Saturday, November 05, 2005

Come Election Day

It's not just the arrogance. Although that's certainly a huge factor. There is this infuriating - and perverse - sense of overbearing pride and superiority that permeates the political class in the commonwealth of Virginia. At least as it relates to Southwest and Southside Virginia.

It's in knowing that, over the last few years, the area has suffered job losses at Mack Truck and Ethan Allen and Celanese and Johnson & Johnson and Lear and Dan River and Tultex and Spring Ford Industries and Buster Brown and Natalie Knitting Mills and American of Martinsville and Virginia Glove and Virginia House Furniture and Lea Industries and ArvinMeritor and Alcoa Wheels and VF Knitwear and Burlington Industries and Hooker Furniture and Stanley Furniture and Thomasville and Bassett Furniture Industries and Pulaski Furniture, and yet the Democratic candidate for Governor flits into the area long enough to spew some campaign pablum about
having created 15000 new jobs here in the last three years. And awe-struck people cheer.

Saying it makes it so apparently. What arrogance.

More than the arrogance, though, it's the condescension that disappoints. Vexes. Enrages.

I could write a thousand words about the problems that plague this part of Virginia, but, as they say, a picture would be worth more than all of them. The photograph to the right and above - behind the Kaine For Governor sign - is the remnant of someone's dreams. A ghostly shell of what-might-have-been but never will be. A textile plant here in Bland County, Virginia closed now, it would seem, for a number of years.

Weeds and grotesquely distended trees grow around the outside of the building where - not that many years ago - proud textile workers assembled to talk about family, join in a smoke, plan the hunting trip, brag about the kid attending Virginia Tech, before they entered the building to go to work making sportswear - shirts, slacks, sweaters - garments for America. The world. With pride. Enthusiasm. A look to the future. Hope.

It must have been a proud and joyous day for many when the factory opened and started production. If for no other reason than because this part of the state has seen nothing but hard times - since the beginning of time. Exemplified by the fact that right next to this shell of a factory is the Bland Ministry Center, where, if you're poverty-stricken as a woeful number of people around here are, you can obtain free dental work and a free haircut on occasion. Food. Food! In a few weeks Christmas presents for your children; Barbies and GI Joes, tricycles and model planes - slightly used in some cases - donated by the good folks of Bland and Wythe Counties. To the good people in need, including former employees of the now-abandoned factory, of Bland County.

It's the condescension that riles me. It's to be told that 15000 jobs have been created around here - somewhere - and I know I'll drive past the Bland Ministry Center in a few weeks and find a line of Americans - Virginians - stretched out the door, down the sidewalk, out along the highway waiting to get their handout. It's a rarity to see a new business come into Southwest Virginia while it is a common sight to see boarded up factories in Bristol and Bluefield, Tazewell and Galax, Marion and Wise, Gate City and Hillsville, Big Stone Gap and ... Bland.

Where are those 15000 new jobs?

I can live with the silly sign. "Sportsmen for Tim Kaine." I could go off on the fact that Kaine will be to sportsmen what Bill Clinton was to women's rights. But it's just one of those throw-away slogans - "Sportsmen for Tim Kaine," that isn't really intended to mean anything. Not really. I remember, after all, that Ted Bundy was a sportsman; he's the animal who stalked and murdered 28 women - for sport. So the word "sportsmen" can mean anything. In fact, I'm sure it means nothing. Some campaign worker's idea of strategizing.

But you'd think the Democratic Party would be ashamed. Ashamed for having failed the workers at the Bland Sportswear factory. For having failed the people of Southwest Virginia. As everyone knows, the Democratic Party has been in control of Southwest Virginia since before the Civil War. Since before there was a Bland County, Virginia. Today, we find ourselves with a Democrat for a state delegate, a Democrat for a state senator, and a Democrat for congressman. Noone around here can tell you the last time that was any different. Perhaps we'll even be able to complete the set by having a Democrat for governor - again.

Having been in charge all these many decades, you'd think they would have something to show for it. Bustling factories. A burgeoning economy. Growth. Opportunity.

Well, they do. The Democratic Party in Southwest Virginia has a decaying factory in Bland to show for it. In front of which they proudly post a sign championing their man. In front of a crumbling factory that goes along with a soon-to-be vacant Celanese factory over in Giles County. And a soon-to-be abandoned Lear plant over in Covington. To go along with the closed or soon to be shut down Mack Truck and Ethan Allen and Johnson & Johnson and Dan River and Tultex and Spring Ford Industries and Buster Brown and Natalie Knitting Mills and American of Martinsville and Virginia Glove and Virginia House Furniture and Lea Industries and ArvinMeritor and Alcoa Wheels and VF Knitwear and Burlington Industries and Hooker Furniture and Stanley Furniture and Thomasville and Bassett Furniture Industries and Pulaski Furniture plants.

We have a landscape of broken dreams and empty promises and the Democratic Party has the gall to hang a sign out in front of an abandoned factory as if nothing is wrong. Time to celebrate. Let's party with Tim Kaine. Four - More - Years.

What is the message? Vote for us and we'll continue to do for you what we've done for you these last 150 years. Ignore the crumbling building; read our campaign slogan. Heck, we've brought you 15000 jobs in the last three years. So shut up. You don't believe us? Drive over to the new Wal-Mart Super Center in Norton and you'll see. Sure, we hate Wal-Mart and everything it represents and would have prevented its opening had we been able to. But they're jobs just the same. So be good. Be happy. Smell the roses. Feel the love. Get with the program.

The one thing that angers me more than anything else about this brash condescension is the fact that the Democratic Party is sending a clear and unmistakeable signal: you folks in Scott County who have no drinking water - in the year 2005 - because the streams are grossly polluted with human and animal waste and are not fit for human consumption and we haven't bothered to get you potable water - in the 150 years we've been in charge - it ain't going to change. You folks in Chilhowie who have seen one furniture plant after another close their doors and move overseas, expect more of the same. IT IS NOT GOING TO CHANGE. You miserable souls over in Pocahontas who have seen your once-robust town decay and die as the coal mines shut down as the direct result of environmentalist Democratic legislative action, leave now. It'll get no better.

As we struggle with a devastating loss of good paying jobs in Southwest Virginia, the Democratic Party comes to us for votes. It's Tim Kaine this time around. Boucher before him. Oh, and then there's Benny Keister. We shouldn't forget him. Even though he is completely forgettable.

I'll give Kaine credit for one thing. At least he hasn't offended us with the plan put forth by every other Democrat who comes around here looking for votes, the cynical plan relating to bringing prosperity to Southwest Virginia through the promotion of tourism, the promotion of our rocks and trees as attractions for the affluent up in Manhattan to come down and encounter. The plan that has us all learning to make pots and sing ante-bellum hymns.

No, old Tim doesn't condescend in that way. He simply tells us that he and Mark Warner have created oodles of jobs in recent years and he will do more of the same if elected governor. 15000 in the last three years? Shoot, he'll create 30000 in the next four. 90000. 150000.

While I'm waiting for those jobs to appear, I'll be driving each day by the Bland Ministry Center. I may have trouble finding all those jobs that Tim has created but I'll have no difficulty finding those who are here looking for them. I'll be looking into their faces. Into their eyes. Eyes gazing not toward Tim Kaine or the Democratic Party. Not toward some politician who is down here for a day or two looking for their vote. Eyes fixed on the Bland Ministry Center. Where they hope to get food. Clothing.

And as I drive by the Bland Ministry Center each day, I'll also be looking upon that sign in front of the abandoned Bland Sportswear factory next door. "Sportsmen For Tim Kaine." "We'll do for you what we've been doing to you all these many years." "Count On It."

I'll not be voting for Tim Kaine next Tuesday. I'll be voting for his opponent. With a vengeance. If they'd let me, I'd vote against him twice. And I'll continue to vote against the Democratic Party as long as factories in Southwest Virginia continue to close, as long as Pocahontas continues to waste away, as long as there are people in Scott County who have to be fearful of their drinking water, as long as there are 9000 homes in southwest Virginia that do not have indoor plumbing, as long as Rick Boucher demands that we give up hope for the future and learn to dance and sing for the tourists, as long as there is a line of Virginians winding its way down the road outside the Bland Ministry in expectation of a helping hand, as long as I have to see people - in America - shoveling sweet potatoes off the parking lot and into sacks to take home and feed hungry children, as long as I see citizens of The Narrows packing their belongings in U-haul trucks and heading north for work, until I take my last breath, if it should come to that.

To the Democratic Party of Bland County, I have a request. Regardless whether Kaine wins or loses next Tuesday, leave that sign up over at the Bland Sportswear factory. It'll be a tribute to your candidate. To your party. Your governance. To what you've accomplished in Southwest Virginia. A monument for all time.