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Our Economic Crisis: The View From the Real America

By Patrick DorinsonPolitical Commentator

As the economic crisis worsens -- with seemingly with no end in sight -- I have been watching the TV coverage, listening carefully to the radio and reading all the blogs. Across all media the economic experts, pundits and wannabe political strategists tell viewers and listeners how Americans are coping with the recession. All the talk seems completely disconnected from how real folks are reacting to the crisis.

The voices I hear are either from Washington or Wall Street -- there aren't many views from Main Street. Most of the time all I hear, especially from the "strategists" on TV and radio is just canned political talking points, ginned up that morning by the respective political parties' communications departments and then distributed to various media outlets so that they can mouth the words for the cameras like trained seals.

As we were checking out at Wal-Mart this weekend, I asked Mike, the young 20-something cashier, if he was seeing a change in the type of customers that were coming in. Without hesitation he said,"Yeah, rich people or people who used to be rich."
I see and hear every day how real American -- beyond the Washington-New York corridor -- are coping. I make it a point to stay connected and talk to folks from all walks of life, whether at the gas station while I'm filling up or at the local coffee shop. What they have to say is a helluva lot more revealing than what some talking head in Washington or New York says.

I live in Folsom, California which is about 22 miles east of Sacramento as the crow flies. Folsom began as a Gold Rush town in 1849. Most Americans might know about Folsom because of the Johnny Cash hit song from long ago "Folsom Prison Blues" which he performed for the inmates at Folsom Prison in 1968. It's a great place to live and raise a family.

I moved here about 12 years ago and have seen it grow and prosper. The town is managed by a strong city government and involved citizenry. It's like many towns across America.

And just like many cities and towns across this country, we have not been immune from the economic crisis that is gripping the country.

Cuts have been made in city services and city workers have been laid off. Development has slowed to a crawl and many of the restaurants and businesses I have patronized and enjoyed for years (where I personally knew the employees) have closed leaving behind only memories and empty storefronts.

Folsom is also special to me because it is here that I met and married my wife Carol.

Carol is my window on the real world and she knows about everything and everyone in town. She was a terrific bargain shopper even before the recession and ever since I have known her she has used coupons for groceries, and actually reads the circulars that come with the Sunday paper so she can find the best prices. Some of the most precious gifts she has given me have come from thrift stores.

The other night I was asking her about what she was seeing around town and how she thought folks were responding to the tough times. She felt people were making adjustments and said, "You should see the folks lined up at the Goodwill every Monday before opening. They are not the typical people who usually go there and there are a lot of expensive cars in the parking lot that weren't there a year ago."

I asked why do folks get there early Monday and she said,"To get all the new stuff that was turned in over the weekend!"

I then inquired about Wal-Mart and Grocery Outlet, two of her other haunts. She said the same thing was happening at those stores as was happening at Goodwill.

On Saturday we drove to the Wal-Mart which is very close to our house. She was dead right. There were more fancy and expensive cars than I had ever seen there before and many people did not look like they were longtime Wal-Mart shoppers.

In fact, as we were checking out, I asked Mike, the young 20-something cashier, if he was seeing a change in the type of customers that were coming in. Without hesitation he said,"Yeah, rich people or people who used to be rich."

But there they all were, working stiffs and the "nouveau poor", Wal-Mart veterans and rookies looking for bargains and trying to make ends meet in a difficult time.

What I observed on Saturday was that the American people are making adjustments to their lifestyle and many are relearning the lessons of thrift and frugality that their parents and grandparents taught them. Moms and Dads have rediscovered the word "no" when telling their kids that they can't have everything they want.

Folks out here in the real America are making difficult choices. They're choosing not to spend money on things that might be nice to have but they just can't afford right now. They understand the gravity of the situation and are putting away the credit cards.

Are they angry and worried about the future? You bet. But they are making the best out of a bad situation and doing what's necessary to survive. In that sense they are way ahead of the politicians.

What they see from our elected officials is more spending and an outright refusal to make the hard choices. The earmarks in the omnibus spending bill are defended as if every one of them is vital to the nation's economic health when the only health politicians care about is their politicalhealth.

I've got a crazy idea. How about a grand gesture to America from her politicians? How about giving a nod to fiscal responsibility and letting the American people know they are serious about fixing the country's problems? In fact, how about showing Americans that they mean business with every Senator and Congressman, Democrat or Republican telling whoever they promised that earmark to "sorry we just can't afford that right now."

If they want to have any chance of restoring the trust of the American people, that would be a good start. Otherwise all this "bipartisan" talk about fiscal responsibility is just that...talk.

Patrick Dorinson is a radio talk show host and commentator who goes by the name"The Cowboy Libertarian." He can be heard on a radio program with the same name Saturdays, from 5-6 p.m. PT on Clear Channel's KFBK radio in Sacramento, California.