I love Ohio.
The probably seems like a strange statement, particularly for those who know me. And I won’t deny that my relationship with Ohio is one of conflict. But I was born and raised there and no matter how comfortable I get out here in California, Ohio will always be home to me.
I spent 24 years in Ohio. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to grow up. There’s some truth in what the media says about Ohio being a microcosm of America, although I think there’s far less truth in it than we’re led to believe. It’s a unique place and the social structures in place there are wide ranging and complex. I know this because I managed to experience the range in my two and half decades living there.
Which is why I found the information that came out of Ohio days before the election and the day after the election disappointing, but not really shocking.
Last Sunday on 60 Minutes (video clips available on Youtube and Yahoo and, I would imagine, the CBS site) a small sampling of people from Chillicothe, Ohio were interviewed. If you know anything about Chillicothe, you know it’s a paper town. The paper industry is what keeps that town afloat and, unfortunately for those visiting, what makes it smell the way it does.
There was a particularly moving moment when one of the men in the group said he was losing his job at the paper mill, the place he’d worked for 29 years and where his father had worked for 41. He says that he doesn’t know what to do and, to make matters worse, that his wife has MS.
Everyone in the room had tears in their eyes. This was the real tragedy of what happens in Ohio right there.
That same man was asked who he was voting for. He mentioned that he had some concerns about Obama. Those concerns were that Obama didn’t know the national anthem, that he wouldn’t swear “on the Holy Bible,” and that he had Muslim beliefs. The man said he’d heard all these things, but couldn’t point to a single source. Thankfully, Steve Kroft informed the man that none of those things were true.
The kicker to this — as if it weren’t bad enough — is that the man prefaced his concerns about Obama with “I’m leaning towards Obama.” Yes, he was leaning towards the man he thought was a Muslim who wouldn’t swear on the Holy Bible and didn’t know the national anthem (I think it’s safe to assume he meant pledge of allegiance).
Which then begs the question, of course, what does he think of Hillary? But watching that interview, I don’t think he had any intention of voting for Obama. I think he said those things because, as is often times the case in Ohio, no one wants to seem prejudiced even though they are. Had he said he was voting for Hillary he was worried he’d come off as racist for not voting for Obama.
I have no proof of that assumption. I’m just basing it on my experiences.
This fine fellow has a “Osama For Obama” t-shirt, which he decided to wear to the Clinton rally last night in Ohio. He has a friend who makes the shirt. He explains in the video that the issue he has is that Obama is lying when he says he was never a Muslim. Guy with the shirt contends that Obama was a Muslim for the first six years of his life because his father was a Muslim (and his grandfather).
Ignoring the obvious fault of attaching a religious affiliation with a 6 year old, none of this explains how an “Osama For Obama” t-shirt connects to Shirt Guy’s concerns.
It’s doesn’t, of course, but that’s beside the point. The intent is to stir up prejudices, bigotry that lies inside an overwhelming number of Ohioans, no matter what part of the state they’re from. Shirt Guy lives in Columbus, home of Ohio State University.
Again, I say these things from experience. I grew up in Northeast Ohio, closer to Canada than to the South, yet I went to school with people who wore “The South will rise again” t-shirts and had Confederate flags on the back of their trucks. These were people who had been born and raised in my home town, people without any real connection to the South…aside from deep rooted bigotry.
Just to hammer the point home, exit polls indicate that 20% of voters in Ohio last night said that race was an issue in who they voted for. I can’t imagine it was an issue for Hillary.
Like I said, none of this really surprises me, having spent 24 years there. I’m just disappointed.
Much of this has to be pieced together, but the problems in Ohio could become very cut and dried very soon. If Obama wins the nomination he will be running against McCain, a man who said last night in his speech that he thinks the war in Iraq was a good idea (Ohio has lost countless men and women — I don’t think I know anyone back home who hasn’t been touched in some way by the war), who thinks free trade is a good idea (Ohio has lost more jobs than any other state because of free trade), and who thinks we should give tax cuts to businesses. He is exactly the opposite of what the people in Ohio want and he’s white.
If Obama wins the nomination, he will have the issues on his side in Ohio. And time will tell if the people vote based on that or on the color of his skin. As a native son, I’m hoping for the former.