Information, observations, and analysis from the James River valley on the Northern Plains-----
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While politicians travel their home territories during the month of August on listening tours (who is covering Tom Daschle's old route, by the way?), we station ourselves at the booth at the Brown County Fair to do our major news gathering. There are people in the county we get the chance to talk to only at this time, as our schedules and lives keep us on different tracks.
Our chats are not just about politics. A Republican bratwurst connoiseur asked me yesterday if I knew where the Frohlings from Hecla had their food stand that served their award-winning brats. He explained that he and his friends liked to buy a bunch of brats and run over to the Clubhouse so they can eat them with the appropriate beverage, an ice-cold brew. And a woman asked me if my children had entries over at the bunny barn this year. I wish they were still at that age. My son is off at the marching band camp these steamy mornings and my younger daughter is fretting over a boy friend who is in basic training at Ft. Benning and is scheduled to be sent to Iraq by year's end. My oldest daughter is in Denver trying to get into some closed classes so that she can graduate from college next May. I long for the days when my job was to explain to them that bunnies make pellets and their job was to keep the water bottles and food dishes full so that the bunnies could make more pellets so that they could remove said pellets at frequent, regular intervals.
On the political front, the chats have an ominous quality. One booth worker reported that a man asked him how he could be a Democrat and call himself a Christian. The war on Iraq is an issue on which the sides are clearly hardening. Many people, particularly the elders who offer opinions at the booth, are frustrated that the Democrats have not resisted what they regard as a contrived and useless war with more resolve. They resent being played for fools with the argument that the war on Iraq is part of the war on terror resulting from 9/11, and they resent being told that the media reports only the bad news and none of the news about the rebuilding of Iraq's infrastructure and instituting democracy. The intensity of their resentments bodes some contentious and angry times to come.
The next most rancorous issue is abortion. The vast majority of people are opposed to abortion, but also opposed to taking away choices in the handling of problem pregnancies. The refrain that pro-choice people are participating in the mass execution of babies has had its effect. There is little mood on the choice side for accommodating the people who cast that accusation. Most people who stopped by the fair booth have abandoned the possibility that the conflict can be resolved through dialogue and compromise. The predominant attitude is not that they approve of abortion. It is how strongly they disapprove of those who label them baby-killers.
One woman said it is impossible to talk about these issues anymore. She said the nation is not only divided into camps, but those camps are hardening in preparation for a vicious fight in which politics will have no part.
One point where compromise and cooperation is working: Democrat Senator Jim Hundstad was soliciting signatures for Bill Napoli's effort to base property taxes on individual sales prices, not generalized evaluations of real estate property.