No doubt about it, Barack Obama made a mistake a few weeks back when said that voters in some small towns are "bitter" people who cling to guns and religion. In part, of course, he was wrong for exactly the reason that the critics stated, that it was a weak generalization and that many people go to church because of their affirmative love of God or own guns because of a rural passion for hunting.
But frankly, there's something else. He was also giving a few folks too much of a break in calling them "bitter" and trying to explain it away. Some American voters are not bitter -- but willfully and stubbornly ignorant. You want me to name names? OK, how about Leonard Simpson, a 67-year-old retired coalminer from Mingo County, West Va.:
“I heard that Obama is a Muslim and his wife’s an atheist,” said Mr Simpson, drawing on a cigarette outside the fire station in Williamson, a coalmining town of 3,400 people surrounded by lush wooded hillsides.
Mr. Simpson may be a perfectly good human being in other regards, but when it comes to this presidential election, in an age where information is readly available, even in rural West Virginia, he is willfully ignorant. You hear the words "personal responsibility" used in connection with issues like crime or the breakup of families, and I agree -- but aren't voters personally responsible for knowing facts?
So, too, with this man:
Josh Fry, a 24-year-old ambulance driver from Williamson, insisted he was not racist but said he would feel more comfortable with Mr McCain, the 71-year-old Vietnam war hero, in the White House. “I want someone who is a full-blooded American as president,” he said.
Tomorow night, Hillary Clinton is going to win a crushing victory in West Virginia, possibly by a margin as large as 70-30 percent. All the cable networks will give it wall-to-wall coverage, and you'll hear more blather about Obama's inability to "connect" with white working class voters -- and to suggest that lack of connectivity is somehow all Obama's fault. But when Clinton's vote total is swelled by the likes of people like this, do you honestly think there's something that Obama could be saying or doing that would get their support?
Look, whoever the next president is, he or she is going to need to fight for blue-collar, working class people, for retired coal miners and ambulance drivers who wants better access to health care. decent wages or job opportunities. I believe a candidate can win and then try to accomplish those things in 2008 -- to be a president for all Americans without pandering to the lowest instincts of some of them.
When the views of some voters like these are based on false conspiracy theories or just a distrust of an American solely because he doesn't look like them, we shouldn't criticize or blame that candidate for not getting their votes. In fact, it's a pretty powerful argument why America needs exactly the opposite -- a president with the ability to overcome such small mindedness, and unmask it for what it is.