Thursday, May 12, 2016

Did West Virginia Spurn Hillary Because of Obama?

In Virginia, West Virginia is often viewed with skepticism.  After all, West Virginia broke away from Virginia during the civil war and the cultures of the Tidewater and Richmond Virginians and the mountain dwelling West Virginians could not be much greater - in 1860 or now.  West Virginia remains a vastly white state while Virginia has seen much demographic and educational change and much urban growth unlike its next door neighbor.  In the wake of Tuesday's Democrat primary that was won by Bernie Sanders, there are some who view Hillary's loss as a rebuke for serving and siding with Barack Obama, America's first black president.  Indeed, given the racism that is alive and well in West Virginia, which is only magnified by Obama's efforts to push the nation towards clean energy at the expense of coal, such thoughts are probably accurate.  A column in the New York Times looks at the situation.  Here are excerpts:
West Virginia turned on Hillary Clinton. In 2008, when running for the Democratic nomination against then-Senator Barack Obama, Clinton won every county in the state, carrying it by a whopping 41 points.
The Hill reported this week that, according to a political-science professor at a West Virginia college, West Virginia voters were so “fiercely anti-Obama that they voted in large numbers in 2012 for his primary opponent, who was a jailed felon in Texas.”
This cycle, a major part of Clinton’s strategy has been to so closely align herself with President Obama that there is very little light between them. This helped her secure and retain some minority voters, but most likely distanced her from many white ones.
On Tuesday, Clinton lost every county in the state and trailed Bernie Sanders by nearly 16 points. So what’s going on in West Virginia?
First, it is one of the whitest states in the country, and the absolute whitest in the South. It is also the least educated state and one of the poorest. As of 2014, almost 94 percent of its citizens are white, only 18.7 percent have attained a bachelor’s degree and 17.2 percent fall below the poverty threshold.
West Virginia is also heavily reliant on the coal industry, which is at odds with liberal clean-energy initiatives. In an interview with The San Francisco Chronicle in 2008, Obama said of his proposed energy plans:
If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches.
Bankruptcies aside, the Obama years saw a steep decline in coal production in the state. According to a report published by West Virginia University, “After climbing to nearly 158 million short tons in 2008, the state’s coal mine output has tumbled in each successive year to an annual total of approximately 115 million short tons in 2014 ─ or a cumulative decline of 27 percent.” This was the right long-term clean-energy approach, but it hit a sour chord in West Virginia.
[S]mart long-term policy, but doesn’t sit well in West Virginia. Clinton recently apologized for the “misstatement,” saying, “I don’t know how to explain it other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant because I have been talking about helping coal country for a very long time.” But the apology was too little, too late for voters in West Virginia.
West Virginia illustrates the danger that accompanies the Clinton strategy of closely aligning with President Obama and his policies: Many white voters, particularly white men, detest him. 
These white non-college graduates are a strong base of support for Donald Trump, who exclaimed in Nevada, “I love the poorly educated.” Apparently, the feeling is mutual. If Trump has a path to the presidency, it will most likely be because of Clinton’s — and Democrats’ — weakness among people who look an awful lot like the voters in West Virginia.
Like much of Southwest Virginia, West Virginia is its own biggest enemy.  Few new, progressive business want to locate to a region so consumed with racism and so proud of embracing ignorance a bigotry.  Until these factors change, do expect economic improvement.  

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