President Obama’s planned visit to Charleston, West Virginia next week can be viewed on several levels.
First, Obama is here to address a pressing problem in our state and the rest of the Appalachian Region—the illegal drug epidemic. West Virginia is ground zero for the ravages of meth, pills and heroin.
“Prescription drugs and the opiate epidemic that has flowed from it–the heroin that we’re seeing enter our state and our region—(it’s) the biggest public health crisis that we have,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.
Governor Tomblin has made fighting the drug scourge a priority since taking office, and he knows too well where addiction can lead. His own brother, Carl, was arrested last year on charges of the illegal sale of a prescription pain killer.
So if the President is serious about using his remaining time in office to address the problem, it’s appropriate that he should come here.
Second, to say that President Obama is unpopular here is an understatement. The recent edition of the Metronews West Virginia Poll by Repass Research found that 71 percent of voters here disapprove of him, while his approval rate is just 24 percent.
Much of that disapproval is linked to West Virginia’s transition to a red state, while the national Democratic Party shifts farther to the left. Additionally, the President’s Environmental Protection Agency’s climate change policies have inflicted additional pain on the already struggling coal industry.
For many West Virginians, particularly men and women who have lost their jobs because of coal’s tumble, the last person they want to see here is Barack Obama.
Third, John Kennedy, speaking to a rain-soaked crowd during a visit here in 1963 to celebrate the state’s centennial said, “The sun does not always shine in West Virginia, but the people always do.”
We in West Virginia pride ourselves on our warmth and hospitality. Of course we quarrel and fuss, complain and kick the dirt, but when circumstances command, we do the right thing.
In a more perfect world, President Obama would take a side trip and visit with families whose livelihoods are threatened by his policies. His lofty proselytizing about slowing the rise of the oceans and planetary healing would ring hollow in homes of West Virginians who want nothing more than to grab their lunch bucket and head to work.
But this is not a perfect world, and nothing will change the President’s mind on the subject. The opponents to the President’s policies here and in other states will grind out this fight in the courts and at the ballot box.
So on Wednesday, we should welcome Barack Obama to West Virginia with all the respect that is due the President of the United States. He’s our guest, and we should exhibit what West Virginia’s founding father, President Abraham Lincoln called, “the better angels of our nature.”
We will be better for it.