In Ky. town, fear that United States is being destroyed

The Washington Post's Philip Rucker journeys across America talking with voters to get to the heart of this volatile moment in American politics.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 29, 2010; 12:45 PM

Seven days. Seven states. In the final week of the campaign, Philip Rucker makes a mad dash across America listening to what voters have to say.

MCKEE, KY. - The folks of this hamlet hidden in the Appalachian foothills have the distinction of having disliked President Obama long before now. They didn't like him as soon as they heard of him.

McKee is the seat of Jackson County, where Obama in 2008 registered his worst performance in all of Kentucky's 120 counties, taking home just 14 percent of the vote.

So for many of the roughly 900 people who live here - many of them older, most of them poor and virtually all of them white - next week's midterm election is an opportunity to reclaim a nation they believe has been hijacked by dangerous Democrats with a socialist and anti-Christian agenda.

"I just feel like they're trying to destroy our government and our Constitution and make a socialistic society," Viola Johnson, 72, said over fried chicken and coconut pie at Opal's restaurant off Main Street. "They're trying to take our freedoms away - no doubt about it. And you know that old saying, 'I'm mad as hell about it?' Well, I'm mad as hell about it."

She looked across the booth at her friend, Edna Banks, 78, who offered a similarly pessimistic take: "I think we're going down. Our money's not going to be worth anything. And there's not going to be any jobs. Our grandchildren are going to suffer trying to pay the debts back."

"I wish I could do more," said Johnson, a retired accountant. "But all I can do is vote, and I fully intend to."

This is a deeply religious town where, according to U.S. Census data, 99.5 percent of residents are white. Like much of Appalachia, McKee has long suffered economically and was in decline well before the latest recession. The data show that about half of McKee's residents live below the poverty line and nearly three-quarters subsist on government money, said a county official, be it from Social Security, welfare or another entitlement program.

"We used to take pride in what we done in Eastern Kentucky around here," said James Barrett, 56, who owns McKee S&T, a hardware store on Main Street. "But now, everybody just wants checks. It's very sad. There is no pride anymore."

Over and over, people interviewed in McKee on Thursday lamented a nation they see as in decline, saying they believed the country needs to be rescued from its downward trajectory.

"I'm a strong Christian, and I believe strongly that history repeats itself," Barrett said. "The Roman Empire was never defeated, but they destroyed themselves from within. And that's happening to America - every day."

Folks here generally shun government oversight. Inside the courthouse, people smoke cigarettes in the lobby as they await hearings.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company