My son and daughter-in-law’s house is just minutes from mine here in Chapel Hill. Her dad came down from D.C. for a visit last week. Jim Bernstein is blessed with an inquisitive mind and a love of back roads. So he and Rachel took off on a drive through the countryside, which in these parts means a totally different world. Driving around Chapel Hill and neighboring Carrboro, Kerry-Edwards or even Dean bumper stickers can routinely be seen on the cars parked near Whole Foods, the farmers market or Lowe’s. They are sad reminders of what didn’t happen, as are the new Edwards, Obama and Clinton stickers reminders of what might. Drive out a few miles from here and the pickups are more likely to display the “proud to be an American” kind. Even with a North Carolinian on the ticket, George Bush took the state which remains more red than blue.
Jim doesn’t only look (and there is much beauty to behold in the nearby back country), but he loves to engage. So, wherever possible the man who lives in the nation’s capital talked to the farmers who live on the land. “Where are you from?” “I’m from Washington, D.C.” That’s all it took to unleash a torrent of anger against the President of the United States. “What is that guy doing, what’s he thinking*?” Now these are folks who consider their neighbors down the road in Carrboro “hippies”, and that’s no complement. They are also the kind of people who go to church on Sunday and might well return Elizabeth Dole to the Senate, though maybe not. Perhaps they put their trust in that faux plain talking fellow from Texas, but not any more. Living where he does, Jim doesn’t get surprised easily, but to hear him report on these conversations it’s clear that they were a real eye opener.
The Bush Administration is deeply concerned about Al Qaeda sleeper cells throughout the United States, and the threat they pose to the “homeland”. But if Jim and Rachel’s experience in the farmland is indicative of what’s happening elsewhere (which polls suggest is the case), they should be equally concerned about sleeper cells of discontent in the heartland. Perhaps Bush doesn’t care any more. He continues to live in a dream state believing that history will vindicate his corroded presidency. Dream on! For Republicans, these American sleeper cells may spell real trouble, not the loss of the White House and a few seats but a blowout. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking on my part, but I trust those farmers. The young people who are “fighting them over there, so we don’t have to fight them here” are their kids. They are the people who get those dreaded visits, attend those funerals or tend the permanently broken bodies of those whom they love. Unlike most Americans, they’ve seen them go into harm’s way up close and personal, and now they’re pissed.