The Candidate in the Coal Fields
The pained smile on Clinton’s face said “Good Question.” Think of a defendant stumped under cross examination by an irrefutable piece of evidence. But her answer said much more than her views on coal mining. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she said, “other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant.” What was this context from which her meaning was wrongly plucked? “It didn’t mean that we were going to do it,” she said. “What we said is that is going to happen unless we take action to help and prevent it.”
That’s not what the 39-year-old Copley heard, nor was it what I heard. What I suspect we got was the logical conclusion of the “context” Clinton herself spelled out weeks earlier when she confirmed to a group of enviro NGOs that the goal of the Obama administration is “to keep coal in the ground” and that her administration would strive to do the same thing.
So, promising a $30 billion aid package for coal fields ravaged in part by the very policy she supports is farcical. It recalls that notorious Vietnam-era epitaph for a Viet Cong hamlet flattened by GIs: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Appalachia might not need an aid package, however, if coal workers hadn’t been buried by policies designed to drown their high-wage employer.
Donald Trump gleefully pounced on Clinton’s awkward retraction during his eulogy for the Cruz campaign. He would keep coal jobs, Trump promised. How he would do so was left unsaid.
Two things to take away from this last tango in Appalachia.
First, coal is back. Both candidates acknowledged, albeit in different ways, that coal is too vital a resource to dismiss – for its economic importance and, implicitly, for its political importance. This will come as a news flash to coal’s critics, who say, “We don’t need coal’s fuel or its jobs.” Their mantra has been: “Don’t worry about coal as a political force, it’s so yesterday.”
It’s now plain why this conventional wisdom is so wrong. It’s because coal’s critics – in the administration, in the major media, in the affluent green congregation worshiping at the altar of climate change – all avert their eyes from coal communities and industries they support. Ignore them—the blue-collar workers, their families, the low-income households relying on affordable electricity—and of course “keeping fossil fuels in the ground” seems painless. That way they don’t feel the pain of those who do.
This leads to the second, larger point underscored by the campaign’s coal kerfuffle: It dramatizes how far both parties have drifted from their historical, traditional moorings. The GOP standard-bearer—a brass knuckled business tycoon from silk-stocking Manhattan—supports miners. His Democratic rival, a woman representing the party that supposedly defends blue-collar workers —a Midwesterner who built her legal career in Bill’s Ozarks—sides with the affluent climate class.
No wonder more of us say we no longer understand this country; we just live here.
See the article here.
- On May 7, 2016