CHAMPION, Pa. – Tracey loaded three large cardboard boxes with tomatoes, peaches, green beans, cucumbers and fleshy beets for a young couple about to embark on their first adventure in the art of canning.
Rows of perfectly presented vegetables lined the shelves of her family’s farmers market, where State Route 31 meets the base of a mountain.
The young couple peppered her with questions about "putting up" their produce as they recalled watching their parents filling cellars with canned vegetables and fruits that lasted from autumn through spring.
They also chatted about jobs and ways to cut corners; all three expressed worry about an economy that has not improved for more than a half-decade.
Behind them in line, a group of young people discussed the possibility of war with Syria – all of them astonished that this is what the White House is focused on.
"We keep waiting for the White House to talk about jobs in a meaningful, constructive way so that our families, communities and schools stop crumbling," said one young woman as she contemplated buying fresh honey.
Americans are suffering in ways Washington doesn’t grasp.
If you drive the 140 miles from this spot into the nation’s capital, the first 125 miles look about the same – farms, small towns and remnants of a once-thriving industrial livelihood barely holding on, creating a ripple effect for schools, police and fire forces facing steep budget cuts because of lost tax bases.
The moment you enter Rockville, Md., and eventually exit onto Connecticut Avenue toward the heart of Washington, your senses are drenched in prosperity; shops overflow with people, every off-street is gentrified, construction is everywhere – and good luck finding a decent place to eat without an hour’s wait.
Organic-food stands mimic Tracey’s Somerset County farmers market – except that the prices are tripled and her warm service is replaced with a polite but vacant exchange.
Down the cross-section of numbered avenues to the White House, President Barack Obama is beating the war drums on Syria; he has reset, walked back or waivered over striking that war-torn country because of its regime’s alleged chemical attack on its own people.
His message has been weak, vacillating and downright confusing not only to Congress and to international allies but, by their own admission, to his staff.
Historian David Peitrusza believes this bottomless disconnect with Americans’ needs and the president’s naked indecisiveness on war is shockingly unparalleled. And historians are rarely, if ever, stumped for historical parallels.
"Obama’s ill-conceived, badly executed, unnecessary and profoundly unpopular Syrian adventure remains without precedent in American history," said Peitrusza, "There is finally something new under the sun and, while it is not anything demanded by or of any utility to the American people, it may prove to be of some genuine value to them in facing this White House’s shortcomings."
Back at the farmers market, a brilliant American flag dances in the slightly cool breeze that signals summer is escaping and fall is around the corner.
In fact, the length of Glades Pike Road – the old name for Route 31, back when it was an artery of the "underground railroad" – is lined with farms graced by flags posted alongside natural-gas wells that help many small family farms survive in southwestern Pennsylvania.
On a back-road, a handmade sign jutting from the weeds declares, "Stay out of Syria" – a reminder of what national polls show: Americans passionately (by 63 percent, in a recent Pew survey) oppose Obama’s plan to intervene in that country.
They are equally dissatisfied with his handling of the economy: His approval plummeted to 35 percent (in a Gallup survey) long before news that, for a fifth year, there was no "summer of recovery" and the percentage of Americans working or looking for work has fallen to its lowest level since 1978.
Those who work in or report on the White House live in a protective bubble humming with commerce; they don’t understand why folks out here are restless and unsatisfied, unhappy with the thought of another war, weary of the lack of backbone on the economy.
The folks outside Washington want action – just not the kind that this blundering White House is trying to sell.
D.L. CLARK BUILDING 503 MARTINDALE ST. 3RD FLOOR | PITTSBURGH, PA. 15212