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Carlton column: Yes, there's some bitterness about

You might have heard that Sen. Barack Obama said something pretty provocative the other day, kicking off a political dust-up now known as Bittergate.

The rock star of a Democratic presidential candidate may have morphed into a limousine liberal (in some eyes, anyway) when he tried to describe the mind-set of folks in small towns where jobs disappeared years ago.

"So it's not surprising, then, that they get bitter," he said at a fundraiser. "They cling to their guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

His rivals predictably pounced, the extent of any wounds still to be determined. But if the implication is that the other guy has religious beliefs born of bitterness and frustration while me, I'm a true man of God — well, elitist is a good word for how some people might see it.

Worse (in some corners, anyway), he maligned a love for firearms in an America where a Bring Your Gun To Nursery School bill would stand a chance of passing.

But how about that part about some of us disliking others for not much more than being different? That ring true?

Which brings us to our own small town politics — and around here, we can get pretty small town.

Maybe what's really dangerous about small towns (big ones, too) are politicians willing to exploit small-minded fears. Sure is easier than dealing with hard issues like budgets and taxes, the environment, and the housing crisis. Instead, get folks riled over non-issues that are pure fireworks. Gay marriage is a guaranteed crowd-rouser.

Heck, former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms rode her charge to keep government from officially recognizing gay pride all the way to Tallahassee.

You would think this was an aberration, but no.

These days we have current and, by the way, up-for-re-election Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair, just back from his Nyah Nyah, Told You No One Would Go To School On Good Friday tour.

Where else but here would you see the headline: "Hillsborough official decries tolerance day?" And next to it a photo of Blair wearing an "It's Okay, They're Only Gay" button just below his American flag lapel pin? (Okay, just kidding about the button.)

So what's Blair's quarrel? He sent a mass e-mail to "friends" urging them to protest the unofficial annual "Day of Silence" in local schools April 25. Students at high schools in Hillsborough, Pinellas and elsewhere are said to be participating.

Kids who want to be part of the event take a vow of silence and hand out cards explaining why: because they're taking a symbolic stand against bullying, harassment and violence against gay students. This year's event is in the name of an eighth-grader killed in California.

It's not school-sponsored. It does not sound disruptive. It hurts no one. Its only agenda is tolerance. But in a twisted bit of rhetoric, Blair calls it no more appropriate than mentioning the heterosexuality of soldiers killed in Iraq.

Which, as Obama himself might have predicted, may well win Blair some of those small-town votes.

Bitter? Now that you mention it, maybe a little. But we can work on that come November.

Carlton column: Yes, there's some bitterness about 04/15/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 4:01pm]

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