Allan Little's journey: Parts 5-10

Allan Little's journey: Parts 5-10

Allan Little

BBC World Affairs correspondent Allan Little is hosting the second part of the journey, across the South.

In this section he travels from Memphis to Nashville, Tennessee.

Part ten: Privilege

We are in Nashville, Tennessee. But first, a family tale from nearby Clarksville.

Dorothy-Ann Russo

Dorothy-Ann Russo is now 92 years old

My BBC colleague Steve Titherington has a personal connection.

In the years after the Second World War, Steve's family, living in the austerity of post-war Britain, used to receive care packages from a family in Clarksville.

Steve has brought with him on this trip the letters his grandparents exchanged with that family 60 years ago.

He tracked the family down. It wasn't hard. It turns out their daughter, Dorothy-Ann, is still living in the family farmhouse.

It is a connection with a time when, as Churchill put it, the New World came to the rescue of the Old.

Steve Titherington with Hedy and Dorothy-Ann Russo

Steve Titherington with Hedy and Dorothy-Ann

Americans used to take three things for granted: that their country was a force for good in the world; that they had the most dynamic economy; and that their democracy was the most firmly entrenched.

Faith is all three has been rocked. It seems to me that America has lost its confidence.

The country Franklin Roosevelt called the arsenal of democracy is looking for a way to believe in itself again. The prevailing mood against which this election is being fought is anxiety.

This is my last day on the Talking America bus. I have been struck by the warmth and generosity with which we have been received everywhere.

I have seen, these last couple of weeks, something of the spirit with which a Tennessee farmer's wife half a century ago wrapped up care parcels and sent them to a family she had never seen over an ocean she would never cross.

It's been a privilege.

Listen Listen to Steve Titherington with the Russo family (3 mins 25 secs)

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Part nine: Clarksville

I am at Fort Campbell, Clarksville, Tennessee - home to the US Army 101st Airborne Air Assault Brigade, one of the largest military bases in the USA.

My mind goes back to an incident in Baghdad, just after the US-led invasion. One day I found two US soldiers waiting by my door in the Hotel Palestine, overlooking the muddy green sweep of the Tigris River.

"Sir," one of them said, "we heard you had a satellite phone here. We haven't phoned home in four months."

They were perhaps 19 years old, lettuce-fresh faces above lean, loose limbed frames - no more than boys in the grown-up apparel of desert camouflage.

It turned out to be the first of a steady little stream of such visits. I would give them my phone for a minute or two.

Strikingly, and, to me, touchingly, almost always they would call their mothers.

Now here I am at the other end.

Cole Dadswell is a senior at Fort Campbell High School. He is taking part in a live-link up with high school seniors in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Cole's father, he says, is serving in their country. He's been away since January and isn't due home till next April.

"I miss him" says Cole. "I worry about his safety."

And then the disembodied voice of an Afghan teenager comes down the line. "Sixteen months without your father? Who takes care of you?" says the voice.

"My mum does an amazing job with me and my brothers," says Cole. And for a moment, you feel the crackle of a connection, a shared experience, across the globe.

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Part eight: St Louis

St Louis, Missouri, sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers - truly one of the great navigable water systems of the world.

The city is a little Democratic stronghold in a rural Republican hinterland, a little chunk of east coast America chipped off and reset in the Mid-West.

Obama supporters were everywhere as the Vice-Presidential candidates took to the stage. They poured into the Pageant Theatre which had opened its doors to show the debate on a cinema sized big screen.

They poured out again into the streets and bars and restaurants of St Louis. They bought and sold Obama merchandise – T-shirts, base ball caps, posters, badges and buttons and pens and flags.

America doesn't usually get steamed up about vice-Presidential debates. This one was always going to be different.

And it was always going to be about one thing: would Sarah Palin pull it off, or would she – as many a Democrat hoped – end up exposing herself as hopelessly inexperienced? Would it turn into what’s known here as train-wreck TV?

She emerged unscathed, cheered to the echo at a Republican rally immediately after the debate, her rock star status among those already committed to her visibly enhanced.

The danger for Joe Biden was that he would appear grand, rather superior, and condescending. Americans don't like that. They prefer down to earth amiability to slick mastery detailed argument.

He wisely attacked John McCain and not Sarah Palin. He too avoided the train-wreck.

But there is an important difference. Joe Biden commands respect among his core voters. Sarah Palin excites and electrifies hers.

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Part seven: Poplar Bluff

Neither rich nor poor. Hard working, church-going, small town America. It is the kind of place where everyone knows their neighbours.

Patty Robertson, Principal, Poplar Bluff Fifth and Sixth Grade Center

School Principal Patty Robertson

This is where the election will be decided. Missouri has picked the winner in every presidential election but one since 1904.

There is anger on Main Street where ordinary home owners and tax payers believe they are paying the price of Wall Street greed. Popular sentiment is against this bail out.

But talk to small business men and women here and you get a more nuanced, reflective, urgent view of the bail-out. They don't like it.

They have no enthusiasm for it. Many of them think it is just un-American to reward failure in this way.

But credit is their lifeline. Without credit they can't raise the capital to keep their businesses operating. They want the credit turned back on.

Seen from their point of view, the tension between Wall Street and Main Street is a false one.

The economic recovery of Main Street depends on the recovery of Wall Street.

Business leaders here in Middle America want their Congress to get on with it now.

Americans haven't turned against capitalism. But they've turned against the unregulated free-for-all they believed caused their current predicament.

When this is over there will be an appetite for a return to old-fashioned banking values; for banks that don't lend money they haven't got to people who can't conceivably pay it back.

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Part six: Embarrassment

We are in St Louis, Missouri. It's a bellwether state. The candidate that takes Missouri tends to end up in the White House.

But we are here for Thursday's debate between the vice-presidential candidates, Sarah Palin and Joseph Biden.

There is much talk among Republicans about whether Mrs Palin is up to it; Democrats fear that Senator Biden will appear too grand and superior and alienate the public.

Both must take care not to embarrass their running mates.

So my thoughts turn to embarrassing vice-presidential trivia.

President Bush senior's running mate, Dan Quayle, famously put an "e" on the end of the word "potato" on television. In his election debate, he bravely compared himself to John F. Kennedy.

Who can forget the veteran Democratic Senator Lloyd Bentson's withering put-down: "I knew Jack Kennedy; Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator Quayle - you're no Jack Kennedy." But Bush and Quayle won anyway.

Sarah Palin can take comfort from knowing that vice-president - presidents even - have been catapulted form obscurity before.

When Jimmy Carter told his mother Lillian he was running for president she said "president of what?"

Thomas Jefferson's vice-president was Aaron Burr. He's remembered principally for having shot the Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton dead in a duel.

Burr was still in office at the time. He had to lie low for a while after that. The next serving vice-president to shoot someone was Dick Cheney, who accidentally fired at, and hit, a hunting partner.

Nothing Sarah Palin or Joseph Biden can do on Thursday night can be that embarrassing. Surely.

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Part five: Emotional distance

Denesa climbs aboard the BBC Talking America Bus. We are parked up on Main Street in downtown Memphis.

Beale Street, home of the Blues, is just around the corner.

Denesa Segrest

Denesa has missed the last two instalments of her home loan

Denesa - like Main Street USA - has a lot to be blue about.

Denesa bought her home four years ago. Two years ago, her mortgage payments started rising, as interest rates went up. Her monthly bill is now $200 more than it was when she took out the loan.

She can't afford it. Her bank has begun foreclosure proceedings. She is close to losing her home.

"It happens so fast and then accelerates," she says. The tension is written in her face.

As a journalist, over the years you get used to meeting people in extremes.

Often they seem glad to tell you their story. You learn not to be affected by their distress, to keep your emotional distance.

Sometimes this proper detachment fails and the human being in you prevails. Denesa is a gentle, courteous, articulate woman with a bright handsome face.

Her voice has a pleasing Mississippi valley drawl. There is a warmth and a charm to her that you can't miss.

"My 11 year old son came home and asked me ‘Mother what does foreclosure mean?'" she said.

"Children are smarter than we think they are. They know when there's something wrong. I sat him down and tried to explain the situation we are in. He's scared. He doesn't sleep at night."

And with that she choked, trembled a little, and began to cry.

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Click here to read parts 1-4 of Allan's diary (Dallas-Memphis)

Click here to read Ros Atkins diary from the first part of the journey (Los Angeles to Dallas).