Wednesday, October 22
An open letter to Nancy Pfotenhauer.
I may claim Alabama as my current place of residence and Georgia as my alma mater, but Virginia is technically my home state, the place where I was born. I popped out of my mother's uterus at Roanoke Memorial Hospital, lived there until I was about two and a half, spent another five years down the road in Radford, lived in Lynchburg for a year where I had my first job out of college. My dad was born in Richmond and my mom was born in Fredericksburg; mom's side of the family still resides on their family farm in Caroline County, and my dad still has siblings and nieces and nephews from the D.C. suburbs all the way down I-81 to Blacksburg. So I think I know the state pretty well.
Well enough, in any case, to ask you: Who the hell do you think you are, dividing my home state into "real Virginia" and (I'm inferring here) fake Virginia like that?
You attended George Mason University for grad school and, as you said, currently live in Fairfax County; I've been unable to locate any evidence that you've ever set foot in what you call "real Virginia" at all. So let me tell you a little bit about this part of the state, the part that I grew up in. Last week, more than 10,000 people came out in the driving rain in Roanoke -- yup, my birthplace, down in that southwest part of the state -- to hear Barack Obama speak. In Lynchburg, home of the late Jerry Falwell's ministry and university, I still keep in touch with friends and former co-workers who intend to vote for Obama. And over in the rolling hills of Caroline County, Tidewater farming country, I've got relatives who get up at 5 a.m. to feed the cows, work hard, and go to church every Sunday -- and they didn't vote for Bush in 2004 and have shown no intention of voting for McCain this year.
Meanwhile, up in that northern part of the state you tossed off as the breeding ground of a bunch of D.C. carpetbaggers, I have other relatives who are also regular churchgoers, who raised their families well and are now seeing that effort reflected in a new generation as their kids raise beautiful, stable families of their own -- the kinds of values I'm guessing you so highly prize in those "real Virginians" you've only ever seen on TV. They've worked hard to make good lives for themselves and are just as worried as the folks in Roanoke and Bowling Green and Radford about how the economic crisis is going to affect them. And without naming names, I can think of specific relatives who will be voting for Obama this year, and other specific relatives who almost certainly won't be -- but that just goes to show you how not everybody in the state, even in that supposedly homogenous lump of D.C. expatriates in northern Virginia, is as easily categorized as you seem to think they are.
Four years ago, Ms. Pfotenhauer, people on your side of the aisle roundly criticized John Edwards for his "two Americas" rhetoric, calling it "divisive" and "class warfare" -- and now you're doing pretty much the exact same thing in an effort to dig a gap between Obama supporters and the hard-working, salt-of-the-earth types who live in rural areas and supposedly harbor more "traditional" values. You've been so busy digging that trench, though, that you've missed something important: Those two groups actually have a whole lot of people in common. In Virginia, for instance, every poll taken this month has shown Obama in the lead -- by double digits, according to the last Rasmussen poll, and I'm sorry, a margin that big can't consist solely of latte-sipping Fairfax County elites. In North Dakota, an almost entirely rural state that no Democrat has won since LBJ routed Goldwater in '64, the most recent poll showed Obama dead even with McCain. Georgia, where my parents still live, went for Bush by 17 points in 2004 but has only seen fit to give your guy a 5.4-point margin that's getting smaller by the day. And in Iowa -- a state that's both literally and figuratively about as close to Middle America as it's possible to get -- so many "real Americans" are supporting Obama that your campaign has evidently given up on campaigning there.
How did so many of these non-big-city-living, non-carpetbagging, "real" Americans -- the kind of folks whom, if I understand you correctly, you're sort of counting on to carry John McCain to victory -- end up in Obama's column? I'm not Larry Sabato and I don't have a political-science degree, but I'll hazard a guess: Instead of addressing health care or talking frankly about taxes or coming up with a plan for energy independence any more substantial than "drill baby drill" -- all of which Obama has done, incidentally -- you guys have apparently been spending your time in the back of the Straight Talk Express, hunched over a U.S. map, drawing what I can only imagine are fantastically intricate lines to separate fake America, the part from which you don't seek any support, from the "real" parts. While Obama has been talking issues, you've been picking out certain isolated pockets of the country -- not regions, not even states, but evidently parts of states -- where name-dropping Bill Ayers and tossing off tired old scare words like "socialist" will do the most damage.
Seriously, Ms. Pfotenhauer, has it not sunk in yet that that isn't working? I mean, I can't even begin to hazard a guess as to how many voters live in what you define as "real Virginia" or "real America" or whatever else, but clearly it isn't as many as you thought there were, or else you wouldn't be behind in the polls right now. You've got a lot of ground to make up and a lot of minds to change if you're going to win, so maybe now's the time to stop spending so much energy picking out the "real" Americans and start building a vision that resonates with all Americans. You know, kind of like Barack Obama's been trying to do.
Look, I'm not naive -- I know there are big differences between northern and southern Virginia, just like there are differences between Los Angeles and Lower Alabama, Manhattan (New York) and Manhattan (Kansas), etc. etc. etc. But the fact remains, all those places are still going to have only one president come November 5. If John McCain only wants to be president of part of it, he's going to end up president of none of it -- which is exactly what someone with that kind of mindset deserves.
Now I've got to get back to work, where I won't be dwelling on whether Hollywood celebrities are warping my mind or whether latte-sipping New Yorkers like fried chicken or college football as much as I do; I'll be dwelling on doing my job and hoping that our shrinking state budget permits me to still have one come tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that. I'm willing to bet there are people in both northern Virginia and "real" Virginia who are having the same worries right about now -- maybe you should spend a little more time focusing on those universal types of issues than on trying to figure out which Virginian is which.