Something is happening in rural America.
This morning I was having breakfast in the local coffee shop in La Junta, Colorado, musing to myself about last night’s presidential debate. On the next table two older men were discussing the same subject and I couldn’t resist eavesdropping. Here are a few snippets:
One was commenting on McCain’s awkward put down of the young African-American who asked a question about the economy (ie. "You’d probably never heard of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac before.") and his bizarre reference to Barack Obama as "That one". "That kind of behavior is typical of an alcoholic," he said.
It surprised me. I had never thought of McCain in this light. I have no idea if this is true or not and I certainly don’t want to make any unfounded accusations, but his cranky attitude and aggressive body language, for sure, is becoming increasingly unsettling; and if this kind of behavior is being noticed in local coffee shops, then his campaign is in serious trouble.
Both men were impressed by Obama graduating top of his class at Harvard and distinctly not enamored by McCain’s finishing 5th from bottom at the Naval Academy, regarding him as a typical student "partier"– a great way to meet people, they said, but not to get a good education. Though somewhat worried about some of Obama’s spending plans, all in all they decided, he has the potential to be "an excellent president" if circumstances allow it.
They also wondered if this election marked the end of the Republican Party because, for the second time now, deregulation by Republicans has led to financial disaster for the nation. They were unhappy about the government’s financial rescue of Wall Street (they felt we are being lied to by the Feds), and intended to contact their senator, Ken Salazar, to complain about AIG’s $400,000 post-bail out, blow-out executive junket in California. What is needed is more honesty among CEOs, they concluded, and if the Feds are not honest themselves how they expect anyone else to be?
In my work as a land agent for wind farms on the western plains I meet a lot of landowners, ranchers and farmers. Part of my job involves "visiting" with them–sitting down in their kitchens discussing all manner of things. They are without doubt, some of the nicest, most down-to-earth, and practical people on the planet. Although I try to avoid politics (and religion) sometimes the conversation inevitably veers in that direction. Most people are conservative, independently minded and suspicious of big government. What you might expect to be typical supporters of John McCain. But this is not the first time I have come across a shift in opinion towards Obama.
The Republicans may have done well with their "Aw Shucks", "You Betcha", "Jo Six Pack" kind of populist appeal in the past but the reality of their behavior may be wearing this image too thin. Improbably enough, a skinny young black kid from Harvard with his big ears and common sense talk may be winning the hearts of rural America, one coffee cup at a time.