Sunday, April 6, 2008


I just arrived back in New York after a nice weekend with my sister and brother-in-law in Pennsylvania. I spent a number of years living in the Philadelphia area, and much of my immediate family has been there for nearly 20 years now. I'm the lone hold out New Yorker. New York is a bit of an illusion as far as the rest of the United States goes. There are too many departures from the American norm in New York, including the fact that 36% of New Yorkers are foreign-born and somewhere in the neighborhood of 60% of the city's population is non-White. It's my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The other part of my life includes the majority of the last four years living in Japan. I am one of the very few foreigners living in my community there, and I'm very used to being the foreign spectacle.

Going to Bucks County, PA for a few days reminded me of just how Caucasian the United States is overall, and how different predominately white communities feel. Bucks is a beautiful county with a fairly high median income and an approximately 95% white population. The county has become one of Pennsylvania's "purplest" electoral areas with a large pharmaceutical presence as well as a fairly strong conservative undercurrent politically. Doylestown, PA, where I spent part of the weekend, is the typical Prius-driving, wine sipping, university educated Democratic base that has gone to Barack Obama throughout the primary season and it was evident that the town was buzzing with Obamamania during the evening I spent having dinner with my family. The town opens up the streets to a festival atmosphere on the 1st Friday of every month, and chants of "Obama" could be heard from blocks away as groups of young, excited teens carried signs and bumper stickers to show their enthusiasm. Most of the younger crowd were still 4-5 years from voting age, but they were swept up in the atmosphere of this unusual election season.

The Obama headquarters were open in town and people casually strolled in and out to pick up materials, give donations, and generally share in the positive vibe of the movement. I bought two pins and two bumper stickers while visiting with the kind people in the office and really began to think about how other communities like this one were wrapped up in the big campaign. New York is a bustle of 10 million separate agendas, and the sheer number of activities, happenings, and attractions tend to swallow one another on most occasions. The city is capable of tremendous unity and community character, but on the average day it's a vast Metropolis. Doylestown was alive with Obama. I walked into the restaurant where we had reserved a table and was immediately greeted by a table of people sitting near the door. "Where did you get those bumper stickers?" one man asked. He was thrilled to hear that the Obama headquarters were open around the corner and rallied his table of middle-aged friends and family to head over after dessert and coffee. While sitting at our table, a neighboring diner gave the thumbs up for Obama and nodded in approval. The waiter stopped to touch the bumper stickers on the table and said, "Good choice." I thanked him and agreed.

Driving through the area there were dozens upon dozens of Obama lawn signs, with only a smattering of Hillary's placards visible from the street. It was evident that the money Obama has put into Pennsylvania has given him an overwhelming presence. I saw one Hillary sign in town, sitting next to an Obama sign in the county Democratic committee office window. I saw one Hillary pin on a woman in her late-50's, surrounded at a cafe by a number of Obama supporters. Likewise, I saw more Obama television ads than I care to remember, while the only presence Hillary currently has in Pennsylvania is a phone campaign asking for donations and support. There was one on my sister's answering machine when we got back from dinner. Obama's been running a blitz of ads on television in PA for weeks now and has at least five different versions in play at this point. The newest of those ads is called "For Decades" and was aired during what seemed like every commercial break I saw. See it for yourself:

In Philadelphia, the Obama spirit was also very high with brilliantly stylized artwork featuring Obama's face at every bus stop in Center City. There were a lot more Hillary placards in town, but the placement was awkward and haphazard. Personally, the experience was very exciting. On a broader level, the weekend in Pennsylvania was a great chance to steal part of the enthusiasm for our political future that has embodied this campaign. At a time when things look bleak, and when our problems seem to be mounting by the hour, an energy is in the air for democracy. The trick is, can we maintain it when times are good?

UPDATE 4/7: The New York Times blog "The Caucus" reports that two Pennsylvania counties, Montgomery and Bucks, have accounted for more registered Democrats than Republicans for the first time since the 1960's. I guess this long primary season hasn't been all bad, has it? My weekend in Bucks seems to anecdotally illustrate this point.


mike's spot said...

for a purple area it sure sounds mighty blue. I'm guessing you stayed predominately in the city / urban areas?

Mike Plugh said...

No. Semi-rural a lot of the time. Suburban others.

mike's spot said...

sneaky. very sneaky.