely to move back to Pittsburgh. It still makes me feel good to see Pennsylvania play an important role in this pivotal election, as the parts of it I know so well have been taken for granted for so long.

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