Welcome to Amerika
While the nation obsesses over Congressional sleaze (“Look! Look over there! It’s a Foley!”) in Iraq, eight more American soldiers died. Twenty-one have lost their lives since Saturday alone.
George W. Bush, here in California on Tuesday, ramped up the fear rhetoric with 312 well-heeled Republican diners at an exclusive country club outside of Sacramento as they chowed down on $2000-per-plate lunches.
He reiterated his stance on staying the course in Iraq, that terrorists are out to kill us all and hate our freedom, and that Democrats would like to help them achieve their goal. Bush was delighted to be in this red county in a blue state, and said as much. The well-upholstered diners were proud as punch and cheered between each pronouncement.
Bush was raising emergency money for Rep. John Doolittle, who’s facing a very, very close race for the first time in 16 years. Democratic challenger Charlie Brown, a retired Air Force pilot who served for 26 years from Viet Nam to Desert Storm, is nippin’ at Doolittle’s heels like Snoopy after the Red Baron. And with reason: Doolittle has been linked to the Abramoff scandal and to the sweatshops in the Marianas Islands. He’s under some serious scrutiny in his once-loyal district.
Here’s a strange thing, though: The day before the president arrived, one of the reporters for the weekly paper I edit hit the local hangouts (where Republicans drink lattes, too) and, for our person on the street question, asked “What do you think about President Bush visiting here?”
He needed to record five answers, with photos of the answerers. I expected people to say they were excited and pleased, since Bush is the first sitting president to ever visit the county, and he chose this community for the honor. Like him or not, this was a pretty big deal.
But to my surprise, not one person the reporter approached was willing to answer the question – at least, not on record.
Understand, we weren’t asking people for their political affiliation. This is a random survey. Since a majority of the voters in the community vote Republican in each election, it wasn’t naïve, I thought, to expect positive remarks and willing subjects.
But they didn’t want to answer at all, and they sure didn’t want to have their faces and answers in their local newspaper. Some were candid enough, off the record, to say quietly that as local business people, they might lose customers if they told us. Others were concerned about what their neighbors would think. Many refused to explain at all, but they were definitely uninterested in answering the question.
What does this say about the state of affairs in our country, when people feel they can’t even publicly express their pleasure – or displeasure – about the fact that the President of the United States is visiting their community?
Were they afraid, in a country where indefinite detainment and torture of U.S. citizens at the president’s whim is now legal, to speak their minds?
Welcome to Amerika.