Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fleeing McCain and ‘More of the Same’?

An angry registered Republican told me this the day after the Texas primary gave John McCain clear sailing to the GOP nomination: “If McCain is elected President, I may move to Canada. He’ll just bring four more years of the same. We can’t afford that.”

He was particularly outraged that McCain had gone straight to the White House the day after the Texas primary and gotten George W’s praises and blessings, rather than distancing himself from Bush’s deeply unpopular Administration.

The Republican, a young, pro-life Internet technician, admitted he had crossed party lines and voted for Barack Obama despite the Illinois Senator’s limited and liberal voting record. “His speeches inspire me,” he said. “Have you listened to how well he speaks? How positive his messages are? I think he can bring Americans together and get us moving forward again. I’m just sick and mad about what has happened to my party under George Bush.”

A day before the Texas primary, I had another unexpected encounter with an upset Republican. I was in a bank, making some changes to one of my accounts. When the process was completed, the banker looked at me and asked very quietly: “Have you voted yet?” (In Texas, as well as some other states, registered voters can go the polls starting more than a week before the official primary or general election day.) After I nodded yes, something odd happened. The banker pressed me with another question, trying (without being too impolite) to find out how I had voted.

“I voted for change,” I told her, leaving her to guess whether I had supported Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton.

She smiled. “I voted for Bush twice. But this time, I voted for change, too,” she admitted quietly. “And experience.”

“That’s code for ‘Hillary,'” I said.

She nodded. “In our bank meetings, we keep saying things are going to have to change soon. We can’t afford what’s happening to the economy, and neither can our customers.”

While her candor and vote pleased me, it also struck me as odd that a banker would reveal this much during a penny ante transaction. The big picture, however, quickly came clear after I got home and did a little Web surfing. Many economists increasingly are worried that the current recession may trigger a wave of bank failures that would rival the savings and loan meltdown of 1989.

For example, reported: “The banks most at risk for failure are generally smaller ones, not the huge global banks hit by billions in writedowns from subprime mortgage problems.” The small banks, CNNMoney pointed out, “are big players in the business of construction loans made to homebuilders—loans that were backed by new homes now worth a fraction of the original estimated value.”

I had just driven home from a small bank in a small city where new housing construction has boomed for several years but recently has slowed to a standstill. With the economy very much on her mind, my worried banker had crossed party lines and voted for her number-one issue, her pocketbook and her job.

Now that the price of gasoline is pushing quickly toward $4 or more a gallon and the endless Iraq War is still staggering forward on mountains of borrowed cash, America is tilting toward economic disaster. And average citizens in the heartland are both feeling it and fearing it.

Bold new leadership is needed now. But now can’t start happening until next January, when a Democrat, chosen by voters from both parties, takes the oath of office.

Yes, we will need words that inspire us. And we will need experienced leadership that can help pull us together quickly and show us how to make sacrifices for the common good: our survival.

We will need both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the White House in January, 2009.


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