Monday, September 22, 2008

Autumn in America

It’s autumn in America and to borrow from Stephen Colbert, so am I.

The trees have started turning colors, those that are strong or lucky enough to have survived the worms that settled in during late summer and shrouded much of the green matter in the southern Catskills. Yesterday morning it was cold and felt like fall, so much so that I had to build a fire to warm the cabin. The price of fuel oil is so high that I turn on the heater only when I absolutely must. The talk around here is that the coming winter is going to be a particularly cold one. It’s always cold in this neck of the woods, but this year the price of heating has charged the change of seasons with a note of dread. Our local town hall has started a food drive for folks in the area on fixed incomes who might have to make the choice this winter between buying food and buying oil, not a very pleasant prospect to consider.

Things are not sunny here in America. The economy is making everyone very nervous, the price of everything is going up at an alarming rate, manufacturing plants are closing or relocating to countries where the price of operating is cheaper, we are still at war and the presidential election is right around the corner. A little over forty days remain before the election.

This weekend I was in Scranton, Pennsylvania talking with voters. I’m not an expert on politics, and generally I don’t spend much time in these pages writing about it, but in the last few months the subject has been much on my mind so I hope you’ll forgive me if, for the next few weeks, I devote a little more space than usual to the topic.

This election feels like it’s going to be a close one. Of the families I spoke with this weekend, some had already made up their minds how they were going to vote, lifelong Democrats for Obama and their Republican counterparts for McCain. But there are a significant number of people who haven’t made up their minds. Now some people aren’t likely to tell a stranger who knocks on their door on a Saturday morning how they are going to vote, but there are also people who really haven’t decided which candidate is going to better address the issues they care about the most. There’s an awful lot of misinformation out there that has been spread by both parties against their rivals but there is also a genuine lack of understanding about what each of the candidates would do regarding healthcare and the economy – the two issues that I heard most often would turn these voters one way or another. It was also interesting that Sarah Palin was never brought up as a factor. For all the press she has gotten in the major media, she was a non-issue to the folks I spoke with in Scranton.

If there was one thing that stuck with me it is that the candidates had better use the remaining days before November 4th to spell out their respective positions on these two issues clearly and distinctly.

With so little time and the race as tight as it is, the coming debates could make the difference in this election. Neither of the candidates is going to have the time to stump in every swing district and political ads have become so discredited that people just switch them off, so it’s down to the debates. Obama has got to appear presidential while staying on the safe side of aloof while John McCain needs to present a consistency on the issues that seems to have eluded him during the campaign. The challenge to each of the candidates is to convince the voters that he is ready to lead on day one. Hillary’s “3AM” commercial was more to the point of this election than it might have seemed at the time. But the issue isn't just national defense, it’s everything, and the concern isn’t about which person is older or more experienced it’s about which of the two of them has the better grasp on the issues of healthcare, national security and the economy and has the most clearly developed plan to act when he assumes office. Experience as an issue in this campaign has had it’s day, I didn’t hear it mentioned once this weekend. Obama and McCain – for better or worse – are the two candidates in the race right now and the voters have accepted that. Now they are looking to see which of the two of them can get the country out of the mess it is in and back to something like normal.

It’s likely these debates will be compared with the Kennedy-Nixon debates, because the similarities are so strong - the young Senator versus the old Pol, experience versus change. The first of three debates will be this Friday night and I can only imagine the level of preparation both camps are putting into this. It could be the most important day of the campaign thus far.

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Blogger Diane Mandy said...

Wonderful post, as always. I look forward to more political posts from you.

2:34 PM  

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