Cheney#8217;s joke sure wasn#8217;t too funny to us

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 5, 2008

So this guy from Wyoming goes into a bar …

Those sorts of jokes always end the same way, with some offensive punch line that belittles a particular group of people.

They also often tell more about those who tell them than they do about those they wish to insult with their version of humor.

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That’s why it was so surprising earlier this week to hear Vice President Dick Cheney make an unconscionable remark about West Virginians.

During an appearance at the National Press Club, Cheney talked about his family roots and how he is distantly related to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Noting that he had Cheneys on both sides of his family, he said, “And we don’t even live in West Virginia.”

Cheney went on to say, “You can say those things when you’re not running for re-election.”

It’s clear by the second comment that the vice president clearly knew the statement was out of bounds, but that sure didn’t stop him from saying it.

He later apologized for his remark, but that didn’t stop the criticism from both sides of the aisle.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin was astonished by Cheney’s remarks.

“I truly cannot believe that any vice president of the United States, regardless of their political affiliation, would make such a derogatory statement about my state or any state for that matter,” he said.

Sen. Robert Byrd added, “Now that he or the administration he represents no longer needs their vote, Mr. Cheney apparently feels that he is now free to mock and belittle the people of West Virginia.”

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a fellow Republican also blasted Cheney, saying, “This is exactly the type of stereotyping that we don’t need from our elected officials. As a proud state, I can say we are disappointed.”

It isn’t that those of us in the mountain regions can’t take a joke. We certainly can.

In fact, Kentucky author Jesse Stuart often wrote about how people from this region used humor and colloquialisms in a way that made them unique.

So it isn’t that we can’t laugh at ourselves. We can, we have and we do.

In fact, there is an argument that we do it a little too often.

The people of this region are proud of their heritage and some see the term “hillbilly” as simply a term that means someone from the hills.

Throughout the Appalachian region we have things like “Hillbilly Days,” a sound called “Hillbilly Music,” and even in our neck of the woods, the “Hillbilly Flea Market.”

And, who can forget the 1960s sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies” that perpetuated every false and negative stereotype of Appalachians that ever existed.

So, there is some argument that we victimize ourselves and perpetuate those unpopular images.

Appalachians should be a little ticked off at the vice president, but they should be more steamed that Appalachians are the only group in America where it’s still acceptable to mock and demean.

I’m just not sure Cheney wouldn’t have been in hotter water had he made a disparaging comment about blacks, or Hispanics, or women, only to have a spokeswoman say, “The vice president’s offhand comment was not meant to hurt anyone.”

Well, it did.

But those kinds of comments are nothing new to us. And perhaps vocal opposition to them, like those shown this week, will curb such ignorance in the future.

Rick Greene is the managing editor of The Ironton Tribune. He can be reached at (740) 532-1441 or by e-mail at