The candidates are sweating, but Americans are cool
When I told friends in the West I was taking a summer trip to New England, some assumed that, as a journalist, I was heading to the Democratic convention. Not so. My daughter in Massachusetts had warned us that street closures during the convention would make downtown Boston a place to be avoided. She suggested we fly into Portland, Me., and at the end of our trip fly out of Providence, R.I.
It was good advice, and anyway I wanted to avoid fevered politicians of both parties for a while and take the temperature of everyday Americans.
New England is a good place to do that. It's full of tradition, the cradle of many of the great principles upon which America is founded.
The vacation wanderings of my family from northern Maine to the tip of Cape Cod convinced me that, if New Englanders are representative, the mood of Americans is pretty good. They are not disillusioned about their country, and have not lost faith in what it stands for. Despite personal challenges and occasional hardships, they are resolute. Yes, there is dialogue about the economy, terrorism, and Iraq. But the dialogue is often more reasoned and civil than that of some politicians and their celebrity supporters.
Permit me to inflict on you a few vacation snapshots in print.
Campobello Island, New Brunswick: Here, just across the border from Maine, is the summer home of Franklin D. Roosevelt, a peaceful retreat, an international park established as a unique memorial to the "close and neighborly relations between the peoples of Canada and the United States." Across this border, Americans and Canadians pass daily in amity and good fellowship. Border officials of both countries greet visitors with smiles. No international hostility here.
Jonesport, Me.: There is poverty in this tiny coastal town. But the lobster fishermen who must put to sea in all weathers are tough. A big American flag flies over the gas station and laundromat that is the town hub. The townsfolk are proud, patriotic, and self-reliant. The couple from whom we rented a room are natives who left for successful careers elsewhere but returned to reclaim and beautifully renovate the home in which the wife was born. They foresee a renaissance for Jonesport as newcomers discover its million-dollar views.
Camden, Me.: This is a different part of Maine, prosperous from the arrival of wealthy retirees, former government officials, and CEOs. It's also a boating resort where the yachts of celebrities put in, the home of a think tank on ethics, and a prestigious annual conference on national and international affairs. Democrats and Republicans joust in the coffee shops, but the debate is civil and constructive. Even so, we retire thankfully to the home of our hostess, with its exquisite views across Penobscot Bay, to walk the new puppy on the rocky beach, and throw sticks for the older dog - whose eyesight may be failing, but whose nose and ears lead her unerringly to the fall of the prey - before we fall asleep to the whisper of the ocean.
Boston: As the Democratic convention folds, we streak through the center of town but make return forays for church and to chat with old friends. This is Kennedy and Kerry country, but there is a surprising amount of praise from Democrats and Republicans alike for Gov. Mitt Romney - a conservative, a Republican, and a Mormon - in a liberal, Democratic state with a substantial Roman Catholic populace.
Orleans, Mass: Cape Cod is traditionally the playground for Bostonians in summer, but is clogged with cars from states far afield. Accents are no longer predominantly Boston-nasal, or even American. In the week-long baseball clinic my 13-year-old attends, the peeling participants honing their batting and pitching skills include lads from France and Britain, whose parents are vacationing on Cape Cod. The kid from France, my son reports ruefully, is out-hitting the Americans.
The clinic is put on annually by the Orleans Cardinals, a farm team that has sent a string of players to some professional success. On a perfect summer night toward the end of our vacation, as the Cardinals begin a game, the spectators stand and the bareheaded players are at attention on the field, caps held over their hearts, as the national anthem plays and the Stars and Stripes flutters gently in the breeze. It is my favorite snapshot. America at its best.
It's a pretty good country, in a pretty good mood.
• John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.