Just like John Mellencamp…I was born in a small town, gonna live and die in a small town. That small town is in the southern West Virginia coalfields…the heart of Appalachia, and it’s no secret that this area has been hit hard by the EPA regulations that President Barack Obama’s administration have put into effect.
I’ve lived in this small town long enough to witness both the rise and fall of the coal industry through many, many cycles…and from a front row seat in this small town I’m currently witnessing what will be the death rattle for that industry as we attempt, 25 years too late, to clean up our planet.
I could ramble on and on about the EPA, coal, joblessness, poverty, hard times, etc. But what I really want to ramble about is a recent visit that former President Bill Clinton made to this small town…and how embarrassing the mis-informed, one track minded, under-educated hillbillies of this small town actually are.
Like any small town across the globe, there’s not much to do around here. Ya make your own fun or ya sit home and explore the web. This is the land of four wheelers, mountain folk and ‘Deliverance’…so any time you get a visit from a dignitary…such as a former President…it becomes a big deal. Something to do. And in my opinion a sight to see. After all, how many times (in a non-election year by the way) are you going to get the chance to see and maybe even meet a POTUS. A very big deal.
Hillary Clinton had slated a visit to this small town as part of a campaign tour in this region but was told, via letter from city hall, that she wasn’t welcome in this small town because she plans…when she becomes the next president…to uphold the EPA’s current regulations to clean up Mother Earth and that strategy will effectively kill coal…and that has everybody around here extremely pissed off.
So rather than take a listen to what she plans to do for the region as far as replacing a lost industry…the good folks that run this small town just told her to stay the hell away. Imagine that, a letter from a town telling a presidential candidate they aren’t welcome in that particular town… ever. I found that extremely embarrassing from the get-go…but that was nothing compared to how folks acted when she sent Bill to try and explain her position and ideas to replace what will surely be lost.
Since Bill and Hillary weren’t welcome in town, it was decided he would speak at the local middle school. And why not send a good ole hillbilly boy like Bill Clinton to talk to a whole buncha’ ticked off hillbilly boys?? The perfect strategic campaign move.
Well…they were ticked off at Bill too!!!
I summoned my two older children from my first marriage as it would be a historic moment to have a living former president visit their father’s hometown…and I also knew that the probability of a “free circus”… we’re highly likely due to the events leading up to this visit. Sure enough! Protestors!!! And lots of them. Anti-Hillary banners flyin…lots of screamin’ and yellin’, although i’m not sure at whom, since it was only the protestors on the street.
My dad, rest his soul, always liked “The Circus”…no matter what it was. A Steelers game, concert, political rally, what have you. Anywhere outside the norm of everyday life, any event with the potential to go awry at any moment…he called “The Show,” “The Circus,” or “A funny deal.”
Me and the kids, one 15 and one 13, enjoyed the show outside for a minutes…then ventured inside the venue to see what Bill had to say to a crowd of people in a town that spurned his wife visiting.
Since most security was outside keeping an eye on the rowdy anti-Clinton crowd there were but a handful of state troopers at the entrance. The eyeballed my son’s basketball for a moment and asked him to not take it inside the venue…I’m sure that was in case we had packed the Wilson full of Anthrax or, god forbid, explosives.
The crowd waiting for Bill was at least a hundred strong…but dispersed throughout the faithful were a handful of protestors who had made their way past the sharp eye of the state police who had originally hoped to keep some semblance of peace in the auditorium.
West Virginia has been a historically democratic state…with exception of the last few elections. They supported Bush the second, supported McCain, and supported Romney. One for three. I have always been a staunch Democrat and would vote for the devil if he ran on the party ticket…more on that later.
Never in my life have I seen so many poor, struggling, hillbilly Republicans as I have in the past 16 years.
Bill was late! But he came…looking tired, like a man way past his years…like a man who is spending his life on the road. He had aged much the same as Keith and Mick had aged…looking like old guys who’ve been put up wet too many times. The former POTUS was accompanied by several secret service guys who seemed nervous…by the governor of our great state Earl Ray Tomblin…and by democratic senator Joe Manchin.
Each set to speak, and each unwittingly speaking to a crowd interspersed with groups of four or five hecklers. I noticed this before my kids, before Bill, Earl and Joe even entered the building…and as the three took the stage to whatever theme music was playing…I turned to my children and told them to hang on tight…the circus was about to begin.
The yelling started before the music stopped. And each dignitary had their own way of handling the raucous crowd.
The governor reasoned with the hecklers, about twenty in all, asking that they please be considerate of each speaker…but in reality you and I both know there is no reasoning with a crowd set on heckling…whether it be a governor, a senator, a former president…or Jesus Christ himself. I’ve seen The Passion of the Christ…and that crowd was about as raucous as one could be.
Anyway, the governor had no luck with settling the crowd…and I noticed the state police closing the distance in a sort of half circle of crowd control…waiting for that order from the governor to toss these boys out in the yard like egg sucking dogs. My kids and I were hoping for nightsticks and tear gas, because, after all, ya go to “The Circus” for the utmost entertainment.
Next up was the senator, and rather than argue and plead with the crowd of voices intent on disrupting the event he chose to spar back and forth upholding his record, and speaking over the yelling, which brought even more ire from the few in attendance who sought to disrupt the proceedings.
The half circle of boys in uniform tightened even more…the kids and I got out our gas masks and pepper spray. We were there, after all, to see the former president who’s wife was the true target of unrest…but when you’re pissed off over losing your industry…well let’s just say that if Hillary had sent her third cousin twice removed from her mother’s side of the family…the outcome would have been the same.
Big Bad Bill took the podium next, looking old and frail, looking like a man who spent a lot of time sleeping sitting up in cars and airplanes. White hair, ten million miles showing clearly on his face…and at the first outburst from the hecklers, Bill did something that only someone who’s been there before would have done.
He stepped off the podium, leaned across the barrier…and handed the group of hecklers the microphone. Talk about complete silence. The oldest trick in the book. Put them on the spot and into the position where they have the floor and can prove to everyone in the room just what an idiot they are is the best way in the world to put the gag into a nay-sayer’s mouth.
After stammering for a moment about coal jobs and Hillary and this and that he handed the microphone back and the group left the room in unison mumbling to themselves with an occasional outburst.
Surely disappointed the kids and I put our gas masks and pepper spray away and enjoyed the rest of what the former President of the United States William Jefferson Clinton had to say. After all, how many times in their lives are they going to have the opportunity to get up close and personal with someone who was once the leader of the free world?
By the time we left most all of the protestors had crawled back under whatever rock they had come and on our way home the kids thanked me for taking them to see what was surely the best circus in town that day.
There is a sad sidebar to this story…I was entirely embarrassed over the way my fellow citizens acted toward our governor, senator and former president. I fully understand the passions involved with the decline of the coal industry, the loss of jobs, the loss of funding. My town is a borderline ghost town these days. But this is Appalachia. We’re historically the poor, we’re historically last in every category. We get the shit end of the stick quite often…but we are resilient and we are resolute and we are the kind of people that will find a way.
Bill Clinton, former leader of the free world, had come here to try and talk to the citizens about what help we could expect from his wife if she were elected as our next president…but our citizens were unwilling to listen because they’re stuck in the last century and all they know is coal, coal, coal. If I were Hillary and I got elected to the highest office in the land I would be apt to say…piss on those people who uninvited me to their town, piss on those people who were so rude and obnoxious. But she won’t…I truly believe that if Hillary is elected she won’t forget Appalachia and our struggles with a declining coal industry.
Just goes to show, it’s hard to get thru to a bunch of poor, coal mining, Appalachian republicans.