OVER the years I've found that a return to the land of my beginnings - the Midwest - has been just what I have needed in order to learn what really is on Americans' minds. People in my hometown don't hide their feelings. Not the way they do in big cities, anyway. Maybe they talk to me freely because they recognize I'm really still one of them.
What I'm hearing isn't the voice of discontent over jobs or the economy in general. That unhappiness, so apparent a couple of years ago, is muted, at least as of now. Instead, I hear what might be called a cry of anguish at what is seen as an onrushing, unwelcome American way of life. Many people are shouting, in effect, ``Stop the world, I want to get off.''
This outcry of dissatisfaction is coming from Democrats as well as Republicans and is rightly identified by talk show host Michael Harrison, editor of Talkers, a magazine about talk radio, as the ``independent'' voice of radio talk shows all over the United States these days - ``not so much conservative as it is independent.''
It would be a mistake to describe this public unrest as being ``anti-Clinton,'' although I find there are many people who, because they see a continued breakdown in values and moral structure, say they will not vote for President Clinton again. ``I voted for Clinton,'' one Midwesterner told me, ``but I now have no expectation that he will do what I hoped he would do.''
From talking to my Midwest friends I have become convinced that the talk shows are reflecting this rising tide of discontent. This unhappiness focuses on whoever is president. It was strident in its complaints against President Bush during his last year in office; now it is turning on Mr. Clinton. It made Mr. Bush angry; now Clinton lashes out at talk show hosts.
Mr. Harrison recently wrote of talk shows in an opinion piece in the New York Times: ``We are hearing the infant voice of a movement that is disgusted with the kind of president the system continues to serve up.''
He continues, ``The voice of talk radio is disgusted with excessive taxation and intrusion into personal and business life by the bureaucratic federal government.... It feels that an insidious war is being waged against the average hard-working, law-abiding American citizen ....''
I was finding the same sentiments Harrison describes in his article being expressed by those I talked to in the Midwest - and on the talk shows I listened to while there. Of these views Harrison writes in conclusion: ``Unreasonable? Naive? Half-baked? Perhaps. But very, very real, and very much here to stay.''
The people I talked to were not connected to the Christian political right but were from what might be termed the responsible midstream of political thinking. These people are part of a powerful movement that those seeking public office should watch carefully. They want an America in which they can feel more comfortable.
Harrison had it just right: ``They are disgusted with the kind of president the system continues to serve up.''