13 April 2008

Friends, Romans, Country Bumpkins

...lend me your browser windows. I come here not to defend Barack Obama's purported "bitter bit," but to praise it. He was correct, and there's nothing wrong with that, nor any shame to anyone in admitting it.

Now, before y'all lynch me, understand that I live in the middle of small-town America; in farm country. I've lived in small-town, farm-country Europe, too. I can recognize "bitter" when I see it, particularly "bitter" related to "job losses." And Obama's comment that small-town Pennsylvanians are resorting to wingnuttish religiosity, gun shows, etc. has more than a ring of truth to it. Unfortunately, this matches up with a news item in the local rag today, announcing the opening of a meat shop that will exclusively carry halal products. I give it two weeks at the outside before some of the locals spray-paint hate speech on the place, or run through the parking lot and key the vehicles parked immediately outside.

Is there some reason that "bitterness" at job loss is a shameful reaction? Is there some reason that "bitterness" leading to embracing of activities and beliefs that reject the validity of the job losses, or at least the validity of the stated reasons for the job losses, is shameful? Not that I'm aware of. Of course, I'm one of those capital-L Liberal capital-I Intellectuals, so most of the "invalid"/"unjustifiable" job losses I pay any attention to make my bitterness-reaction go toward a different set of activities and beliefs than gun shows and floor shows: I end up at the library and at concerts, both of which offer far more dangerous ammunition than any gun show.

What Obama has really run into is an attitude similar to the upper- and middle-class Victorian attitude toward sex: Just don't talk about it, and maybe the horrid thing will go away. Just like sex, though, bitterness (and, for that matter, job losses) is always going to be with us. So, for that matter, will the frightened search for the good old days that never were. (More social conservatives should stop to consider how their philosophy parallels that of William Morris and his search for a Middle Ages that never was... but that's for another time.)

It's time for the American polity to realize that criticizing, or even just offhandedly explaining, one aspect of a social trend in one part of society is not tantamount to a deadly insult to one's entire identity. Nobody is perfect, and the sooner we start actually talking and thinking so the better.