Through Ohio, headed South.

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

Hey there, we made it home last week, and that feels good. The dumpster is out of our driveway. 99.5% of our house reconstruction is done, and we’ve returned from a journey north to see family and friends, to put The Green Cottage to sleep for the winter, to enjoy the leaves changes through bright shades of maple-red and sycamore-gold.

A meeting with a new client of mine gave us a chance to swing wide through Ohio and wander down through West Virginia on our way back south, and because this is the political season as much as it is autumn, it gave me a chance to—in a fairly non substantive way—get back in touch with my roots and get a sense of how the midwest is faring economically (mmm…not well) as well as get the faintest read on the political landscape—by watching the political signs as they literally dot the countryside.

In Michigan and Ohio, the yard signs were out in force, and I was heartened to see Obama signs in places that were traditionally considered Republican strongholds. Sammy, ever-attuned to the nuances of the landscape, pointed out the difference between yard signs…the ones that you put on your own property and the ones that appear on the edge of public right-of-ways that can be scattered by political operatives and volunteers. We saw both in the upper peninsula of Michigan and the farm country of northwest Ohio. South of Youngstown, down to the Ohio River, where my mom grew up (on the West Virginia side) we saw more democratic signs, and a lot of them tied into the unions—still a force after all the closings and all the layoffs and all the 1980s.

We got as far as just south of Parkersburg, West Virginia for the night, and I had a good chance to watch the political ads for three states there, and Obama dominated the airwaves, along with spots that used Joe Biden in a way to, frankly, say to folks in these parts “I know this Obama guy, and he’s not a scary guy.”

Biden has been doing some very heavy lifting for the campaign, including a series of satellite TV interviews with local anchors—one, for a TV station in Orlando was just beyond my belief. Longtime anchor Barbara West apparently wanted to pose nothing but questions crafted by those somewhere way, way to the right of Rush Limbaugh. “You may recognize this famous quote, ‘from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.’ That’s from Karl Marx. How is Sen. Obama not being a Marxist if he intends to spread the wealth around?” Biden: “Are you joking? Is this a joke? … Or is that a real question?” Was Obama trying to “turn America into a Socialist country like Sweden?” Biden said, “I don’t know anybody who thinks that except the far right-wing of the Republican Party.” I watched and shook my head…this is exactly why so much of local television news is ridiculed, ignored, increasingly irrelevant. Biden handled it with sophistication and intelligence. Any questions about jobs, the economy, our future? Social security? Um…no.

As we drove south of Charleston, West Virginia and down through Pikeville, Kentucky and hard-core coal country, the political signs seemed to disappear completely…and yet I’ve found no laws that prohibit them. Maybe folks are just feeling more disenfranchised there. We dropped down through western Virginia (yes, the real Virginia) and they picked back up again, and again I was heartened to see the Obama name scattered through the political sign-forest. That was less true back in our own red state, at least up in the mountains, but then we got back to our latte-sipping, Prius-loving neighborhood, and we were awash in Obama-hope. And, home.