That’s an Associated Press photo from October 2012, taken of a yard sign in Dellslow, W.Va., not long before that year’s presidential election. But it could just as easily have been taken this fall, pretty much anywhere in the Appalachian coalfields.
Two years after the industry’s “war on coal” campaign failed to knock President Obama out of another term in the White House, the political rhetoric in the nation’s coalfields has, if anything, only gotten worse.
The list of things that coalfield candidates don’t want to talk seriously about is long and important: Mine disasters, black lung disease, global climate change, the environmental and human health costs of mountaintop removal, and — probably most significantly — what Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky will do for jobs and an economy as the region’s coal production continues to decline.
No, this election has been all about every candidate from a major party trying to out anti-Obama their opponent. The liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for American had a post today called How The Media Helped The GOP Sell Their Fear-Based Appeal. But like a lot of this sort of “analysis,” they are far too easy on the Democrats. As any reader of this blog knows, the Democrats in coal country have been trying to sell the anti-Obama snake oil as hard as any of the Republicans.
Candidates and their career campaign consultants are mostly too blame for this. But we in the media are responsible as well. We publish absolutely ridiculous stories that tell only part of the story, take part in debates that don’t include all the candidates and certainly don’t ask the right questions, and put style way ahead of substance both in candidates and coverage. Then, when it’s actually time to vote, we sell sacred front-page print and online space to candidates.
They — and we — should do better.
Because elections do matter. And regardless of who controls the U.S. Senate or the W.Va. House, coalfield residents will wake up on Wednesday facing the same set of serious challenges: Natural gas will still be cheap. The best coal reserves in Central Appalachia will still be mined out. Carbon dioxide in our planet’s atmosphere will still be climbing to levels we should all be afraid of. The coal-mining jobs that are left will will be too dangerous, putting workers at risk of dying suddenly in a roof fall or slowly from black lung.
When all the votes are counted, our region will still face too much drug abuse and too little education, too much pollution and not nearly enough quality health care, too many WARN notices and too few jobs — too much fear and far, far too little hope. And mostly all the election will have done with its endless television ads, sound bites and attacks is the one thing that coalfield residents can least afford: Torn us further apart, instead of bringing us closer together.