Bitter is right

A while back we wrote about this new guy on the scene in American politics, Barak Obama, who had just won the Iowa primary for the Democrats. As luck would have it, one of the software vendors we were meeting in Washington earlier this week had a guest ticket to the Associated Press luncheon where Obama spoke.

It was a sold out crowd, some 1,200 people in attendance, and Obama spoke at length about his run for the nomination and addressed several questions from the press. In a good humoured way, he tackled the unending question about his comments that voters in smaller towns tended to be bitter. There was a whole lot more to the commentary that we will not dissect in the same way the major TV networks did – all weekend and into Tuesday. Of course, John McCain, the Republican nominee apparent, viewed those comments as elitist. Hillary Clinton, seemingly more desperate, latched onto them and gave them a subtle twist to demonstrate that Obama is out of touch with common folk.

So, as he has done before, Obama spoke a bit about his upbringing as a son of an interracial marriage that did not work out. His mother and grandmother raised him, and through hard work and perseverance he ended up playing out his American dream by running for president. He admitted to articulating his message poorly, and he did not appear elitist. When we were interviewed by on-site reporters for the American Society for Newspaper Editors, we tried to stress that maybe, just maybe, Obama was a little too close in his observation that voters were a little bit bitter. Of course, comments from a country boy, and from a different country at that, did not see the light of day in the on-line edition the next day. As happens far too often in big contests like that, people are pretty quick to judge, and even quicker to condemn, for what they think someone meant.

Perhaps more rousing than Obama’s speech was the prayer said before the meal. The chaplain was talking about strength and prayer when he uttered a phrase like “if our prayers have been answered, maybe we didn’t pray for something big enough.” His voice boomed through the hall so much so that it echoed with us well into the night. Do we ask for too little?

While there is no pretense on our part of covering international News, let alone having a skill-set to opine at length on international politics there are some ideas to bring home, and some casual observations to share.

A teamster from Minnesota was in town and we talked a couple of times. Unemployment in his area is nearly 18%, his family pays $1,000 per month for medical insurance, and his father pays $20 per pill for migraine medication. He believes America needs a medical system similar to Canada’s. He sounded bitter, particularly when speaking of his wife’s retirement plan, which was heavily invested in the stock market. Recent events have erased any gains she may have had, meaning there is a need to work past planned retirement.

Our cab driver Tuesday morning had a little longer to talk on the way to the airport. His mortgage is coming up, and he faces an increase of $500 per month to make the payments. He said he was bitter – really bitter. In fact, the convention revenue was about the only thing keeping him going these days, since local traffic is so slow. He, too, will need to work longer and harder to take home less.

A woman we met from Florida was with a financial services company. She admitted to an unsettled market, and to being concerned about where the economy is going. But she and her spouse have good jobs, so there was not an in-your-face concern about tough times in the States.

Where we see the relevance to our readers is that we, too, face similar problems depending on where we fit on the socio-economic scale. The economic realities of the past two decades of globalization, bizarre changes to the property tax structure, and ticking time bombs in infrastructure will force many of our citizens to work well past their planned retirement.

There are plenty of reasons to be bitter; it just depends on whether voters will remain content or decide a new way is in order.

There is so much that can be done, if only voters were more specific with their priorities.