Shaimaa and I jumped in our hire care today for the last time to hit US Highway 31, the road that cuts through Kokomo that we have come to know so well over the last couple of days. This time we were headed south to Indianapolis, leaving for the last time.
We came to Kokomo because it was a typical small American town, doing it tough in the recession. And because the state of Indiana was very evenly split between McCain and Obama it seemed like a good place to go to get a fair assessment of the President’s first 100 days.
All day Wednesday we sped around like mad things speaking to different people in the Kokomo community and feeding live into BBC news programmes. From the high school, to the local glass factory, to the childcare centre we tried to find out what Kokomo’s residents were thinking, culminating in a special World Have Your Say live from Kokomo’s rescue mission. See the special news page on Kokomo here.
So what did we discover? Well firstly what many of us at WHYS had suspected – that the benchmark of 100 days is something that the media like to mark, but that doesn’t mean that much to ordinary people. Most of the Kokomo residents we spoke to said it was too early to make a serious decision about their President’s performance. As the Mayor of Kokomo, Greg Goodnight said during WHYS, “Here in America we want everything now. We want instant weight loss… we want instant results.” But, he went on to say, some things take time to incubate, and a Presidency is one of them. It was interesting to see even many of the avowedly Republican heads nodding in agreement.
The other thing we found is that there is still deep unease within communities like Kokomo about a possible move to government involvement in all aspects of their lives. From national pre-school testing to involvement in the management of the big auto companies, many people fear that the policies Obama has laid out in his first 100 days will lead to bigger government and less individual rights. It’s a concern his opponents played on greatly during the election campaign and it seems he has done very little in his first three months in office to assauge that worry.
From Kokomo we did hear more scepticism than approval, which I suppose is to be expected given that McCain got 56% of the vote in the local county. But we were disappointed during the WHYS programme that a lot of the Obama supporters who had said they were going to come down didn’t make it. We wanted to present a room full of people that was representative of Kokomo voters and I’m not sure we quite got as many Obama fans as we could have. (One reason was that the Chrysler Union was voting on whether to approve a merger with Fiat and therefore possibly save the company – we suppose we can forgive them for not showing up to our radio programme.)
But our overwhelming image of Kokomo was of a friendly place filled with genuinely kind, courteous people who love their country whatever their political persuasion, and care deeply about the direction it’s going in. Coming from the UK it’s always overwhelming to find a town full of people who are so open and willing to help. And it gives us a kick that people tell us they could listen to our accents all day.
So thank you Kokomo. Ros was very disappointed he couldn’t make it because of his swine flu quarantine, but we just about got by without him (although he was missed) and we had a real education in small town America in the process.