I had hoped to make my first post something a bit more upbeat, but ideas for posts are starting to pile up and I figure it would be best to get a move on. How's that for an introduction?
The straw that broke the camel's back, so to speak, was reading Dana Milbank's article in today's Washington Post about Obama's visit to McKeesport, PA yesterday evening. McKeesport, the "Second City of Allegheney County", was our father's hometown and a place we visited often growing up. We would take week-long trips out the length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike to see our grandparents, often finding time to visit Kennywood or the garden club where our grandmother was a member. By the time I started forming memories about the city, it was already in decline from the heyday of Dad's youth. Most of the steel mills sat silent. Stores were melting away from the downtown area. As we grew up, McKeesport sank deeper. Steel mills were torn down, blast furnaces toppled while grown men cried, and little grew up to take the place of the huge and rusty old factories. I recently visited McKeesport for the first time in ten years in order to show my wife where we had spent so much time as children. I was aghast to see how little had changed and how seemingly nothing had changed for the better. The Eat N' Park full of smiley-faced cookies is still right where we left it and with some searching I found the retirement homes my grandparents briefly occupied. Other than that, I didn't know what else to show off. There just isn't much there anymore. I feel a bit sad even for typing that.
So with that in mind, the Washington Post article didn't come as much of a surprise to me -perhaps just a sad reminder of the difference between today's McKeesport and the one Dad talked about all the time. When the furor over Obama's "bitter" remarks flared up, McKeesport is actually one of the places that immediately came to mind for me. With its shrinking, aging population and a lack of jobs, it's just the type of place where people might justifiably be bitter about their lot in life. Regardless of whether Obama misspoke or voiced an opinion he shouldn't have shared, the reactions in the article shows the problems facing his campaign: for people who have been battered by our economy for the better part of the last three decades, Obama will need to talk about something more tangible than hope if he wishes to mend the wounds of his comments and allay the voters' sometimes "illogical" peccadilloes when it comes to his candidacy. Hope is great, but it isn't creating jobs right now in McKeesport.