West Virginia, like many poor, fading, post-industrial states, is in need of a lot of government help: for health care, for environmental cleanup, for infrastructure, for jobs of the future. Instead, it will get this: bullshit.
Above is a new campaign ad for Evan Jenkins, who is currently a Republican Congressman from West Virginia. Yesterday he announced that he is going to challenge Democrat Joe Manchin for his Senate seat. Now, it’s not like Joe Manchin is some sort of shining populist hero; he’s one of the most right wing Democrats in Congress, and he’s in thrall to the coal industry, and he was one of only three Democrats to vote to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Even if you happen to be a West Virginia Republican, though, an honest campaign for Senate would go something like: “The coal industry has plundered our state’s land and now the industry is dying. We need to plan for a post-coal future, pronto. We need to invest in education. And roads. And infrastructure. And clean energy. And we’re poor as hell, so we need good national health care, and we need government help for drug treatment here, and we need government jobs, and we need government protection for working people against rapacious corporations that would happily suck you dry and then disappear.”
Instead, this is what Evan Jenkins offers to the voters of West Virginia:
- More guns.
- Less Planned Parenthood.
- More coal.
The system that produced this campaign ad—and which rewards the production of ads like this—is the system that has made most Americans hate politics without even knowing why. Jenkins says West Virginia has been “left to fend for ourselves while Obama radically transformed America in his image.” To the extent that this concept has any grounding in reality and relevance to West Virginia, that means that the state got Obamacare. Taking that away from a poor state will not help anyone.
Jenkins’ ad says he will protect “our special way of life.” West Virginia’s special way of life is why the state is broken already. This is not even a matter of political preference. This is a matter of lying to people about what they need. There is no honest discussion of what a poor, rural state might need from a Senator. There is only a frantic waving of totems (guns! Obama!) and a promise to do more of what has not been working for decades already.
As long as political races are conducted like this, there is no doubt that that special way of life will endure.