I am here to report two conversations with two very different Americans on the subject of President Bush.
The first was with a woman who described herself to me as one of the biggest fundraisers for the president in the entire state of Ohio.
The second was with an illegal immigrant from Venezuela.
Guess who thought that Mr Bush could bounce back from his present difficulties? That's right, the illegal immigrant.Funny that. Man bites dog vs Dog bites man - guess which is interesting? It would be nice to have slightly more than two data points though, a couple of anecdotes evidence is not exactly a solid foundation for a mass of sweeping generalizations.
Is this in any sense good news for the president or his beleaguered party? Well, it might be but I will come to that in a bit.
First to Ohio, though. To Cleveland: an ordinary looking place, grey and depressed in late spring rain, rescued by the view from the centre of town. You look across the main square and suddenly everything changes - there's water as far as the eye can see - the glassy expanse of Lake Erie.
I am staying out of town, though, in the suburbs where - as in every American city - the rich congregate.Yes as everyone knows only the rich have their estates in the suburbs and everyone who is not a millionaire is crammed into apartment blocks and squalid crime-filled slums. Obviously those acres and acres of solid middle class neighbourhoods that surround Cleveland on google maps (e.g. the neighbourhood of Newburgh Heights with its blocks and blocks of detached houses and gardens) are figments of my imagination. Of is it just that there are so many millionaires and billionaires in America that they all have to live in 100sq metre plots of land?
I am here to meet a group of ladies who lunch - serious people of considerable consequence in these parts; owners of newspapers and coal mines; lawyers or the wives of lawyers of national repute.
Champions, all of them, in the white Anglo-Saxon tradition who smell of soap and money.
On that subject, one told me of her financial difficulties. She was having trouble giving it away.
"I just shell it out but the investments make even more," she said wistfully.It really is disgusting that! look at these freeloaders, living off their invstments and actually able to give money away instead of having to sponge off the government. If this was Brownite Britain we'd soon stop them doing that. We can't have people making a return on their investments, the government must tax them harder.
Incidentally the amount of money amassed by individuals in every medium-sized city of this nation is one of the things that marks America out as a special and different place - partly the result of generous tax regimes for the rich and partly the hugeness of the American market.
If you make it here the rewards are as big as the nation itself.Ok this is a flat out lie. Despite "the generous tax regimes for the rich", as the Tax Prof notes, the top 1% pay more than 1 third of all tax revenue, the top 10% pay nearly two thirds and the bottom 50% pay 1%. Something tells me that the reason why people are so rich is the healthy and generally lowly taxed economy (at least compared to Europe) which, amazingly enough, provides lots of disposable income to oil the wheels of commerce and keep things rich. Come to think of it Justin, have you gone back to dismal blighty recently and looked at all the wealth in the South East of England and how your colleague from Bulgaria finds locals complaining that British people are buying up all their properties for ridiculous prices (thus joining the locals in pretty much everywhere else in Southern Europe in bitching about the stupid sums of money English people will pay for ruins)? I think it is fair to say that despite 8 years of Brownite taxation the rewards of "making it" in the UK aren't too shabby either.
Rewards which accrue to people like Frances, who picks me up from the hotel in a car plainly built for invading Iraq yet quaintly painted white in case, by some chance, you didn't see it.
There is even a white towel on the floor of the passenger's side. Apparently Frances's friends all have gleaming soles.Umm, may I repeat my suggestion to go back to Blighty for a bit. Perhaps you haven't heard about all those "Chelsea tractors" with their spray on mud. Oh and what the heck is this bit about "quaintly painted white"? why are white cars (or SUVs) bad? or quaint? and why is a white towel something to snear at?
My point is that these folk are the cream of Middle American society, opinion formers, achievers and respecters of achievers.
They were not by any means all of them Bush backers in the past but, if the president was a force in the land, these folk would sniff it, notice it, respect it.
Looking beyond Bush
But they were almost unanimously - Republicans and Democrats alike - openly contemptuous of the commander-in-chief.
"Not the sharpest knife in the drawer," the big-time fundraiser sniffed sadly, as if writing off for tax purposes an investment which she now knew was simply never going to pay.It might help if the reasons for this statement were given. Otherwise it sounds like the sort of reflexive negativism that the BBC excels in. Could it be perhaps that the Republicans and the Democrats have different reasons for their contempt? perhaps - and I'm guessing here - one lot dislikes him for Iraq and the other for excessive pork?
The rescuing of the president is, for these people, no longer a topic worthy of conversation.
They are looking ahead to a future where wars are not messed up, where reckless expenditure is reined in, where "White House competence" is not an oxymoron.Question remains: do they all dislike him for the same reasons? or does one lot think "wars were messed up" while another "reckless expenditure is not reined in"?
They were unanimously appalled for instance by a harebrained plan - now dropped - to give every American $100 to help them pay the high cost of petrol.
This money would have been added to the national debt: to fiscally conservative Republicans (and that should mean all Republicans) the craziest and most irresponsible use of government money.
If the president's party has descended to those depths, they argue, no amount of fiddling with senior White House appointments can really do the job.So Justin perhaps you have failed to notice that Washington is not Westminster. The President does not have any control over Republican Congressmen, or vice versa, so inane proposals by congresscritters desperate to look like they are doing things really don't have anything to do with the president unless he signs any resulting legislation or explicitly says somehting like "I think this is a good idea"
I left Cleveland surer than ever that the Bush era has ended.
The big money players - in the widest sense of that term - no longer take him seriously.
But what of the future?I don't want to be rude or anything but did you forget the term limits rules? The Bush era can't extend beyond 2008 by definition.
A different view
A visit to North Carolina this week brought me face to face with a humorous and thoughtful illegal immigrant, Carlos from Venezuela.
I was chatting to Carlos about the president and John Kerry, the Democratic contender he beat in 2004.
Carlos agreed that Bush had his troubles. "But," he said, "he's better than Kerry.
Why? John Kerry supports abortion rights.Oh my atheistic non-deity! there are people who think that abortion is murder and they aren't frothing Bushitlerian CEOs trampling on the faces of the poor.
From the bottom of the pile in American society - from a man who is not yet even a proper citizen here but whose children will be - comes a message that hostility to abortion and to homosexuality - a belief in other words in Bush values - is going to be the wave of the future.
In a few decades, more than a quarter of the people of this nation will be Hispanic immigrants and the great majority of them - like Carlos - will be socially conservative.
Too late of course to save this president, though not too late to re-write history in his favour.
The headlines scream "Bush finished" and in the short term the headlines are right.
But America is full of surprises.Oh yes America is going to become extremist fundamentalist christian! it's a dreadful future! They'll be rounding up the gays and gassing them! And keeping women barefoot at pregnant (and chained to the kitchen sink)! Do you get the idea that the liberal BBC journalist is unable to grasp the idea that "real" people actually dislike the liberal (or libertine) agenda.