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Posted: October 27, 2012

A nation divided goes into a critical election

Perceptions by Gerry Warner

Having just returned from a two-week sojourn in the U.S., I couldn’t help but notice some factors that I’m sure will play heavily in determining the occupant of the Oval Office for the next four years.

The Great Recession is much more obvious south of the 49th parallel than north of it. Boarded up gas stations, empty storefronts and motels with shuttered doors were a common sight on my route south to the Grand Canyon, which admittedly traversed the rural heartland which has been hardest hit by the economic downturn. Reflecting this, prices are incredibly low like the casino/motel I stayed in Nevada for $35-a-night and they gave you $5 cash to play the slots! (I used it to buy breakfast.)

Gas was anywhere from $3.69 to $4.19 for regular, still cheaper than Canada, but while I was there gas spiked to more than $5-a-gallon in Southern California and motorists were howling. But the recession is the best card in Mitt Romney’s deck even though blame could just as easily be laid at George W. Bush’s door as Barack Obama’s. Unnecessary wars cost a lot of money.

And there are other signs of Americans’ frustration. “Proudly made in America, not China,” was one sign I saw over a vendor’s stall. “We really appreciate your business,” was another one I saw at more than one gas station where I fueled up. And gas is cheaper at some stations if you pay cash.

Americans are proud people and I’m sure their angst is running deep as they look over their shoulders at the economic behemoth of China getting ready to surpass them as the greatest economic power on Earth. CBC Radio ran an interesting item just before I left pointing out that for the first time in history the average Canadian family is worth more than its counterpart in the U.S.

Of course, there are still far greater personal fortunes south of the border than here, but that’s largely confined to the infamous “one per cent” and does nothing to diminish the anger on Main Street as opposed to the plutocrats of Wall Street.

Having said this, I must also say something else. I’ve travelled quite a lot in recent years and nowhere have I been better treated than I was in the United States. Whether it was at a gas station, a restaurant, a motel or hiking on the trail, people were genuinely friendly and service standards were outstanding. It doesn’t matter where you go in the States, when the waitress comes over to get your order, she has a cold glass of ice water in her hand as well as a menu. That may not sound like much, but it seldom happens here. And if you say you’re from Canada, their eyes really light up. I even met two older American couples that said they were considering retiring in the Great White North, though the possible election of Romney may have had something to do with that.

And yes, the election. I did sense that many Americans are war-weary, but maybe my own bias had something to do with that.  Ironically, one of the best cards in Obama’s deck was his extra-judicial order to murder Osama bin Laden instead of capturing him and putting him on trial as a war criminal like you’d expect any civilized, law-abiding country to do. I guess after 9/11 that’s a forlorn hope.

Another thing that’s obvious down south is they’re a deeply divided country. It’s right in your face wherever you go – rural/urban, liberal/conservative, rich/poor – you can’t avoid it. Who was it that said “two nations feuding in the bosom of a single state?” That’s what it’s like down there. The twain doesn’t meet, at least politically.

But it’s still a great nation and they know how to treat their guests. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Gerry Warner is a retired journalist. His opinions are his own.

Ed. Note: Lord Durham said, “two nations feuding in the bosom of a single state,” in an 1839 report to Queen Victoria about conditions in Canada.

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