OUR GOVERNMENT seems to have forgotten most of us. I listen to what comes out of Washington, out of the state capital and out of City Hall, and I wonder whether politicians live in the same country as the rest of us.
I drive a taxi. My passengers are a random mix of rich and poor, black and white, old and young, local residents and tourists. They talk to me. They tell me of their hopes and fears, their dreams and nightmares, problems and needs.
The tourists in general are not too worried about the current economic situation. They have stable jobs and stay in expensive downtown hotels. The local residents I meet, on the other hand, are simply scared. They live from paycheck to paycheck. They are not worried about foreign affairs or senatorial ethics but about keeping their jobs and paying the rent.
Welfare is a constant concern. Surprisingly, most of the anti-welfare sentiment I hear is from black passengers. One woman, a single mother who works for the post office, says, "I don't understand how the government can give all these people money that they just spend on dope and booze. I work 60 hours a week. That's why I own a house and can give my children a decent life. Why should all of these welfare people just sit around and wait for checks, living off of my tax money and making life hard for the rest of us?"
If she were white, she might support David Duke. But she's not, so she has nowhere to turn. "The problem I face as a black voter," she says, "is that any politician who might make my children's life better also wants to make life easier for the hoodlums and welfare bums who are ruining our city."
Many of my white passengers are racists even though they don't want to be, because urban crime today wears a black face. One woman in her seventies begged me to stay with her until she got her key out and limped into her apartment building. "Look at them sitting there," she said, pointing out dozens of young, black men sitting on nearby stoops. "Most of them are decent, I know, but some of them are waiting to catch an old woman like me when no one is around, to hit me on the head and take what little I have. I can't always tell which ones are the bad ones, so I have to treat all of them as if they were my enemies."
Would this woman have voted for David Duke in the upcoming presidential primary? Possibly. No other politician she has heard has spoken about the need to punish criminals and keep freeloaders from preying on working people.
Many of my passengers look at elected officials as if they inhabited a dream world where recessions only affect someone else and foreign affairs are more important than the dismal realities of life here.
David Duke is a symptom of our times. If my girlfriend -- and her children -- weren't black, I might be tempted to vote for him myself. I can't vote for Bush, because I simply can't afford his policies any more. And none of the Democratic presidential candidates are offering any solutions to the problems that plague my neighborhood.
We're desperate out here. We'd even accept a demagogue if he spoke well enough and didn't have Duke's unfortunate past. No one now in the public eye seems to realize just how tough things are in this country. And until they do, and are willing to offer solid, workable solutions to the problems that afflict ordinary citizens, we will listen to almost anyone who promises to solve our problems, no matter how obnoxious that individual may be.
Robin Miller is a Baltimore taxicab driver