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GOP VP Pick Vance Introduces Himself   07/18 06:20

   Newly minted vice presidential nominee JD Vance built his Wednesday night 
speech to the Republican National Convention around his own Appalachian roots, 
but it wasn't the first time he had shared his personal story.

   CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Newly minted vice presidential nominee JD Vance 
built his Wednesday night speech to the Republican National Convention around 
his own Appalachian roots, but it wasn't the first time he had shared his 
personal story.

   Long before he was a U.S. senator from Ohio, Vance rose to prominence on the 
wings of "Hillbilly Elegy," a bestselling memoir that many thought captured the 
essence of Donald Trump's political resonance in a rural white America ravaged 
by joblessness, opioid addiction and poverty.

   The 2016 book set off a fierce debate in the region. Many Appalachian 
scholars thought it trafficked in stereotypes and blamed working-class people 
for their own struggles, without giving enough weight to the decades of 
exploitation by coal and pharmaceutical companies that figure prominently in 
Appalachia's story.

   Some of the resentment sparked by the book crossed party lines.

   "A lot of us born and raised natives of Appalachia are just highly sensitive 
to the fact that knocking hillbillies is the final frontier of accepted 
prejudice in America," said TJ Litafik, an eastern Kentucky Republican 
political consultant and Trump supporter.

   Litafik said he would vote for Trump no matter whom he chose as vice 
president, but Vance was not anywhere near the top of his list. That's in part 
because Vance had strong words to say against Trump around the time the book 
was published, even suggesting once that he might be "America's Hitler" in a 
text to a former roommate that later became public.

   Litafik, who read "Hillbilly Elegy," subtitled "A Memoir of a Family and 
Culture in Crisis," and saw the 2020 film adaptation, said Vance might come off 
as condescending to some voters. But he called the senator "dynamic and 
intelligent" and said Vance's accomplishments are undeniably impressive.

   "I think to me and to a lot of my friends, JD Vance is something of an 
enigma," Litafik said. "We appreciate some of his recent convictions, but based 
on past history, there's a hesitancy there."

   He said he's open to giving Vance a chance if he's willing to show his 
commitment to rural and blue-collar Americans by protecting them from policy 
proposals like those that would roll back expanded Medicaid, especially for 
drug treatment.

   Vance was raised by his grandparents in Middletown, in southwestern Ohio, 
while his mother, whom he introduced during his speech Wednesday, battled an 
addiction he said she put behind her 10 years ago. He spent a significant 
amount of time traveling to Kentucky with his grandparents to visit family and 
said he hoped to be buried in a small mountain cemetery there.

   He vowed in the speech to be "a vice president who never forgets where he 
came from."

   Many conservatives loved the book. Among them were some who lobbied for 
Vance to be Trump's vice presidential pick. They include Donald Trump Jr.; 
Kevin Roberts, who leads the Heritage Foundation; and Turning Point USA's 
Charlie Kirk.

   In an interview before Vance was selected, Illinois native Kirk said he 
thought both the book and movie were excellent.

   "It's incredibly persuasive, and he's lived the experience that many Trump 
voters have," he said. "So it's not talking down to Trump voters, or people in 
the Midwest. He grew up in southwestern Ohio, in Appalachia, you know, raised 
by his Mamaw, and understands kind of how that part of the world stopped 
working. And he also now, of course, has an agenda and a vision and a passion 
to try to bring it back to prominence and greatness."

   Roberts, a native of Lafayette, Louisiana, said he couldn't put the book 
down after discovering it, so true was it to his own life story.

   "I think it's one of the most important books written in the past 20 years," 
he told The Associated Press before Vance's selection. "Not because he's in the 
Senate. It's just such an authentic portrayal of an experience that tens of 
millions of Americans have had."

   Some critics acknowledge Vance's right to tell his own story. Where they 
have trouble is when he makes sweeping generalizations.

   At one point, for example, Vance describes his grandmother's violent 
reaction to his grandfather coming home drunk after she had threatened to kill 
him if it happened again. In another scene, his grandparents curse out a store 
employee and smash a toy after one of their children was told not to play with 
it without paying.

   "Destroying store merchandise and threatening a sales clerk were normal to 
Mamaw and Papaw," Vance wrote. "That's what Scots-Irish Appalachians do when 
people mess with your kid."

   Ray Jones, the judge-executive of Pike County, Kentucky, and a former 
Democratic state senator, said he recognized nothing about his family's 
experience in "Hillbilly Elegy."

   "Maybe that's his life story, but I thought the overall depiction of the 
people in eastern Kentucky was offensive," said Jones, whose grandfathers were 
both union coal miners. "I don't think that book is a fair depiction of the 
people of this region, and most certainly not the hard-working men and women 

   "The book paints the people of this region as white trash, and that's just 
not true," he said, before adding, "His story is obviously compelling to people 
who aren't from here."

   Neema Avashia, a public educator and author from West Virginia who now lives 
in Boston, said she was unsettled by the book's tone, by its lack of 
representation of Appalachia's nonwhite residents and by what she called 
"sweeping generalizations" about working-class white people.

   Avashia responded with her own memoir, "Another Appalachia," about growing 
up Indian-American and queer in a West Virginia chemical plant community.

   "People are allowed to write memoirs about whatever they want -- it's their 
life," Avashia said. "I think where I really started to struggle was with the 
attempt to draw lines in terms of claiming sort of expertise around culture and 
characterizing like, entire groups of people."

   "I would never claim to say that my Appalachian story is the Appalachian 
story. It is an Appalachian story. It's called 'Another Appalachia' for a 
reason. It's 'another' because there are many."

   Avashia said the book's popularity "is rooted in a desire to have your 
biases confirmed."

   Vance, whose office didn't return a request for comment Wednesday, has 
acknowledged some criticism. He recently told The New York Times he'd distanced 
himself from "Hillbilly Elegy," in order not to "wake up in 10 years and really 
hate everything that I've become."

   Sam Workman, a professor of political science at West Virginia University, 
called the book "poverty porn." He said the reception to it has more to say 
about the disconnect between intellectual pundits in academics, politics, the 
media and rural working-class people than anything else.

   "'Hillbilly Elegy' was so popular at the start, and all of a sudden everyone 
now dislikes it, because they realize the rabbit's out of the hat in a way," 
said Workman, who runs WVU's Institute for Policy Research and Public Affairs. 
"This is really about a lot of liberal intellectuals being caught off guard as 
to what the real purposes of 'Hillbilly Elegy' were. It was the first foray 
into a really potent, conservative political career."

   On the heels of the book's popularity, Vance started a charity called "Our 
Ohio Renewal" that he said he would use as a vehicle for helping solve the 
scourge of opioid addiction that he had lamented in the book. He shuttered the 
nonprofit shortly after clinching the Senate nomination in 2022.

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