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Not Clueless in Chicago Skepticism in the Heartland

Not Clueless in Chicago

by ELAINE CASSEL

This week, I had the great pleasure of leaving the Washington D.C.area and traveling to Chicago. I took every opportunity to find out what people west of the beltway were thinking about Bush and Company. And, much to my surprise, they were thinking more like me than the pollsters suggest.

Yes, I know this is anecdotal evidence from a mere smattering of people. But the nature of the comments and the variety of people who shared these views were impressive.

A young salesperson in Neiman Marcus on Michigan Avenue asked me if I thought it odd that Ashcroft was holding rallies to promote the Patriot Act. Isn’t there a law against that, he said?

Another young man asked if I thought that the Patriot Act’s provisions would be extended. Weren’t many of the provisions "against the law," he asked?

The people I spoke with were reluctant to suggest that Bush was "evil." The young man in Neiman Marcus asked, "Do you really think he is trying to do the right thing?" Another, does he only care about his father’s buddies? Or does he care about "us"? Did Bush knowingly lie about intelligence that indicated Iraq was an imminent threat?

Is something wrong with Ashcroft, another young man asked? I mean, why would anybody cover up a statute to hide breasts?

Many people brought up the idea that Karl Rove must be behind the California recall effort. Not a person I spoke with thought it did not have Bush’s fingerprints all over it. All hoped that it backfired, and that Bustamante would carry the day, if Davis is ousted. All thought that the Schwarzenegger campaign was a joke. One referred to it as a national embarrassment.

Talk of potential voting fraud was a common theme–they had read about the machines that will leave no trace of one’s actual vote. Is this all a plot, asked one young woman, to steal the election, like the Florida election was "stolen?" (I was surprised at how often people expressed this belief).

A woman asked, how much abuse do people have to take before they get a clue? A clue about, she listed, the economy, the environment, health care, and the war in Iraq. This young woman, a long-time phone company union worker and a former Wellstone campaign aid from Minneapolis, dissected with great care the views of various Democratic candidates. She was going home from a union convention fired up to make sure, as she put it, that a moving van is at Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2005. She, editor of a union newsletter, said that she carefully edits her own writing to make sure that she does not refer to Bush as "President" Bush. He is not my President, she insisted.

Inside the beltway, we watch the ideological wars and the political spins play out. Issues are discussed abstractly, not in terms of how they affect peoples’ lives. This is both the blessing and the curse of living in Washington, DC. The blessing, that people are interested in issues and talk. The curse, that we do not live in the real world; rather, we inhabit a space where the major motivator is power. The people I met were, on the other hand, motivated to live good and decent lives and to care about the future of their country.

Many of them already have a "clue." When they hear that the war in Iraq will cost tens of billions of dollars that we will pay for while we sacrifice living wages and universal health care, they have a clue. When they watch Bush pretend to be an environmentalist while loosening clean air standards on aging power and manufacturing plants, they have a clue. When they count the number of Americans dying in Iraq after Bush declared "victory," they have a clue. When they read about the continued violence in the middle east, they have a clue.

And when they hear about Ashcroft wanting more laws curtailing their First Amendment freedoms to read, think, write, and meet with like-minded people, they have a clue.

Bush and his divisive political handlers should get a clue.

ELAINE CASSEL practices law in Virginia and the District of Columbia, teachers law and psychology, and follows the Bush regime’s dismantling of the Constitution at Civil Liberties Watch. She can be reached at: ecassel1@cox.net