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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Bill Turnbull's US Diary
Bill Turnbull in Baltimore
Bill worked in the United States for the BBC from 1994 to 1998
Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull shares his thoughts on US politics in the run up to November's presidential elections.

Bill has lived and worked in New York and Washington and he covered the dreadful events of September the 11 for the BBC.

He's just returned from a whistle-stop tour around several states, to make three special films for Breakfast

Whenever I travel abroad for an assignment I look for a moment to capture the mood of a country. Something someone says, something I see, or some kind of event.

It was like that for my trip to the States last week my first since the September 11 attacks. I was interested to see how the country where I had lived for nine years had changed. And I found it, of all places, at a Nascar rally in Illinois.

The people are pretty much the same, but the place is different. The streets around the White House in Washington designed as an example of open government are blocked off.

Airport security is much, much tighter no fewer than three full searches before I boarded our flight home.

Some people are asked to take their shoes off before the X-ray check. And passengers on flights from Washington are required to stay seated for a full 30 minutes after takeoff, to prevent any repeat of the 9/11 hijacks.

...the so-called Nascar Dads are one of the big targets in this presidential election and at present many of them are leaning towards George W Bush

The day that changed so much for so many is still on everyone's minds. Is there too much security, or not enough? During our visit, the Bush administration announced that arrangements were being made to postpone the Presidential Election in November in the event of a major terrorist incident.

A sensible precaution or tinkering with the engine of American democracy? The debate continues. There is a fair amount of suspicion in America today, and it's not just aimed at Al-Qaeda.

"Male and working class"

So to gauge the political opinion of middle America we headed for Illinois and a rather unusual venue a Nascar racetrack in Joliet. Here tens of thousands of fans sit in the sun and watch cars racing at 180 mph around an oval circuit for hours on end.

Largely male and working class, the so-called Nascar Dads are one of the big targets in this presidential election and at present many of them are leaning towards George W Bush. They say he's provided all-important leadership at a time of crisis for their country.

"Patriotic approval"

And it was here that I saw something to send shivers down the spine. Before the big race, the drivers and the crowd stood to attention for the singing of the Star-spangled Banner.

As the anthem reached its high note, a growing rumble could be heard in the sky as the ceremonial fly-past approached. What would it be, I wondered an aerobatic display from the American equivalent of the Red Arrows?

Hell no, as Nascar fans like to say. It was a B-52 bomber perhaps the most powerful military aircraft in the world. As it flew low over the track, the thunder of the jet engines was replaced by the roar of the crowd, seventy thousand people on their feet in one vast chorus of patriotic approval.

For them, the B-52 represents American power and military might. Freedom. Strength. Readiness.

This was the moment. This is America, 2004.

BBC Breakfast


The road to the White House
21 Jul 04  |  Breakfast


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