I’ve spent the past couple of weeks traveling through small-town America, from eastern Kentucky to southern Illinois, trying to figure out where these places, which I will call “The Lost World” in my upcoming story, stand on election day.
As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t claim to understand Americans, but for what it’s worth, here are some observations:
- Never mind about the war. Iraq is a non-issue, and Afghanistan even more so. Yes, people are tired, and they’re acutely aware of their tax money being wasted on conflicts they never wanted in the first place. But this is not something either the Republicans of Inez, KY, or the Democrats of Grand Tower, IL feel passionate about.
- It’s the economy, stupid — but not Bush. People feel screwed, but they don’t necessarily blame it all on the Bush Administration. Consequently, most Republicans — and quite a few Democrats — have no trouble voting for McCain.
- It’s not the party, it’s the man. In these tiny rural communities (population 600 or less), suspicions about Obama run deep. People will say it’s his inexperience, or their fear that he’ll raise taxes. But what it really boils down to is his skin. With a little prodding, sooner or later someone will confess they’re afraid Obama will make white Americans pay for slavery; or that he will have Jeremiah Wright in his cabinet. Because of these lingering doubts, which Obama will not be able to allay, a life-long Grand Tower Democrat, who last voted for a Republican in 1952, will either reluctantly go for McCain or not vote at all; and an Inez Republican, who voted for Bill Clinton and might have supported Hillary, will most certainly vote for McCain.
- Forget unity — this election will divide the country. Small town America — at least along the Mississippi and deep in the Appalachians — does not want a black man as president. On the other hand, should McCain win against the seemingly insurmountable odds, millions of Americans, including but not exclusively blacks and young people, will cry foul. In other words, whoever wins this election will have to contend with the fact that a sizeable section of the population will have an extremely hard time tolerating his presidency. It will be Bush vs. Gore redux, and then some.
One last point: McCain and Palin need to stop doing what they’re doing right now. Hate-mongering is a stupid-ass idea for many reasons. First of all, I think there’s a real threat of violence against Obama and his supporters. Secondly, inciting redneck rage is poor politics. While it may prove effective with the brainless right-wing, it’s just as likely to put off the ordinary decent conservatives who think the world of McCain, whom they consider not only a hero but an all-around honourable guy.
(For author Khaled Hosseini’s eloquent op-ed in WaPo, look here.)