By Joe Bageant
When it comes to expressing plain truths, few are as gifted as American rednecks. During recent travels in the Appalachian communities of West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky I've collected scores of their comments on our national condition and especially President Barack Obama.
In America, all successful politicians are first and foremost successfully marketed brands. In fact, the Obama campaign was named Advertising Age's 2008 marketer of the year. George W. Bush's brand may have "collapsed," as they say on Madison Avenue, but things don't change much. Rednecks instinctively know this:
"It don't matter who gets to warm his butt in the White House chair," says a West Virginia trucker. "The top dogs eat high on the hog and the little dogs eat the tails and ears. That's what them bailouts is all about, and that's the way it is no matter who's president. So you might as well vote for the guy who looks like the most fun because you gonna be watching his ass on television for the next eight years."
Yup. Rednecks do have a way of getting right down to the bone of the matter. For example, the news shows us Obama in an auto plant. We see Obama talking to the troops in Iraq. Obama ladling out grubs in a soup kitchen. That's the stuff of urban liberal wet dreams. But a fellow over in the mountains of Mineral County West Virginia, a guy named Pinch who sells fence posts, poles and firewood out of his back yard, puts it like this:
"Nothing against Obama, mind you, but the last time I looked, the car plants was dead meat. Obama has never even come close to serving in the military, except for serving up that batch of hash in Baghdad. And there he was with his wife in a soup kitchen for god sake! Things has got so bad that we've got soup kitchens all over this country now. So, two millionaires in their armored limo drop by a soup kitchen, and this is supposed to make me feel good about my country?"
To be sure, the Obama brand is a feel good brand. Like those Hallmark talking digital greeting cards we geezers send one another that say "You're still sexy baby!" Or "How's it hanging stud?" we know of course, the only things hanging are our beer bellies and the fat on our upper arms. But it makes us feel good anyway. For about ten seconds.
What makes us feel good in the long term is getting back to the true meaning of being an American – buying stuff and racking up debt. Still, who'd have ever thought we'd see the president of the United States on television telling us, "There's never been a better time to refinance our homes", or buy a car?, which is exactly what he did last month.
Hawking home refis seems a bit unpresidential, to some of us. But then too, this is America, where, by orders of President Bush, we struck back hard at the 911 terrorists by going shopping. In any case, a local mortgage lender here in Winchester, Virginia is running ads with pictures of Obama and quoting him on the virtue of debt. That lender is one cast iron Obama hating Republican. So maybe Obama is truly a uniter after all.
As to America's working class debt serfdom, some of us were resigned to that a long time ago. My former neighbor, Fat Larry (whose real name is Myron, and is thus happy enough to be called Fat Larry) says: "Hey, look, I don't care if Obama is putting us in debt. I was already in hock for the rest of my life before they started hollering about a 'debt crisis'". Nor is he opposed to accepting a handout: "Obama can let a smidgen of them trillions land in my poke anytime. Right now I got no problems fifty thousand bucks wouldn't fix."
Not to worry Larry! According to our media, the cavalry is on the way to our rescue. Arrival time is estimated to be in two years. That's when employment is supposed to start coming back, after another year or so of continued job losses.
Meanwhile, Obama is humping the pump in an effort to re-inflate an economy that looks more every day like a balloon with a 55 caliber bullet hole in it. He's even tried to get some of the escaped air back into the balloon by making corporations return a few billion dollars of the trillions in bailout money that disappeared the minute it crossed their paws. "Seems to me," says Fat Larry, "he should'a give the money back to me. It was mine to start with."
Personally, I really cannot bitch too much about Obama's giveaways. At the end of this month he's sending me a $250 check — stimulus money being handed out to us retirees — which is about the only good thing I have encountered so far about getting old.
Indeed, it's cause for celebration. So I'm gonna call ole Larry and we're going out to get so damned stimulated we can't walk home.
Postscript: Aw hell! The front page of today's newspaper tells me the $250 stimulus payment is only a loan from the government, and that I will have to pay it back next April. In this new America, we are all issued debt, whether we ask for it or not (sigh).