Something is definitely out of whack in American politics when the candidate who tells the truth gets pilloried and the biggest liars in recent history occupy the White House. But that’s just what happened this week, when Barack Obama made a comment about how frustrated rural citizens “cling to guns and religion,” which his opponent Hillary Clinton says indicates Obama is out of touch with rural America.
A little investigation, however, shows it may be the critics who are out of touch. A couple of weeks before Obama made his comment, I was talking about the economy to my friend Rex Seeley, who owns Montana Outdoor Sports in Helena. Like most Montana outdoor shops, Seeley sells fishing rods, waders, lures and flies, outdoor clothing, backpacks, rafts, kayaks, and, of course, guns–rifles, pistols, shotguns and reloading equipment. He’s been in the same business for more than two decades, through good and gloomy economic times, so I questioned him about whether he thought we were headed toward or already in a recession.
Without pause he replied: “We’re already in a recession.”
“How can you tell?” I asked.
“Because gun and ammo sales have been booming,” he said, “and people always buy guns and ammo when the economy is in the tank.”
While there is undoubtedly plenty of room to argue about what may motivate people facing economic uncertainties to stock up on guns and ammo, there’s really no reason to doubt the firsthand experience of a longtime local businessman concerning the sales in his own store. And remember, this happened way before Obama’s comments hit the headlines, so Seeley had no motive whatsoever to prevaricate or spin his response because of politics.
But for some reason, our country has a hard time dealing with reality these days–especially if that reality is something we don’t particularly want to hear.
For instance, we have a Republican president who thinks the $3 billion a week we spend in Iraq to achieve absolutely nothing is “a success.” Meanwhile, even though there are Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, Congress seems incapable of significantly changing the direction of our country–despite the fact that recent polls show a whopping 81 percent of Americans think the nation is on the wrong course.
But here’s the shockingly grim reality our so-called leaders don’t want to face. Foreclosure rates are double the 2007 rate, with more than 200,000 filings per month. That’s more than 6,000 families a day who may lose their homes thanks to the ongoing meltdown of our financial system. In the meantime, real incomes for all but the top few percent of wealthy Americans have declined steadily, eroding the ability to purchase new goods, let alone keep up with current debt.
The value of the dollar has, in the eight disastrous years of the Bush presidency, declined by nearly half. Remember when the euro first hit the international money markets? It was worth about 80 cents in U.S. dollars. Today, one euro is worth $1.57 U.S. What that means is it now takes twice as many U.S. dollars to pay for imported goods. Thanks to the globalization and “free trade” policies promoted by both Bush and his predecessor, Bill Clinton, our manufacturing sector is nearly extinct, forcing us to import more—and pay much more—for what we need every day.
The same savage devaluation of the dollar is also responsible for oil setting record-high prices of $113 per barrel this week, with corresponding skyrocketing fuel prices at the pump. Truckers, who spend $1,000 to fill their tanks with diesel that is well over $4 a gallon, are beginning to stage protests by tying up traffic with slowdowns on interstates–or they’re simply going out of business altogether.
Or take the cost of going to college. Higher education was once thought of as the right of every American student and the great hope for the future of our nation. But now our kids routinely come out of four-year institutions carrying anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 in student loan debt. And guess
what? For months now, the Montana Higher Education Student Assistance Corporation has been unable to sell millions of dollars worth of bonds on Wall Street. As a result, students will now be saddled
with additional “origination and default fees” on their loans.
If a student borrows $15,000, they’ll only get $14,700 of it, and the rest will go to the bankers, the brokers, and the loan institution. As the head of Montana’s Student Assistance Foundation put it bluntly this week: “They’ll have less money to pay for school.”
The signs of national decay are all around us and growing worse by the day, despite the fact that most of our political figures seem to hope that if they don’t talk about it, we won’t notice.
Which brings us back to Obama’s comments. Americans are frustrated with their government and their economy and have every reason to be so. If they turn to guns and religion for comfort or security, what’s so new about that? People have always turned to religion in hard times and prayed for better. That rural residents would stock up on guns and ammo is also nothing new or particularly shocking–especially if you’re thinking about filling the freezer with local game because your grocery and utility bills have gone through the roof.
The most recent Montana politician to jump on the whack-Obama bandwagon is Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy, who says he is endorsing Hillary Clinton because Obama’s comments showed “a real disconnect with rural Montana.” What hogwash. Maybe Kennedy ought to go down to his local sporting goods store and have a chat with the owners. Then maybe he ought to call up the increasingly desperate Clinton campaign and give ’em the news—they could use a good dose of reality and truth.
Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.