George Packer takes a stroll down Kentucky way.
On Wednesday, I was in Inez, Kentucky, the Appalachian town where L.B.J. declared war on poverty forty-four years ago this month. John McCain was on a tour of “forgotten places,” and had come to Inez to let the coal miners and town notables know that he will be the President of all Americans…. After his speech, I left the county courthouse and crossed the main street to talk to a small group of demonstrators holding signs next to McCain’s campaign bus. J. K. Patrick, a retired state employee from a neighboring county, wore a button on his shirt that said “Hillary: Smart Choice.”
“East of Lexington she’ll carry seventy per cent of the primary vote,” he said. Kentucky votes on May 20. “She could win the general election in Kentucky.” I asked about Obama. “Obama couldn’t win.”
“Race,” Patrick said matter-of-factly. “I’ve talked to people—a woman who was chair of county elections last year, she said she wouldn’t vote for a black man.” Patrick said he would’t vote for Obama either.
“Race. I really don’t want an African-American as President. Race.”
That’s a Democrat speaking! More after the jump…
What about race?
“I thought about it. I think he would put too many minorities in positions over the white race. That’s my opinion. After 1964, you saw what the South did.” He meant that it went Republican. “Now what caused that? Race. There’s a lot of white people that just wouldn’t vote for a colored person. Especially older people. They know what happened in the sixties. Under thirty—they don’t remember. I do. I was here.”
Everyone knows that race is a factor in Obama’s low vote among older whites, though reporters say that no one will admit it personally. In Eastern Kentucky, people (and not just J. K. Patrick) admit it personally, without hesitation or apology.
But remember, if you are a politician or a member of the media, you are never, ever allowed to criticize small-town America. Because everything in small-town America is sacred and elemental to our identity as a nation. If that includes the occasional unapologetic racist, so be it.