The Red State Blues: Bush in Idaho

George W. Bush is taking a [sarcasm] much-deserved break [/sarcasm] from his extended vacation this week, and doing so in my birth state of Idaho. After visiting Salt Lake City this morning (where we was met by 2,000 protesters led by the city’s mayor, no less…), he slinked his way up to a Donnelly ranch, in the mountains of central Idaho.

Idaho, of course, is per capita the most Republican state in the nation; for the better part of four decades, Republicans have enjoyed virtual one-party rule in state and local affairs. The state also currently boasts the highest favorability rating in the country for Bush, where 6 of 10 polled Idahoans give him glowing reviews on his handling of domestic and foreign affairs.

You wouldn’t know it, though, given the response to an open letter call from the state’s largest newspaper. It makes sense for Bush to buoy his falling approval ratings with VFW rallies in conservative Utah and Idaho; however, even in these reddest of red states, Mr. Bush is encountering some vocal opposition. My personal favorite is from Allen L. Wenger from Mountain Home:

Please don’t do anything for Idaho. Your being a “uniter not a divider” has done more than any other person in history to completely paralyze our political system. Your efforts to help the people of Afghanistan and Iraq are obvious to everyone who watches the nightly news. Your economic policies have spiked energy prices and stagnated or dropped wages for the average American.

I’m sorry you weren’t allowed to open the Alaskan wilds to oil drilling. I’m sure your rich oil buddies could have used a few million more.

Thanks for the offer, but please, don’t do anything for Idaho.

Mountain Home is a small community anchored against the wind and sagebrush of southern Idaho, and host to the U.S. Air Force’s 366th Fighter Wing. As an adjunct, I taught in Boise State University’s outreach program located smack dab in the middle of the military base. I taught on the air base for only three semesters before moving out here to Portland in August of 2001. While my time there was short, the experiences I had were easily among the most rewarding I’ve had in a classroom, and the people I met were simply amazing human beings. Nearly all of my students lived on-base, and the simple majority of them had partners and significant others who were on active deployment; a lot of them were taking classes not just to fill degree requirements, but to bide the time. I gained an appreciation for what military life is really like, and an even deeper respect for the people who live that life.

That’s probably why I’m underscoring Mr. Wenger’s letter by re-posting it here. He lives in a community that trains and supplies the front line for the so-called “war on terror” in Iraq. He knows people who are actively deployed in Iraq right now. He easily has a better vantage point on the human cost of this war than I do. That’s why I hope Mr. Wenger is in attendance at the Idaho Center Wednesday night, when Mr. Bush speaks in glittering generalities to the military families who are nervously finding ways to bide their time while the Iraq occupation rages on.

8/23 UPDATE: Disappointing (but not surprising) puff pieces on Bush here and here in the Idaho Statesman this morning. This is Bush’s first (and probably final) trip to Idaho since becoming president, and the lapdog quality of these pieces is more than a little disturbing; everything from what Karl Rove was wearing to what kind of muffins Bush will eat is covered here. Gross.

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