A few days ago, before this blog was launched, we got word in the paper of record that new Census data showed the county around Greenwood, S.C. as the one hardest hit by the Great Recession: the 70,000-person county's poverty rate more than doubled between 2007 and 2010, to 28 percent, the largest increase for any county in the country, and median income plunged by 28 percent, a drop of $12,000. The story prompted a question that was not addressed in the article: What did Edith Childs make of all this?
Edith Childs, as political trivia mavens may recall, was the Greenwood councilwoman who bequeathed to Obama the "Fired Up? Ready to Go!" chant that became the mantra (cliche?) of his 2008 campaign. As Obama told it (over and over again), he was on a campaign trip in South Carolina in 2007 and his staff wanted him to make a trek to Greenwood, 80 miles west of Columbia. He was in a sour mood -- it was a rainy day and there'd been a story in the same paper of record that morning airing concerns about his then-lackluster campaign. He got to Greenwood and found himself in a room with a disappointingly small group of local Democrats. The energy in the room could hardly have been lower. Suddenly, out of nowhere, came the chant from the stout councilwoman with the deep voice and the big hats: "Fired Up? Ready to Go." Gradually, the rest of the room joined in, and a campaign slogan was born, along with one of Obama's favorite perorations: "One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.” To thank Childs for her contribution, Obama went back to Greenwood later in the campaign, with me and other reporters in tow, and brought her up on stage for a rollicking rendition of the chant.
But a few years later, Childs' town is at the bottom of the economic heap, which surely holds some infelicitous symbolism for Obama's prospects. So, I gave Childs a call. Just how bad were things there? Well, she said, they were bad, but they actually weren't as bad as last week's article made them out to be. The Census numbers date to 2010, and things have been picking up since then. Back in 2009, she said, she was getting multiple calls a day from constituents pleading for assistance; now she can go a week or two without a single call. It may just be, she said, that people are adapting and settling for less -- moving in with relatives, taking lower-paying jobs. "People have found work -- it may not be what they're accustomed to, but it's work," she said. "They're just doing what they have to do to survive."
As for the man who was shaking it on stage beside her in 2008 -- well, she's still right by his side. "I feel bad because he’s not getting the respect he should get as president," she said. "He’s our commander in chief, and the kind of insults that have gone toward him, I'm unhappy about those things," she said. She is also still confident that he's going to win next year. How's that, given the dreadful economy? "Because [people] know he’s actually been a good president. It does not matter who was going to be the president, they were going to have these problems anyway and he just happened to be the one. He's not the reason for it, it just fell in his lap. He's going in the right direction, trying to get things fixed." Does she fault him for anything? "I think he sucked up to the Republicans too much, but I understand why he did that -- he was trying to work with them, to work with everyone."
Too bad for Obama that such a loyal booster won't be in as pivotal a position this time around, with no crucial Democratic primary in South Carolina and with the deeply red state unlikely to figure whatsoever in Obama's plans. But Childs has remained in the loop anyway -- she's been to the White House twice, in 2009 and 2010, and a few months ago she joined Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett at an event in Columbia. "They keep in touch," she said. "My roles are as they were last time, making preparations to get out the vote, making sure people have what they need. Our state is talking about voter ID, as a way to keep people from voting. But people are going to get out and vote...I believe without a doubt that he’s going to be president another four years because people are scared of what they're hearing [from the other side.] If we win, we keep moving forward, but if not, I can see history going way back with what I'm hearing right now from these other people."