Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Even in the rural heartland, Obama has sparked an explosive conversation
In this weathervane state they love God and guns. But they also see the long shadows of slavery and discrimination

Timothy Garton Ash in Missouri
The Guardian, Thursday October 30 2008

In Warsaw, Missouri, there's a ghost who keeps talking to me through the mouths of strangers. He is the ghost of slavery past, and he casts a long shadow, even across the streets of this cheerful little lakeside town on a sunny autumn day. A local Obama campaign volunteer tells me about a woman she had canvassed who said she personally would vote for Barack but that her daughter wouldn't - and then the mother lowered her voice - "because he's black". Nor would her son: "he's even more racist". How horrible to feel impelled to say that of your own children. The jokey-scary commercial paraphernalia of Halloween is all around, but here are America's real ghosts and witches.

Missouri matters. It is a national weathervane. Located bang in the middle of the American heartland, where east meets west and north meets south, over the past hundred years it has chosen the winner in every presidential race except one. In the opinion polls, it's among the few states that are still too close to call. That's why Obama was here speaking to massive rallies a fortnight ago, and why both he and Joe Biden are back here again this Thursday. That's why the Obama organisation in Missouri plans to use its 25,000 volunteers to knock on some 1.3m doors during the last four days of the campaign.

Most of those key swing voters are in the sprawling, laundered suburbs of St Louis and Kansas City, but every vote from these rural areas, whose native sons include one of the greatest Democratic presidents, Harry Truman, will count too. And I'm in the heart of the rural heartland: beautiful, gently rolling country, with dawn mist rising from cattle ponds, trees turning every impressionist's shade of autumn russet, yellow and red, cows picturesquely munching lush grass, and roadside signs proclaiming Dirt For Sale, and Jesus Is Lord.

On the corner of Van Buren and Kosciusko street (Tadeusz Kosciuszko, that is, the Polish freedom fighter who inspired the town's name), I notice a neat, white-painted house with a sign in the window saying "This House Protected by God". Out front, a guard dog barks. (A dog called God?) And there's another sign on the lawn: For Sale. The Lord may provide, but people have housing and money worries here as everywhere. And they don't just hunt for the sport. A good shot can put a nourishing turkey or quail on the table for dinner. So the Republicans claim Obama wants to take away your gun. A McCain advertisement on the local country music radio station declares, in a deep countryman's voice, "We love our God and we love our guns" - and you can almost hear a second capital G. And, it goes on, "liberals" want to take them away, being "out of touch with our America". ......(more)

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