Saturday, April 26, 2008

DNA in the ground and the farmer's daughter +

David Seaton's News Links
I'm still rolling Obama's "Bittergate" remarks around in my head... I'm pissed off, but not at all in the same way that most of the people who say they are, say they are.

Certainly I don't think there is a racial element in this particular thing. For example, I agree with a lot of what Reverend Wright says. And I have no problem at all with Bill Ayers, who has done a fantastic job helping to improve Chicago's schools... However nobody could accuse me of being very mainstream and I am not running for president of 300 million people.

What I don't like about the way Obama talked about small towns is how dumb the remarks seemed. I think they are incredibly shallow. As I remember his autobiography, some of his dad's people still live in villages and he wasn't exactly living in Jakarta during his Indonesian years. My "journey" has taught me that small towns and small townies are much the same all over the world

I have mentioned in previous posts that although a daily espresso sipper (that's the only coffee available here) I have extensive, clod hopping, shit-kicker roots. I spent my childhood summers in the tiny town in Western Illinois where my maternal grandmother was raised and my father's people were Iowa farmers.

Now before I wax too sentimental on small towns, I confess I live in Madrid, because, unlike in many countries, here I can live anonymously in the center of a big city without being a plutocrat or risking my life at every turn. I think I would mutilate myself before living in a small town anywhere. (I would commit suicide before living in suburb anywhere). But I understand small towns and I understand why people live in them and I respect why they do.

A small town is an extended family. In my granny's village all the old folks who were her childhood playmates told me curious stories of my great, great grandfather and about what an amazing rip my highly respectable, Victorian granny had been as as a girl; galloping her horse bareback through the fields and jumping the fences with her Celtic, auburn hair flaming in the breeze.

People in small towns know everything about their neighbors and they are liable to walk in unannounced into the middle of your house at anytime of the day or night... always by the kitchen door (the front door is only for funerals). They are always there for you when you need them because they are always there even when you don't need them and woe to you if you ever turn them away. You have to always stop in the street and say hello to everyone you meet and ask after everybody and their family's health... always. Every resident of a small town is a politician by birth and training.

There were people in my granny's town that had tried living in the city and didn't like it and the reasons they gave were all about being human. They didn't like how impersonal the city was, how nobody seemed to care much for anybody else and how nobody had any time for anything.

Here in Madrid, I spend my weekends near a mountain village an hour and a half away from town. The people in that village have the same feeling about each other as in my grandma's town. And to take it even farther away... I worked as a photojournalist in Israel for year in the 70's. I had a wonderful Israeli girlfriend who worked in a picture magazine and she came from an ultra-left wing, "Young Red Guards" kibbutz. We use to go there on weekends and all those folks, atheist, Polish Stalinists, were just like the folks in my granny's village.

Everything is known instantly. Once when I was about ten, I was hanging out with my little friends in store when a guy running for state senate came in. I talked him into buying us all bottles of pop and candy bars and when he said for me to tell my parents to vote for him, I said they voted in Chicago. In a week it was all over the county that he had been slickered by a little city kid. His career was ruined. The country is about weighing and judging. The opinion of your peers is the most important thing in life in a small town.

Now to church and guns and aversion to the "other".

Church: There are some people in villages who are religious, I'm sure, but no more than other place. Believe me, people in small towns go to church because small town life is a performance and you have to seen in church. My granny told me that if I ever went to live in a small town, the church would be where I would find a job and make new friends. She also said the first thing to do was to check out the graveyard and memorize the surnames and which ones had expensive family crypts, that way I would learn who was who without asking too many nosy questions.

Guns: My granny's village is between the Illinois and the Mississippi rivers and the duck hunting is fantastic and the men used to go out all season. And as a child I plucked many a duck. A dead mallard is a beautiful thing to hold in your hand and pull the feathers off. Occasionally they are good to eat. Another thing that men and women who had returned from the city said they missed so much was the outdoor life. Do they "cling" to their guns? You bet! Ever try to kill a duck with a slingshot?

The "other": As I stated at the beginning, a village is an extended family and outsiders of any kind are like house guests; who are said to be like fish: after a couple of days they stink. The only reason I could mingle freely, was because my grandma was born in the village and the graveyard was filled with my DNA going back a hundred years. The definition of "home" as a place they have to let you into, comes to mind. Certainly if the stranger is here to lower the dollar per hour, it is perfectly legitimate to resent it. This, I believe is what the Marxists used to call a "contradiction".

Also country people know how to do a lot of cool stuff. Check out how the beautiful farmer's daughter above is controlling the sheep with her legs while smiling at the photographer.

Obama's was a real, dumb remark. I still don't understand how he could be that dumb. DS


Kevin E said...

I think you can never underestimate the ability of people to live in a dream world of their own devising, especially those who know most of what they know from reading, because they spend most of their time in an academic setting.

I know, because I'm like this myself. I'm a very good intellectual and citizen of the academy, and I know an enormous amount about books and ideas; I would also be the worst president since Warren G. Harding, because I'm completely indecisive and all hung up on aesthetic questions.

One reason I'm not supporting Obama is because I recognize the type: I see it in the mirror every morning. There's no substitute for experience, and he has very, very little, plus an enormous amount of academic cocooning.

The most damning thing about his bio for me is that he was bored in the senate and decided just to leapfrog his apprenticeship in the tawdry real world of our politics and become president.

When I taught in high schools early in my career, I also used to see people apply for principal after two years in the classroom: they always became, of course, horrible principals--and they were actually surprised that they were, because in their minds, they knew they could do the job.

It's interesting that he loses Catholics and carries Protestants: he does better with people who believe in election--the original kind.

SolidPhil said...

I'm a newcomer to the country - came to Berkshire County, MA 22 years ago from the Boston suburbs - and I still can't tell a sheep from a goat. Anyway, yes, she is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I have had experiences in small frontier towns and I agree with your comments but I don't feel the need to soul search about this... Obama's comment is like racism... a demeaning and false generalization about a whole group of humanity...
I must say that although I think that the USA is a vicious and destructive empire... I think that the Rev. Wrights are the Rev Wrongs. The USA has made progress in the area of race.. There is still much to be done that is race specific (the criminal justice system for one)... The Rev Wright's can't acknowledge the progress because they hang out in the hate niche. This primary has made me understand why the so called left progressive / blog left will never make it into the mainstream. They can't acknowledge it either.. White people are sick of the white guilt trip.. particularly working class white people... as well they should be.

RC said...

I like your observations about the city, the country and the in between.
But, having lived in those places in the US {Brooklyn, Manhattan, North Jersey, Southern Connecticut, Rural PA, Upstate NY} very long ago {thirty years ago}and having not been in the US at all from February 1987 until September 2005, I have to say that the entire section of the US, urban and very rural, from Connecticut to North Carolina, had changed radically during that period, so much so that while I recognized all of it physically, psychologically it is now a different universe than in 1979.
I am just asking, when was the last time you were actually in rural Illinois or rural Pennsylvania or even Manhattan?
I tend to avoid questions about what I think about places in the US and what I think about the people there now because I have no damn idea at this point. In fact, I think the entire US population is like that frog in the slowly heating pot, what is wrong with the US citizenry?
I presently live on an island off the coast of another island, a colony of a another colony, with a local population isolated, ignorant and comically removed from any international concerns or sophistication.
The internet preserves my sanity and since I have never really related to society anywhere all that much anyway as it is made up of humans, a typically unpredictable and ridiculously unreliable species, tending however to amiability when on their best behavior, I am happy here with the place itself, while studiously ignoring all facets of the local society and modern anthropological conundrums.
I live in Macondo, plain and simple, and I treat the absurd as sublime and expect little more.
As to what Obama has expressed about rural America? I have been gone from the US far too long to have any idea.
Also, I disagree. Small towns are not all the same, but they have similarities. Finally, as a political statement, Obama screwed up in his commentary about small towns, whether he is right or wrong in his analysis. Yes, you are right Dave, he has to remember that in the game of politics the face is not a poker face, yet the cards are held very close. He forgot.

Anonymous said...

This year is different, but nobody has run from the Senate and won since JFK...

...Obama knew that the longer he stayed in the senate then the more compromises he would have made that could be used against him in attack ads.

Now, of course, the race is all about senators, but that was not the case when Obama was making his calculations about whether to run...

...campaign reform would make it easier for 'change' candidates to garner experience before running.