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George Packer on Obama and Ohio

November 11, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

The New Yorker’s superb George Packer has consistently written some of the most thoughtful pieces I’ve read about the election over the past two months, at his blog Interesting Times. Today, in Whatever Happened to the White Working Class, Packer takes offense at Frank Rich’s reference in his Sunday column to “slumming upper-middle-class white journalists” who reported from Rust Belt states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana. Packer was himself one of those journalists, writing a piece on Ohio in last month’s New Yorker.

The larger part of the post is a discussion of what actually happened in these states. He concludes:

The result in southeastern Ohio was by no means a foregone conclusion, and in September it looked highly unlikely. That Obama held his own there is a tribute to the hard work, and even the courage, of local Obama organizers like Latisha Price, of Pomeroy, Ohio, who was chased off her share of front porches.

It’s also a tribute to human complexity. People can hold racist views and still vote against them, because they hold other views, too—they contain multitudes. And people can change. No one should imagine that the country has suddenly lurched in the direction of the Upper West Side. Residents of my neighborhood of Brooklyn have certain beliefs that are incompatible with those of residents of Glouster, Ohio. Obama will be wise to govern in ways that leave those unbridgeable differences alone, and instead direct the power of government to improving people’s lives in both places.

I’m grateful to the 2008 election for reminding us of these things. And I’m grateful to the dying breed of reporters for finding them out.

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