Grant Woods Quoted in Joe Klein’s TIME Magazine Article October 2010

Encountering Anguish and Anxiety Across America

By Joe Klein Thursday, Oct. 07, 2010
Peter van Agtmael for TIME / Magnum
On a blistering evening in Phoenix recently, a group of prominent civic leaders met to talk about America. It didn’t take long for the conversation to get around to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. That’s what happens when smart Americans get to talking about politics these days. Topic A is the growing sense that our best days as a nation are behind us, that our kids won’t live as well as we did, that China is in the driver’s seat. The group had been assembled for my benefit by Fred DuVal, vice chair of the Arizona Board of Regents. Fred’s a Democrat, but most people in the room were Republicans, and the conversation was bracing from the start — though not in the knee-jerk, contentious way we’re used to seeing on television. People told personal stories and made complicated arguments that didn’t fit neatly into their assigned political categories. Early on, a former Arizona attorney general named Grant Woods said he’d recently visited Turkey. He described “a prevailing sense of melancholy,” which, he was told, was caused by the fact that Turkey “once had been a great empire but no longer was, and probably wouldn’t ever be again … In my lifetime, growing up in America, we were raised to believe that we were the best, No. 1, and always would be — and what I see happening now is that people are afraid our day may be passing and that the current Administration is putting that process into fast-forward.”(See more entries from Joe Klein’s road trip.)

Woods is a Republican, and his was a conservative lament: Barack Obama was leading the country away from private enterprise toward a more “European” style of Big Government. This is a popular, perhaps even dominant, theme in the U.S. this season — but it doesn’t begin to describe the anguish that dominated every conversation about politics I witnessed during a four-week trip across the country. With a month to go before a crucial election and campaign ads cluttering the TV, people were in a heightened state of political awareness. I’ve covered more than a few midterm campaigns, but this one seems particularly fraught. That was made clear by the next speaker, a Republican public-relations consultant named Kurt Davis, who agreed with much of what Woods had said about “the far left undermining American values.” But, he added, “when the middle class looks to the right and sees how free trade has sold them down the river, exporting millions of jobs … they feel whipsawed, pissed off at both sides. I can’t tell my kids that they’ll be able to get a good job with a good company, work there for 30 years and retire with a good pension. I’d be lying. People know that doesn’t exist anymore, and they’re angry about it. That was the anger that elected Obama. He was the anti-Establishment candidate — and John McCain was anti-Establishment too. And so was Bill Clinton. But none of them did anything to change the reality that’s making people angry.”

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