I live in South/Central Pennsylvania. Yeah...you thought you had it rough.
Democratic strategist James Carville aptly summed up Pennsylvania with the following quote: "It's Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in the middle."
Trust me when I say that Mr. Carville hit that nail squarely on the head.
I live in a fairly blue-collar neighborhood, consisting of mostly small, ranch-style homes. When I walk my dog, I'm astounded by the number of McCain/Palin signs I see. Back during the 2004 election there were only two houses in the neighborhood with Kerry/Edwards yard signs - mine and the house belonging to the 70-something gay hairdresser up the street. This election? More of the same. But don't take my neighborhood for it. Drive anywhere around here (with the exception of the Harrisburg city limits) and you'll see more of the same. This great swath of PA between the state's two biggest cities is truly neo-con country.
Barack Obama got himself into a bit-o-the-trouble a ways back when he remarked about a certain cross-section of the American populace clinging to "religion and guns". This quote caused an uproar amongst the McCain-ites. Those of us with a more liberal mind set simply shrugged and said, "Yeah...and your point is?"
The only part of that quote I really take umbrage with is the word "clinging". I don't know that "clinging" is really the best way to describe the mind-set of these folks. For this sample of the population, guns and religion are a deeply-woven part of the fabric of daily life. I don't think they "cling" as much as they simply put undue emphasis on these things. I think about the people I know and debate politics with, and i've never heard guns come up. Note that some of these people are Republicans, and some of them hunters. The bottom line is they know that if Obama is elected, he's not going to send the liberal secret police out to collect their deer rifles. They know that Obama isn't going to burn down churches the day he's sworn in and make Islam the national religion. Thinking people know this.
Maybe I'm being simplistic or, god forbid, "elitist", but I think education plays a crucial role in these mind-sets. More to the point, a lack of education. When I say education, I don't necessarily mean schooling. Just because you have a college degree doesn't mean you're necessarily educated. I went to college with plenty of folks who could barely tie their own shoes, yet they breezed through with a 2.5 and graduated. When I say "educated" I mean educated on the issues. Reading multiple news sources (note I said reading, not watching) to get multiple takes on an issue and then forming an opinion based on the knowledge you gather. Researching an issue to get to why it's happening, rather than just taking a sound bite at face value. Mitigating factors. Historical context. Basically, looking at what lies beneath an issue to get a complete understanding.
Case in point is someone I know who shall remain nameless. He's a staunch Republican who believes everything he receives in his email in-box. You know the endless chain emails to which I refer. Truth be told, I get tired of sending him links to Snopes and Fact-Check to debunk this ridiculous garbage. I do it, though, because I desperately want him to think before he swallows something hook, line and sinker with nary a thought. Occasionally he'll try to dazzle me with a "legitimate" news piece detailing Obama's plans to burn America to the ground. Every one of them are opinion pieces from a right-wing talking head. I lower my head, pound it against my desk and sob quietly to myself. There's no thought, research or reason behind his political leanings. He swallows propoganda and then pulls the "Republican" lever in the voting booth. Case closed.
There's an ad running in Pennsylvania for John McCain. In this ad, a young guy in a camo ball cap sits with his girlfriend next to his pickup truck, gun rack clearly visible in the window. An American flag flaps from the porch. He goes on to tell us that Barack Obama is going to take away his guns and, with them, his freedoms. This is all baseless, as simple research will tell you. However, to the uneducated individual, this sound bite instills the all important kernel of fear.
What about religion, you say? Quite honestly, I could write a book about that. Let's just sum it up by saying that there's a loud segment of the American populace who would vote for Stalin if he was the anti-abortion candidate. That's their one and only issue, and to argue against it is pointless. (For the record, I always use "anti-abortion", never "pro-life". The majority of these no abortion folks support capital punishment, which is hardly a "pro-life" stance in my book.) This segment of the population thinks Anne Coulter is the bees knees and almost craves war in the Middle East, as this just gets us one step closer to Christ's return. What else can I say? They're free to think and believe as they choose, but I'd be lying if I said these people and their single-minded fanaticism didn't scare the shit out of me.
Please know that in this little area in which I live there are lots of educated, decent and free-thinking people of all political stripes. I by no means mean to paint an entire region with a broad brush. But they're out there...the judgmental non-thinkers. Out there in droves.
This is Pennsyl-Bama, ya'll.