Joe the Butcher

An article ran last week in the Washington Post entitled “At the source of the shutdown, the economy falters — and anger at Barack Obama runs high.” You can read it here.

Rome was the unfortunate (in my opinion) backdrop for this story. It highlighted the owners of two of our local businesses (a butcher shop and a wholesale produce company) and the president of a local community bank. The businesses had suffered during the recession. The butcher shop had even closed its doors recently. Both placed the blame on Obama, his policies and Obamacare. The banker was brought into the story because, apparently, he had turned down loans to businesses — and he promptly stated “[Obama’s leadership] certainly hampers the ability to recover.” The butcher went even further in saying “I’m going to go hide for two years” until “he” — President Obama — is on his way out.

Rome was basically depicted as a community of angry Tea Party Republicans and depressed businesses. That hurt. My first reaction was to write a response that “set the record straight” about what a great community we live in. Share all the great things that are happening to counter the gloom and doom. Criticize the unbalanced reporting. Scold the business owners for trashing their own community’s image. Nope, not going to do it. Those are all symptoms of the disease, and I’d rather write more about the disease.

Clearly, Rome was not the story here. It was just the backdrop. The Washington Post and its readers have little reason to care about our town or its local businesses. We just provided a stage – a place where uber-conservative Tea Party members were popular, hatred of Obama was easy to source, and some struggling businesses were ready and willing to assign the blame. The underlying story is about politics. It’s about how a comfortable three-branch, two-party system that has balanced our government for a couple of centuries can become polarized, cracking under the pressure of a splinter-group. That’s a fascinating topic, but for another post.

I’m not going to suggest that Rome is some mecca of growth and prosperity. It is actually not unlike many small towns throughout America. It has struggled during the recession. Its unemployment rates have climbed. It has lost jobs. No-one can dispute those facts, not even when our feelings are hurt about a less-than-flattering depiction of our town.

But there is no objective truth about Rome or North Georgia. About our economy or the recession. About Republicans or Democrats. About Obama. We live in a complicated, connected and chaotic world where each action taken by government and each event that happens in business ripples through our society — creating both good and bad effects in so many areas. For example, Rome was the beneficiary of a super-successful, three-year, $30M stimulus investment to lay 250 miles of fiber optic cabling, connect 150 community anchor institutions and create dozens of new jobs. We each create our own map of truth and reality based on our upbringing, experiences, access to facts and information, belief systems, families, religious convictions, oh — and the media we consume.

While I don’t consider myself aligned with or loyal to Republicans or Democrats, I do acknowledge that the opinions expressed by the business owners and banker in that story represent the majority view in northwest Georgia. Rome sits in a hotbed of conservative thought. But when I see the attitudes expressed in this story, I wonder if we might have some of our causes and effects backwards. The article states that “on average, the economy in [Tea Party] districts is significantly worse than it is in the nation at large.” Could part of this be because conservative business owners like the butcher are “hiding out” in their hatred of the President? Do conservative business owners here actually believe that their local businesses can only prosper if a Republican is in the White House — and that they may as well sit around and wait till the next election to even try? Are passive-aggressive attitudes like this helpful for Rome?

I do not know the owner of the butcher shop or the produce company. I give them the benefit of the doubt that their businesses have struggled, and that they have suffered during the recession. I can’t even argue with them about whether Obama’s policies have hurt them in the way they describe. I don’t know their industries or the regulations that govern it. What I do regret is two things: 1) that they chose to contribute to a story that painted Rome as an angry, depressed place in order to express their opinions about Obama and his policies, and 2) that they failed to take any accountability for the situation they find themselves in. I’ve never known any business, including my own, where the President of the United States’ policies could make or break it. Where is the humility? Where is the recognition that they could have made smarter decisions in at least some areas of their business?

Having an article that communicates Rome’s local economy as depressed, or showing unflattering pictures in a gallery is one thing. But showing the character of our people to be angry, super-partisan, passive-aggressives with no humility or sense of accountability — that is much more damaging. A friend said to me just yesterday that “at the root of anger is always sadness.” Consider the butcher’s next words right after saying he was going to go hide out until Obama was gone. He said “It’s sad.” It certainly is. 

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