It isn't just this week's blowout in Kentucky. It isn’t just West Virginia. We saw those same lopsided majorities for Clinton - three and four to one- in southwestern Pennsylvania, western counties in Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. Who are these people and what are they thinking? They live along a geographic belt of the country roughly corresponding to the Appalachian Mountains stretching from upstate New York to Alabama. Many call the area Appalachia and describe the people as “backward”. Such characterizations are both unfair and inaccurate.
These people have been there a long time. Migration is outward not inward. Overwhelmingly they are Protestant and largely of Scots-Irish descent. Many came from Northern Ireland when the British Parliament banned Presbyterians from holding office; others emigrated from the Scottish Highlands following the bloody defeat of “Bonny Prince Charlie” in 1745.
Though most of these people are geographically “Southern” they disproportionally enlisted in the Union Army because they detested slavery. West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861 over that very issue.
It would be fair to say - as Barack Obama did - that these people “cling” to God, guns, and patriotism, but not because they’re “bitter”, but because they believe that these are things central to the values that define their lives.
Accordingly they make fine soldiers. Characteristically America’s greatest hero in World War I was an uneducated sharpshooting woodsman from the Tennessee hills named Alvin York. In the age of the all-volunteer military enlistment rates in Appalachia lead the nation. Given this reverence for things military, West Virginians could not forget Al Gore’s invention of combat experience in Vietnam or forgive John Kerry’s slander of his fellow soldiers as “war criminals”.
In the wake of Obama’s wipeout in West Virginia, the liberal media have not actually used the term “racist hillbillies” - but clearly that’s what they mean as they try to explain away this “little setback”.
While race was certainly a factor in West Virginia, it was not the decisive issue in 2008 any more than religion was in 1960.
In each of these seminal primaries - half a century apart - the decisive issue was Patriotism with a capital P.
Those of us with distant memories of on-the-ground realities from the West Virginia of 1960 recall conversations in American Legion halls, VFW posts, and other places where gritty coal miners and hardscrabble farmers gathered to talk about who should succeed Dwight Eisenhower as leader of the Free World.
West Virginians decided they could forgive Jack Kennedy’s Catholicism and forget he went to Harvard because what sealed the deal was his undeniable heroism in saving his men in the South Pacific after the sinking of PT-109.
No doubt in countless attics in Wheeling and Charleston you can find yellowing political flyers with a picture of an emaciated young lieutenant at the helm of his boat. Probably in the same dusty box are the pins and other memorabilia - distributed by the thousands- that reminded West Virginians that the handsome but still shy candidate before them had gone in harm's way with their own sons, and brothers, and fathers.
In 2008 West Virginians used the same scale to measure Barack Obama and they found him seriously wanting by a stunning 69 to 28 percent margin.
But wait. You’re asking “How could Obama win so big in a 94 % white state (Iowa) and then lose so bad in another 94 % white state (West Virginia), unless the reason is racism?
The answer is that Iowans - unlike West Virginians - didn’t know things about Barack Obama that raise the gravest doubts about his patriotism. Iowans never heard of Reverend Wright; they didn’t know about Obama’s “friendly relations” with Bill Ayers; they weren’t aware that Michelle Obama had never been “proud of her country”; they hadn’t noticed the missing flag pin; and most damning of all they never heard the audiotape of Obama speaking to liberal fat cats in San Francisco in tones of obvious condescension describing rural lower income whites in a manner that made them seem ignorant, pathetic, and of course “bitter”.
These recently revealed pieces of the “Who Is Barack Obama?” puzzle will haunt him from now through November as they very well should.
Dr. William Moloney, a featured columnist on BackboneAmerica.net, was Colorado Education Commissioner from 1997-2007. Moloney has written for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events. He did graduate work in world history at Oxford and admits to being a veteran of all too many political campaigns.