Since the beginning of President Obama’s second term I have heard two of his speeches. In his short inaugural address he spoke like a Greek with his high flown rhetoric, “Our Journey is Not Complete,” stressing the importance of United States as a world leader, and that it is our “solemn duty” and “lasting birthright” to lead the way through the world’s instability.
He addressed everything from the United States not needing to be in a state of “perpetual warfare” and each American “earning a living equal to their efforts,” to articulating the value of equal rights and ending the stalemates in Congress that inhibits the progress needed to emerge from this, our “Great American Story.”
Peculiar to his topics was a brief but mention of coal country. He said those “in the hills of Appalachia are cared for, cherished and safe from harm.” I first felt exhilaration being mentioned alongside such momentous issues with sense of belonging and recognition, but when the moment passed I soon remembered the cunning of good politics and how propaganda and can lead a person to believe most anything. I do believe the county is better than what it was four years ago. I am impressed by his discretion and touched by his awareness of our hardships. But, I am also disappointed he offers no stratagem for our future prosperity as a cultural unit of this great nation.
It reminds me a proverb often used by my great uncle, a foregoing pastor and elder of the church. There is a man who is bitten by a bulldog, after being bit he says, “If there is one thing you can say about Spike, he sure has a good set of teeth.” These bywords illustrate no matter how poor a situation, there is always something positive a person can say.
President Obama’s State of the Union address offered a different tone with “our unfinished task.” Our troops are home, a secure retirement for all citizens; I like to hear such things—“not a bigger government but a smarter one.” Ahh, that sounds good, as does the rising of the middle class and broad base growth; his words are very reassuring and felt good to hear. I held on to every word, a great American nation. I tell you that president, he sure has a high set of ambitions.
He affirmed “we must do more to combat climate change.” Studies have shown we have had the 12 hottest summers in recent years. With great storms like Sandy and Katrina, it put me in mind of all the preachers who have been warning about end times since I can remember. The President that saved the world and made all people equal again, what a humbling thought. Then I started thinking of Capitalism and the fight over energy dependence. It reminds me of another parable, one that’s a little more straight forward. Don’t pour water down my back and tell me it raining.
I still remember warnings about the ozone and other environmentally related conflicts that seem so clear at the beginning with powerful statistics. I have seen diagrams of holes in the ozone, warnings about aerosol cans, and statues damaged from acid rain; but after the au courant, real causes and answers become murky. “The overwhelming judgment of science,” that’s a little vague. How much funding do they receive and what kind of results do they have to show to get that funding? I don’t have a clear answer for these questions, but do they? I’m outraged the car industry gets bailed out and the coal industry gets left behind to play second fiddle to natural gas. These issues made the headlines for a while, but were they nearly the problems they where intensified to be.
There has been a history in Appalachia of being left holding the bag while the rest of the country prospers. I would hate to see this area become a victim to politics and urban interests. I love the environment as much as anyone. I have hunted, fished, and explored these mountains since my childhood, but there is a safe and effective means for the extraction and use of clean coal.
Travis Burton is a resident of Perry County, Ky.