Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clinton's Too Timid There's a Reason She's Failing to Catch Fire

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Clinton's Too Timid There's a Reason She's Failing to Catch Fire

Article excerpt

In March Hillary Clinton told CNN, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business." That was a true but dumb thing to say in advance of the West Virginia primary. So this week Ms. Clinton went on an apology and listening tour through Appalachia.

She heard tales of loss and renewal. Then she gave a speech proposing an agenda for the region. It was fine. Yet you can see in it some of the reasons the Clinton campaign has not exactly caught fire.

The core problem is that she sounds like a normal Democratic candidate ala Edmund Muskie or Hubert Humphrey, but she doesn't sound like an imaginative candidate who is responding with fresh eyes to situations today.

This year it seems especially important to show voters that you know them and can name the frustrations in their lives. Ms. Clinton's speech was filled with the flattery that candidates offer audiences - "Appalachia is home to some of the most resilient, hard-working people anywhere." But she didn't capture the texture of life - the way economic loss has triggered a series of complex spirals and that social decay is now center stage.

A few decades ago there were 175,000 coal jobs in the United States. Now there are 57,000. Coal towns are full of shuttered storefronts and abandoned bank buildings. It's hard to salve the distrust and pessimism.

Birthrates drop. Family structures erode. Life expectancy falls. People slip between the cracks and drug use rises. According to The Charleston Gazette-Mail, between 1999 and 2009, per-capita consumption of oxycodone, hydrocodone and fentanyl tripled. By 2009 West Virginians were annually filling 19 painkiller prescriptions a person. Between 2009 and 2014, the state had the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

The root of this kind of addiction crisis is social isolation. Addiction is a disease that afflicts the lonely. It afflicts those who have suffered trauma in childhood and beyond. And once the social fabric frays, it's hard for economic recovery to begin. I ran into employers in Pittsburgh who had industrial jobs to fill but they couldn't find people who could pass the pre-employment drug test. …

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