The picture was worth a thousand words. An AP photo of Hillary Clinton confronted during a West Virginia campaign stop by unemployed coal miner Bo Copley and his wife, holding a picture of their young daughters. Copley, tearful and choked up, managed to ask the presumptive heir to President Obama’s anti-coal policies how she could “come in here and tell us you’re going to be our friend” after promising on CNN two weeks earlier to “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
The pained smile on Clinton’s face said “Good Question.” Think of a defendant stumped under cross examination by an irrefutable piece of evidence. But her answer said much more than her views on coal mining. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she said, “other than what I said was totally out of context for what I meant.” What was this context from which her meaning was wrongly plucked? “It didn’t mean that we were going to do it,” she said. “What we said is that is going to happen unless we take action to help and prevent it.”
That’s not what the 39-year-old Copley heard, nor was it what I heard. What I suspect we got was the logical conclusion of the “context” Clinton herself spelled out weeks earlier when she confirmed to a group of enviro NGOs that the goal of the Obama administration is “to keep coal in the ground” and that her administration would strive to do the same thing.
So, promising a $30 billion aid package for coal fields ravaged in part by the very policy she supports is farcical. It recalls that notorious Vietnam-era epitaph for a Viet Cong hamlet flattened by GIs: “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.” Appalachia might not need an aid package, however, if coal workers hadn’t been buried by policies designed to drown their high-wage employer.