Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.
By Christopher D. Cook
On a broiling late afternoon this September, as I stroll down Main Street in Bedford, a venerable redbrick county seat town in southern Virginia, my eyes veer toward the blaring red-white-and-blue bunting that beckons GOP residents here to swing the state to Mitt Romney’s column. I’m exploring this Blue Ridge country after attending a Knight conference on poverty journalism, and feel compelled to duck inside for a quick dose of Romneyland.
Perhaps what I encounter next shouldn’t shock me, but it does. The views that spill forth inside this swing-state Romney office plunge far deeper into the right-wing abyss than the so-called moderate stances trotted out by the Romney campaign. Like the much-traveled Mother Jones video where Romney derides the “47 percent” of America that “is dependent upon government,” and “doesn’t work,” our chat unmasks the decidedly uglier side of the GOP.
I’m greeted wholesomely by Clifford Russell, a smooth-faced, silver-haired stocky gentleman in khakis and pinstripe shirt, who offers a firm handshake. “Well hello there, good afternoon to you – come on in,” he says, with Southern hospitality in full force. It’s quiet in the Romney office. There is just a senior couple at a table folding papers, who turn out to be transplants from Walnut Creek, California.
I don’t expect much time to go by before I’m invited to leave (I’ve already disclosed my Californian status, a blaring red—or blue—flag), so I snare some glossy Romney literature and a handmade Xeroxed flyer titled “After three years of Obama…Here’s your change!” blaming Obama for a host of distressing economic indicators ranging from soybean prices to poverty and black unemployment—despite the GOP’s dogged insistence on decimating any supports to alleviate these situations.
“Things are looking good, as long as we get our people out,” he tells me. “People are done with Obama, and ready for Romney. We can win if our people come out, it’s all about turnout.”
Nestled on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, amid gentle sloping greenery and hay and corn farms, this is Romney country. The county is 91 percent white, 6 percent African American, and 1.8 percent Latino—compared with statewide ratios of 71 percent whites, 20 percent African Americans, and 8 percent Latinos.[i] Most of southern Virginia is Romneyland, save for Democratic enclaves in Roanoke and Richmond. In 2008, 68 percent of the county went for McCain, 31 percent for Obama, who ended up winning Virginia by a 6.3 percent margin.
I stand there quietly absorbing as much Romney talk as I can, until my patience and soul begin to wilt. I fully expect what I get at first: the standard mantras about Obama's economic and social policy failings. The deficit, "out-of-control spending," and the great GOP boogeyman, “Obamacare,” which Clifford calls “the final vestige of socialism.” Here he gets more full-throated: “That healthcare socialism was the final straw, more big government telling us how to live our lives, just controlling everything.”
I ask him to elaborate and he complies, vigorously.
"What's killing us is all these entitlements, we've got to get rid of all of them. All this welfare, food stamps, Medicare, and then big government health care on top of it, it's all just too much! When do we say enough is enough?”
What do you mean, exactly, I ask him. You say people are suffering under Obama, don't they need some help?
“No. No more help, enough is enough. People have to pick themselves up, take some responsibility. Why should we be paying for people’s mistakes and bad choices? All these illegitimate families just adding to the population, making all these bad decisions, then asking us to pay for it? It's time to cut them off."
I ask for some clarification: what do you mean, just starve them out? What if people can't find work? Let them starve?
"Look, there's always something you can do. You telling me people can't make a choice for a better life? We have to help all of them? No. I'll tell you what really need to do with these illegitimate families on welfare—give all the kids up for adoption and execute the parents."
I stare at him and blink in a glaze of shock.
Just to be sure I heard him right, I ask him to repeat it, twice.
"Yes, I mean it. Get rid of all of them, give the kids up for adoption, execute the parents, and you get rid of the problem.” (When I call him back to revisit the issue, he elaborates: “put the children up for adoption and execute the parents, and word would get out soon” that poor people shouldn’t have kids.)
This is a local Romney headquarters in swing-state Virginia, not some far-right Tea Party fringe group (or maybe that’s what the GOP has become). This is, at least in growing part, today's mainstream GOP.
I inform Clifford that people who are poor actually work extremely hard to just barely survive. He tells me if they were smarter, like Romney, they would earn more money. "Obama got all his money through his charisma, Romney got his because of his brains," he says. “Some people are just smarter than others, and not everyone is equal—but everyone has to pull their own weight and stop making excuses for being poor. Get up and do something. Some people just don’t want to work.”
My heartbeat and temperature are rising. I can’t be a good silent journalist or anthropologist here, I just can’t.
What about the whole history of slavery, the fact that African Americans only got the right to vote in 1965…the history of entrenched systemic impoverishment and disinvestment from black neighborhoods? Doesn’t any of that matter?”
“You keep trying to make this a racial thing, I never mentioned race.” But he did keep talking about “inner-city people on welfare and food stamps” with oversized bellies and “illegitimate families.” Then, as if to drive the nail deeper, he says, “the NAACP is the most racist organization in America, just as racist as the Klan.”
I ask him, should black people vote?
“Sure, if they are citizens and they are responsible.”
But it took protest and government to enforce universal suffrage, and to desegregate schools that were separate and unequal, I tell him. “You’re talking about force. You can’t force people to live together or go to school together.”
I tell him, “the real budgetary issue is our bloated military, all these invasions of other countries—not poor people barely surviving on welfare.”
“We don’t invade anybody,” he insists.
What about Iraq? Afghanistan?
“It’s not an invasion if we are protecting our interests.”
So it’s okay to destroy other countries and kill their people for oil? Bomb them and kill their people because “we” want more oil, and to kill some alleged terrorists among them?
“Everyone in Iraq under Hussein was a terrorist,” he says. “If there were there under Hussein, they agreed with him, and they needed to be taken out. They’re all terrorists.” (When I call back and challenge him on this, Clifford adds: “Hussein did his actions in the name of the entire country, men, women, and children…Was he Arab? Was he Muslim? Then he was a terrorist.”)
What about the future of the planet, I ask him. Global warming and climate change. Doesn’t he care about future generations?
“Oh, here we go,” he says. “Global warming? There’s no such thing. Seriously, the whole thing is complete nonsense. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the environment that man can have any effect over. The environment is fine. The environmentalists made all this up so they can profit off carbon trading. That idiot Al Gore created this whole thing so they can get rich off carbon trading, it's a complete scam, a total fiction. You know how you can tell? They started off calling it global warming, then changed the name to climate change."
The afternoon heat is waning, and I’m itching to get back to the Blue Ridge Mountains, whose hazy rolling slopes have no vote yet bear the brunt of the argument.
So it’s okay if we all drive SUV’s, keep using coal-fired plants, and engage in mountaintop removal, just rip the earth apart for energy?
“Mountaintop removal—you mean where you take the top off and get the coal? Sure, why not? I don’t see a problem with it, it’s fine. You’ve got to get the energy somehow.”
(When I call back, I ask Clifford—a retired nuclear engineer—if we should just abolish the EPA. “Absolutely,” he says instantaneously. “Obviously you can’t have companies polluting lakes, but that should be written by Congress, not having this big government agency threatening lawsuits. We need a different approach rather than rules and regulations, just common sense.”)
Clifford challenges me, “You guys just want a bunch of wind and solar, but that’s not going to do it."
At this point, his friend in the office, a tall lanky “import” from California, comes up to me and makes a mock wind sound. “Oh you guys and your wind,” he says.
His wife was already heading for the door. The moment I’d mentioned “climate change” and the “IPPC,” she’d rolled her eyes at me angrily and said, "I've got to go, I can't stand around and listen to this."
Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author whose work has appeared in Harper’s, the Los Angeles Times, Mother Jones, The Economist and elsewhere. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive. He is author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis. Contact him through www.christopherdcook.com.
Romney Supporter in Virginia Responds.
Discussions with an Extremist Obama Supporter
Socialistic Programs of Democratic Party Encourage People to Have Illegitimate Children
by Clifford Russell
The Title and Subtitle of what was put on the Progressive Website read, "Meet a Romney Extremist in Virginia - A staffer in a Romney campaign office wants to execute parents on welfare and give their kids up for adoption."
I did not say that I wanted to execute parents on welfare and give their kids up for adoption.
I said that it would be better to execute the parents of an illegitimate child and put their child up for adoption.
Does it bother you that Progressives have to intentionally lie to make their positions look good? Could that intentional lie be a bases for a deformation of character law suit?
Two rules of discussion; 1) no solution is perfect, 2) the stated solution is the best solution until there is not a better solution that has be stated.
Some might say illegitimate children (children where one of both parents fail to provide for the child) is not even a problem, but an illegitimate child usually represents instant poverty and much misery. Illegitimate children are most of the need for massive health care/welfare programs that are a major burden on Society. The problems in the America school system are mostly related to illegitimate children where one or both parents could care less about education. During the Clinton Administration the illegitimate children problem was called Generational Poverty where there seemed to be no way to break the chain of poverty. Chris should write an article an discuss his problems as an illegitimate child. The only comment in our discussion were that his parents had made mistakes.
The Democratic Party and Progressives know illegitimate children are a problem. Bill Clinton is very proud he got reduced costs for birth control. New York Major Bloomberg proposed a program to pay fathers to not abandon their responsibility to their children.
Now that it has been confirmed illegitimate children are a problem, the next question is what is the solution. I believe executing the parents is a better solution than the Democratic solution of abortion and handing out condoms (birth control). Abortion represents the killing of the only innocent person associated with the adultery or fornication that has occurred. Democrats have never explained how they are going to get people to use the birth control they hand out. Why should a man use a desensitizing condom when he know his child can get on welfare. I am still looking for a realistic method from Democrats and Progressive to deal with the problem of illegitimate children.
The Democratic Party is not about to realistically deal with the illegitimate children problem because the illegitimate children will be future voters for Democrats and the parents are the present voters for the Democratic Party.
I consider the Democratic Party to be the Merchants of Misery. The policies of the Democrat Party do not eliminate misery but rather support and encourage illegal and immoral activities that leads to misery.
You might think that to be unrealistic until you realize there is big money to be made off misery.
I have always worried about the Democratic Party when they discuss peoples needs/rights. I am reminded of what was said about Jesse Jackson in the book "Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson" by Kenneth R. Timmerman. Mr. Jackson uses the misery of the masses to enrich himself and his associates.
Every government funded Socialistic program requires high paid managers and people to fill the administrative positions and that is where the Democratic Party gets there supporters of both time and money. A very small amount of the money of poverty programs trickles down to the poor people.
I believe in personal responsibility thus I believe the policy of America should be to execute the parents of illegitimate children and put the children up for adoption. I advocate America make it a capital federal crime under Civil Law for people to fail to provide for their children. I believe all Socialistic Programs should be phased out to stop people from using these program to justify their abandoning their responsibility to their children.
The Bible is very clear on this issue. I Timothy 5:8 states, "But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel."
Poverty is not proof of sin, but sin should be considered when there is poverty. I Corinthians 11:30-31 says, "For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged."