Fear & loathing in Ohio

October 8, 2008 at 3:42 pm | Posted in U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

George Packer’s essay about the decay & disaffection in working class Ohio is a Pulitzer-worthy piece of journalism. At just under 8,000 words it’s a pretty hefty read, but certainly worth it if you want a compelling portrait of how culture, politics & identity all collide in a state like this.

To give you a flavour of the piece, this description of an Obama supporter’s attempts at canvassing in a pretty tough & unreceptive county demonstrates the extent of the difficulty his campaign has had there:

One day in Athens, I met Latisha Price. She was a big-boned blonde of thirty-seven, with a raw complexion, an Appalachian twang, and a forthright, vulnerable manner. “I come from a very bad background,” she said within minutes of meeting me. Her mother had been an alcoholic, and Price had grown up in a series of foster homes, attending fourteen different schools. From the age of fifteen, she had been on her own, falling in with a series of abusive men, about whom she didn’t want to say much. At twenty, she got a job in a nursing home; she still works there, as a cook and a nursing assistant.
[…]

Price and I drove down Route 33 from Athens, into Meigs County and a town called Pomeroy, which once had been a loading dock for coal barges and now lay prostrate and blighted along the Ohio River. Across the river was West Virginia. Inasmuch as Price had a home town, Pomeroy was it.

“Meigs County is one of the worst,” Price said as we drove. “We’re going to a racist area—I won’t lie to you. I have heard, pardon my French, ‘Get the fuck off my porch, I’m not voting for no nigger.’ ” A few days earlier, she had twice been chased away by dogs. Price canvassed for Obama alone day after day, with a can of Mace in the car. She had learned not to wear an Obama T-shirt. People didn’t react well—they seemed to take it as someone telling them whom to vote for.

She parked on a street that ran along the foot of the rock face looming over Pomeroy. It was early afternoon. There was no sign of life on the street except for two boxers in a yard, unleashed and barking at us. Price told me that their collars would register a shock if the dogs crossed a buried wire.

“I’m not scared of my home town,” Price said. “I’m a pretty tough girl. Gotta be.”

[…]

She didn’t leave the sidewalk to speak to the owner of the two snarling dogs. He said that he would probably vote for McCain, because he was a veteran. A shirtless young man in his underwear, who seemed to have just woken up, said that he was an Obama supporter and knew a few others. There was an AIDS ribbon tattooed on his right shoulder. “The ignorant ones that don’t vote, they say Obama’s a nigger and he’s going to be assassinated,” the young man said. “That is classic Meigs County.” Farther down the street, two women and a little girl—three generations of a family—were getting out of a car. The grandmother said that she was undecided. She thought that McCain was wrong on the war, but she wasn’t sure about Obama. Price left her with some literature and her phone number.

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