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October 30, 2008

New Tomdispatch

Everything Tom Dispatch publishes is worthwhile, but this piece by Robert S. Eshelman is especially good. Be sure to read it all:

Meeting Myself in Bucks County
Pennsylvania in the Political (and Personal) Crucible

By Robert S. Eshelman

In 1991, at age 17, I fled Bucks County, an overwhelmingly white, working-class region in southeast Pennsylvania where I grew up. I left because the life of the working class was brutal and I wanted no part of it. I cringed at the racism and xenophobia that seemed to rise out of the anxieties of precarious labor. I desperately hoped there was some alternative to coming home each day looking as battered as did so many grown-ups I would catch staring blankly into TV screens or half-empty glasses of beer.

My father was laid off twice in the 1980s, two recessions ago, first from his job at a mustard factory, which packed up and moved south, and later from a company that produced tractor-trailer doors and side-view mirrors. I've only seen him cry twice. The first time was during his brother's funeral; Uncle Jim was killed in a drunk-driving accident. The next time was when he and I had an argument about my skipping a night of work at my first dishwashing job. He demanded I go; I spit back that at least I had a job -- cruel words from a 14-year-old with a Mohawk. Recently, the tip of one of his fingers was shorn clear off while working with a shrink-wrap machine with defective safety gear. He didn't push the issue with the employee compensation folks, though, for fear of creating problems.

My mom has worked in the same factory for more than 30 years. Along with about a hundred others, some immigrants from Southeast Asia, she makes small motors that can be used in dialysis machines, rotating advertising signs, or those amusement park games where you maneuver a metal claw hoping to extricate a small fuzzy animal. I'm amazed this type of production still exists in the U.S. So is she, especially since a holding company took over from the original family owners and, in turn, sold the firm to a tight-fisted corporation that's been cutting corners -- and jobs.

Statistics tell us that Bucks County -- one of those places Nixon's "southern strategy" hit hard when, under Ronald Reagan, it moved north in the 1980s -- has been undergoing a political sea change. The pressure of the Obama campaign and its well organized "ground game," as well as the global economic meltdown and diminished support for the war in Iraq have all had their effect.

For the first time since the 1960s, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the county. Since April the Democratic Party has outpaced Republicans in registering voters by a margin of almost two to one. In fact -- and this should stun anyone -- the total number of new voters who choose "Independent," "no affiliation," "the Green Party," or other even smaller third party options surpassed Republican Party registration in those months. Think of that as just one more small indication of the utter bankruptcy of the Bush years and, of course, of the Grand Old Party.

The rest.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at October 30, 2008 04:59 PM

this will sound strange but sometime in the spring -- maybe during the college basketball tournament -- i saw an article in some deep-sports journal that talked about how the situation for african-american pro football players had changed -- how it was no longer required that quarterbacks be white.

i thought that was interesting in terms of the election -- having already called the dem nomination for obama -- and did a little more poking around, to learn that the top ranked college football teams, the ratio of white:black quarterbacks had more than inverted in less than 10 years. and these are heartland schools, purple and red states.

i didn't know what else to make of it -- beyond what has been a long slow abandonment of baseball by black athletes, and quarterback is one position you'd expect baseball-type athletes to end up -- but i was pretty sure the if-ever "bradley effect" was not a big deal.

Posted by: hapa at October 30, 2008 06:37 PM

I lived in Ewing, NJ for 40 years, just across the Delaware from Bucks County. Greatly enjoyed the Eshelman piece, but am puzzled that he doesn't mention the money and prestige of Yardley and other communities in Bucks. I suspect the people who live there--who are all supposed to be wealthy and upper class--are mostly Republicans. Wonder if their political preferences have changed.

Posted by: Rosemary Molloy at October 31, 2008 09:31 AM

Thanks for that, Rosemary. I had exactly the same thought because I went to a Quaker high school in Bucks County, two-thirds boarding students from all over and one-third day students.

The day students' families were just flat-out rich -- stockbrokers, car dealership owners, artists from New Hope -- and the middle class component of the day students seemed to be comfortable birthright Quaker families who had gone to the school for generations.

Gritty townships alternated with stretches of country dotted with beautiful old Pennsylvania tan stone houses. I know there's been massive suburban growth since I was there, but somehow I doubt the stockbrokers left those old houses even as the green space around them shrank.

Posted by: Nell at October 31, 2008 11:16 AM learn that the top ranked college football teams, the ratio of white:black quarterbacks had more than inverted in less than 10 years.

That's a good observation. I thought the guy would get plinked off* due to racism, redneckery, etc, but looking at it that way, the basic football watching couch potato wouldn't really object to a black president if they got conditioned to find black quarterbacks as accomplished and competent based on demonstrated abilities and merit.

Whoda thunk it? Not me certainly, but then I'm wrong pretty routinely.

*Still not out of the woods though. Them's some mean ass commercials I'm seeing in the last few days. The ugly language left the McCain rallies and is now on the tee-vee every night courtesy of "Let Freedom Ring" and the Goptrust.

Posted by: Labiche at October 31, 2008 05:39 PM

"..I strolled with my mother around a shopping center *nestled* in one of the county's more upscale..."

Posted by: S Brennan at October 31, 2008 07:49 PM