Time takes an American Journey (kind of)

The headline on the recent Time cover story tried to set an epic tone, summing up a story that was going to courageously explore an election season that has intimidated politicians (mostly on one side of the political aisle) and, thus, has intimidated journalists. Cue the music. A fanfare please. Please place your right hand over your heart.

An American Journey

6,782 miles. 12 states. 24 days. 576 songs. One road trip reveals the issues people are talking about -- but politicians aren't.

Once again, I cannot link to the complete Joe Klein essay, because Time no longer posts the texts for several weeks. Have I missed an actual pattern? I'm a subscriber, obviously, and I cannot figure this out. Input, need input.

Anyway, here is a link to the thumbnail version, which gives you a bit of the flavor. Here is Klein's overture to what Time editors clearly see as a kind of sweeping first-person opera of truth telling:

I found the same themes dominant everywhere -- a rethinking of basic assumptions, a moment of national introspection. There was a unanimous sense that Washington was broken beyond repair. But the disgraceful behavior of the financial community, and its debilitating effects on the American economy over the past 30 years, was the issue that raised the most passion, by far, in the middle of the country. Many Americans also were confused and frustrated by the constant state of war since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But for every occasion they raised Afghanistan, they mentioned China 25 times; economics completely trumped terrorism as a matter of concern.

Road trips are nourishment for the mind and the soul, if not the body (given the quality of roadside food); from Huckleberry Finn to The Hangover, they have been a classic American pastime. The trip exploded my personal Beltway Bubble, which turns out to be more a state of mind and a set of habits than an actual place. Driving 6,782 miles in four weeks, I was forcibly weaned from my usual engorgement of newspapers, magazines, blogs and books. I watched no more than 15 minutes of cable news per day but listened to music obsessively. I was cleansed and transformed, a news junkie freed from junk news, and able to experience Americans as they are -- rowdy and proud, ignorant and wise.

So where is one supposed to go to hear the voice of the true America? I can't link to the Time map, but you can draw it in your mind as I list the stops Klein made in his pilgrimage.

Our pilgrim starts in New York City, of course.

Next up? Allentown. Philadelphia. State College, Pa. West Middlesex/Youngstown. Columbus. Detroit. Chicago. Madison. Sharon, Wisc. St. Louis. Boontown, Mo. Kansas City. Des Moines. Denver. Colorado Springs. Phoenix. Las Vegas/Pahrump. Sebastopol, Calif. Sacramento/Yuba City. Los Angeles/Pasadena.

Guess what? This election is all about the economy. It isn't simply that the economy is the main issue, which it clearly is, but it is the only issue. Oh, President Barack Obama is also a major issue, as is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. But it seems that when Americans open their heart, from coast to coast, what they want to talk about is economics -- issues that are framed almost precisely the way they will be framed the next time that someone whose last name is Clinton steps to a podium to deliver a campaign address.

Of course, it helps if one goes nowhere near the Bible Belt, other than, of course, a few select corners of the Midwest. It is significant that Klein mainly hits the industrial Midwest, with the exception of the Village of Sharon.

But wait, you say, what about Colorado Springs? Isn't that the center of theocratic America?

Maybe, although that is a very complex community. And, besides, I cannot find a single word in Klein's piece that appears to be drawn from encounters in the homeland of Focus on the Family. I guess everyone there was silent.

So here's the news: The angst and the rampant anger that is making America such a dangerous place right now are completely rooted in secular, faith-free issues. There are no cultural, moral or religious issues at play at the moment. And there will be no wave of post-election data from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that demonstrates, once again, that frequent visits to pews or sanctuaries have anything to do with how Americans make their decisions when they pull levers in voting booths.

So those of you who are interested in religion news have no reason whatsoever to read this particular Time cover story. Issues of culture, morality and religion will play no role whatsoever in this election season. The Time team listened to America and America -- mostly the blue zip codes -- has spoken.

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