Shelley Brannon, 62, can sum up the Obama presidency with three words. Well, three words and an exclamation.
“He screwed us,” said Brannon, a coal miner from Wise County, Va., as he sat outside a rally for the United Mine Workers of America. “Man, he screwed us.”
He shook his head under a camouflage hat that matched his camouflage UMWA T-shirt, and he described his fantasy of dumping nuclear waste in the yards of environmentalists, “if they think coal’s so bad.” He mulled over the mistake UMWA had made in 2008, when it endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Then he explained why he would probably be voting for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the next Democratic primary.
“For one thing, he knows what union is, and he respects it,” said Brannon. “That’s all we need is respect. He’s just a likeable fella, trustworthy. I don’t think she has the same respect for the union, and she really shot herself in the foot over, you know, all that secretive stuff.”
West Virginia has rejected the Obama-era Democratic Party more dramatically than any state outside the South, with Appalachian counties that voted for Mike Dukakis and Walter Mondale turning blood red over the past eight years. But if you think it’s in places like this that the insurgent Sanders campaign faces its most formidable test, here’s what he thinks: It is also one of his greatest opportunities.
The Vermont socialist thinks that white, working-class voters, the sort of people Obama once self-defeatingly said “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,” are just one honest argument away from coming back.
“We have millions of working-class people who are voting for Republican candidates whose views are diametrically opposite to what voters want,” said Sanders in an interview. “How many think it’s a great idea that we have trade policies that lead to plants in West Virginia being shut down? How many think there should be massive cuts in Pell grants, or in Social Security? In my opinion, not too many people.”
Now this is truly weird, given Bernie's position on climate change in Coal Country is essentially the same as President Obama's and Hillary Clinton's.
The United States must lead the world in tackling climate change, if we are to make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from polluting fossil fuels, and towards energy efficiency and sustainability. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, and we need to greatly accelerate technological progress in wind and solar power generation.
Unless we take bold action to address climate change, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are going to look back on this period in history and ask a very simple question: Where were they? Why didn’t the United States of America, the most powerful nation on earth, lead the international community in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and preventing the devastating damage that the scientific community told us would surely come?
So yeah, Bernie Sanders straight up says on his website that he wants to continue to take America away from fossil fuels, but coal miners are suddenly lining up to say how awesome Bernie Sanders is going to be.
Why, it's almost like these coal miners oppose Barack Obama over something other than his environmental policy. Weigel:
Sanders’ campaign theory of 2016 may be that there’s a larger electorate hiding in plain sight. Over the summer, as he gained in polls, Sanders was criticized for bringing seemingly every issue back to the sediment of economics and class. Black Lives Matter activist Marissa Johnson dubbed it “class reductionism.” Clinton allies had trouble seeing how Sanders’s support could grow beyond white liberals.
But they may be missing the weight of Sanders’s cardinal argument — for greater economic fairness — and the willingness of voters to look past other issues, notably the environment and gay marriage, where they disagree.
Sanders won elections in Vermont, a white, rural and gun-owning state, as a socialist. The social issue “distractions” bemoaned by red state Democrats seemed to bounce right off his armor. (He also has taken mixed positions on gun control, supporting a ban on assault rifles, for instance, but opposing the Brady Bill). In the end, is the white guy who voted for him in Vermont any different than the white guy in West Virginia or Kentucky or Ohio who was told to blame liberals for his problems?
In my experience, the answer is not really. A lot of working-class white voters left the Democrats when 2008 came down to Hillary versus Obama. Now that Bernie is in this (and possibly Biden) hey, all of a sudden it's about working-class white values again.
I've got some bad news for folks though. Bernie's got about as much chance of winning West Virginia or Kentucky as I do, and from an electoral standpoint, why does it matter? Sure. Bernie will help with Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, etc. but how much nationally?
Do we want white voters who abandoned the Dems over a black president to come back to the party at all?