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17 October, 2008  
Indianapolis Calling

Leverhulme, our London correspondent, finds himself in the US of A, feeling the pulse of the electorate. In the process he discovers the Supreme Court’s view on executing obese criminals

Right at the moment the United States of America is the place to be for a curious citizen of the world.

“Who is going to win the election?” I ask the Ethiopian taxi driver taking me to O’Hare airport in Chicago.

“I hope it’s Obama,” he replies, “but I am more worried about paying my bills. These days I fix my own lunch and can’t afford to go out at night.”

“Are you going to vote for Obama?”

“I can’t,” he says. “I am still waiting for my Green card.”

* * *

Indianapolis is as typical as America gets. Locals say “hello” to you in the street. This week the weather is unusually warm – around 30 degrees and there are cloudless skies.

People are telling me times are tough but for a lot of Americans the process of belt-tightening only takes place when they sit down.

The servings in restaurants are massive and collecting the leftovers in cardboard boxes for Fido is a common occurrence.

imageI first came to Indy five years ago and the roads are still full of Range Rovers, pick-up trucks and Ford Expeditioners.

One can’t help wondering how Americans get enough oil.

On this day, the sidewalks are crawling with grown men and women (all white) wearing lurid blue football shirts. It’s a home game for the Indianapolis Colts football team.

The fans gather in the car parks hours before the match frying hamburgers and drinking beer from the back of their automobiles. It’s a ritual known as “tailgating.”

They keep themselves entertained by playing something dubiously entitled “corn holing.”

It involves trying to land a hand-sized bean bag into a toilet-seat shaped hole that has been cut out of what looks like someone’s back door. Perhaps that’s why they call it “corn holing.”

* * *

I call into a restaurant called Champps (with two ps) in time for brunch (eggs over easy.)

imageIt’s packed to the rafters with Colts supporters and the only few black faces that bob up are on the bar staff.

I ask my waitress, a petite blonde called Natasha who she thinks will win the election.

“I’d really like to vote for Obama and so would my friends, but we’re not so sure. If he wins, the African Americans will think they’ve got one up on us.”

* * *

There is a feeling that a lot of white people intend to vote against Obama on racial grounds but are keeping quiet about it.

It may be so, but I think it will be countered by the hundreds of thousands of new voters on the rolls.

imageSenator Obama is running a cool and disciplined campaign but its real hallmark has been thoroughness.

In Indiana (population six million), 75,000 new Democrat voters have been enrolled. At the last election Senator Kerry won 39 percent of the vote in Indiana and President Bush 60 percent.

This week the polls were scoring Obama on 46 percent and McCain on 51 percent.

In Colorado, a traditionally conservative state, the Democrats have signed up 140,000 new electors; the Republicans 42,000.

The Jewish Women for Obama held a rally in Indianapolis last week expecting 50 people to show up and got 600.

A student called Noah Gray has a website urging young voters to register. It is called Virgin Voting and he’s handing out T-Shirts on which is written: “Never Forget Your First Time.”

There are allegations of fraud. One young black man has been registered to vote 87 times. He said, not unreasonably that it was because he gets paid each time he does so.

In Florida, the Obama campaign is organizing young Jewish voters to persuade their grandparents to vote.

All the Hymies and Sadies who buggered up their hanging chads all those years ago are being assured by their darling grandchildren that President Barry will not be a terrorist even though he looks a bit different.

* * *

The most fascinating state is Ohio. No Republican has ever won the White House without carrying Ohio.

Tim, a big man with a crew cut who runs his own business in Cleveland, is in Indy for the national hardware convention.

image”I don’t like any of the candidates,” he says, “although at least Sarah Palin cuts out all the shit. Obama is a good man but he will tax the hell out of us.”

I tell Tim that a lot of Americans did not realize how important this election was to the rest of the world.

His pal looks indignant. “It’s got nothing to do with the rest of the world,” he shouts. “It’s none of their business. It’s about our taxes and our economy.”

It is clear that he had not heard of JFK’s aphorism: “Domestic policy can defeat us but foreign policy can kill us,” but I don’t think it is a good time to bring it up.

* * *

This week in Ohio, Richard Cooey, who had been in prison since 1986, petitioned the Supreme Court to stop his execution.

His lawyers argued that giving him a lethal injection in his obese condition would be a cruel and unusual punishment because they might not be able to find a suitable vein.

The Supreme Court disagreed. A couple of hours later the fingers of Mr. Cooey’s left hand tapped a few times and his face took on a purple shade. The State of Ohio had found a vein.

* * *

CNN has a slot euphemistically entitled World News.

I say “euphemistically” because it lasts for a couple of minutes and is about things like North Korea coming off America’s list of evil countries.

The real world news is about the United States. The rest of the time is peppered with ads on heart pills, diets and the acne photo challenge.

One priceless export from Australia’s cultural closet is the US adaptation of Kath and Kim.

It did not find favour with Time Magazine’s TV critic, James Poniewozic:

“It’s a comedy of grotesques,” moans The Pone. “It’s unwatchably (sic) badly written. Kim is a cartoon idiot. ‘It’s over,’ she declares of her marriage. ‘O-V-U-R’.”

* * *

These things are often impossible to predict but I sense a growing feeling in this country that it’s time to open the windows and doors and let some fresh air in.

Barring someone bombing Iran in the next few days, if Obama can keep his cool, I think he’s headed for a big victory.