Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Obama goes to enemy territory in Elkhart to show there’s real suffering

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Originally published on on Tue, 02/10/2009 – 10:54am

The president of the United States was in Elkhart, IN, and he wasn’t a Republican. That is news.

Unfortunately for Elkhart, the city was picked for its alarming jump in the unemployment rate — 15.3%, having more than tripled in the last year. And the bad economic news for this small city just east of South Bend has a telltale story for the rest of the country.

Elkhart is the RV capital of the world. With a housing crisis and people losing their homes, you would think the RV business would be booming, since people would need to live somewhere. Instead of tents in the Dust Bowl days, maybe we’d see a circle of RVs.

But the sharp uptake in unemployment is tied to problems in the RV business, and the credit crunch.

I have a soft spot for Elkhart and that entire region, having grown up not too far away in nearby Southwestern Michigan. I was in that area in May, covering the Indiana primary in nearby South Bend and Mishawaka.

And I grew up in and around a city with a chronic unemployment rate — Benton Harbor, Michigan.

Unfortunately, bad economic times bring politicians to the Midwest. So if they are there, you probably know someone who lost their job or you are without work.

Obama wasn’t in friendly country: though Obama won the state, Elkhart wasn’t one of those places. And there were negative questions asked of the president, a welcome sight.

But the politicians who would have felt at home in Elkhart — the Republican leadership in Congress — were the ones missing from the event. They needed to hear first-hand of the suffering these people are experiencing. The irony is while GOP politicians are very welcome in these parts, they have been deaf to the economic issues afflicting this area long before this current economic downturn.

There was one potential ray of hope: one Republican Congressman was part of the Obama party in Elkhart: Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI). Upton’s district runs alongside Elkhart just across the Indiana-Michigan border. Obama did the right thing in inviting a Republican Congressman to be part of the group, and Upton has been around for a long time in Congress (1987).

It should be noted that Upton used to be my Congressman, though it was a long time ago. And he is still my mother’s Congressman. And neither of us has been very impressed with his work. But at least he was in the room when people were expressing dismay over their current economic status. The question remains as to whether he was really listening and can go back to convince Boehner, et al. of the need to do something for these people, who are hard-core Republicans.

The fear is that politicians use trips to this part of the country to further some agenda and not really help these people. But President Obama seems to be using these people as a way to tell GOP leaders in Washington that people are really suffering — people who self-identify as Republicans. Funny how it took a Democratic president to convey that message.


Written by democracysoup

February 10, 2009 at 10:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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