Sunday, February 08, 2009

Should Obama Help Elkhart?

Tomorrow, President Obama will make a speech in Elkhart, Indiana--a town very near where Fosco grew up (he still knows people who live there). It will be O's first visit with ordinary (trust me: very ordinary) Americans since becoming president. He will use the speech to play up the stimulus package and he couldn't have chosen a better place. Elkhart currently has the highest unemployment in the US (eighteen percent, according to Elkhart's mayor). This piece in USA Today offers the whole sad story about Elkhart.

You see, up until a few years ago, Elkhart used to call itself the "RV Capital of the World." They even have an RV Hall of Fame (Fosco has not visited yet, but Todd volunteers to give tours there on Sundays). Of course, the bad news for Elkhart is that the RV industry is not going to recover. Ever. The cheap-gas era is over. And I don't see "the electric RV" in my crystal ball. And the Senate Republicans can cut income taxes as much as they want (not that they really want to cut taxes for the lower middle class), but it's not going to bring RV jobs back to Elkhart.

I mean, I'm sure some of the Neo-Confederates would only be too happy to offer some low-paying, no benefits jobs to Elkhartians (let's open another WalMart!), but that's not really the kind of jobs that Elkhart needs, right? Hey, I have an idea: what if we invest in education and infrastructure! Maybe we could re-train some workers and set others to work on our crumbling transportation and electrical grids. Hmmm. I wish someone were proposing that kind of plan...

But do you know what's so maddening about Elkhart? The entire local economy has been "cratering" (to quote a geriatric schizoid) for over a year; and yet, this deeply racist and die-hard fundamentalist city still couldn't bring itself to vote for Obama last November. Fosco wants to fly back to Elkhart and grab each McCain voter by the collar and shake him or her: if the election had gone differently, do you really think John McCain would be giving a flying fuck about your hick-ass town right now? But hey--I'm sure you'd find unemployment less hopeless as long as there were fewer overseas abortions and a family of certifiable morons living in the Vice President's mansion.

At least some people in Elkhart have come around. As the USA Today article notes:

This area did not vote for Obama in November, but The Elkhart Truth newspaper is on board with that message now. "President Obama needs to help Congress understand that the stimulus package isn't about politics. It's about survival," the newspaper said in a Sunday editorial.
Maybe it would help if the residents of Elkhart (and other cities in Indiana) made a few calls to their elected representatives--and thought twice about voting for the Republican ones next election cycle.

Another Obama convert (sort of):
It feels that way to Ed Neufeldt, a father of seven who lost his $20-an-hour job in September. He had been building RVs at Monaco Coach for 32 years when his boss came out of a meeting in tears and announced that the company was closing its plant, putting 1,400 out of work.

Neufeldt, 62, has two children living at home, and two of his grown daughters and their husbands — all four also RV industry workers — are out of work as well.

When his unemployment runs out next month, "I don't know what I'm going to do," Neufeldt says. "I've been trying to find a job, but there aren't any jobs out there. I can't even get a minimum-wage job."

He didn't vote for Obama, but he's backing him now. In fact, Neufeldt will introduce the president at Monday's town-hall-style meeting. "Sometimes you don't care too much for the coach," he says, "but you're praying for him to win."
After eight years of a president who essentially ignored large portions of the electorate because they didn't vote for him (remember black people in New Orleans?), I think we finally may have elected someone who is willing to help all Americans--regardless of whether they can reciprocate with votes/donations. And while Fosco suspects that there are a number of people in Elkhart who don't really deserve Obama's help, it makes it all the more moving that they are going to get it anyway.

I hope Obama can help Elkhart. And I hope Elkhart can bring iself to acknowledge him when he does.

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