Some Say U.S. No Longer Feels Like Home

Leora Dowling and her husband thought returning from deep in "red" America to her native New England would make them feel more comfortable, more like the people around them shared their values. Since the election, she's been contemplating another move. To Italy.

"After the election, my husband and I asked ourselves, 'How could our country be heading backward? How could so many people miss or choose to ignore the obvious failures of the Bush administration?'" the former Florida resident said.

President Bush pledged that one priority for his second term would be to heal the wounds that a bitter election -- in which groups not formally connected to each candidate ran attack ads focused on character, not issues -- seems to have opened for many Americans.

Dowling, a college professor who lives with her husband in Vermont, is not alone in feeling that the wounds cannot be healed, or at least that Bush is not the man to do it.

For Dowling, as for others who spoke with, though the immediate anger may be focused on the president -- whether because of the war in Iraq, his stance on same-sex weddings, what they say is his blurring of the line between church and state, or his championing of the Patriot Act -- there is a broader concern. They say they feel the United States is changing in ways they do not like, and they feel powerless to stop it.

"We were leaving anyhow, mostly because we want to start a family and we don't feel our children can get a decent education in the United States," said Brian Sinicki, of Laramie, Wyo.

He said America's schools fail children by not teaching subjects like philosophy and civics, subjects that he said would give Americans not only a deeper understanding of the world, but an appreciation for why they should be more actively involved in the political process, not only voting but staying informed.

He also criticized the media, and television in particular, for the way news is covered.

"Television I think has single-handedly destroyed the level of political discourse," he said. "When I talk to people about politics, they're either radically misinformed or they wouldn't know how to define the terms that they use."

Sinicki, who has been job hunting in his wife's native France, doesn't blame Bush for what he believes is happening in America, but he doesn't believe Bush will change things for the better, either.

"All these things were going on before Bush got elected," he said. "But I also think they got worse since Bush got elected. He's a symptom of the problem and he's making it worse."

Like Sinicki, Dowling didn't start thinking about moving abroad last week, but she said her concern was more about the role Bush's religious beliefs seem to play in his governing, and the role of religion in American society -- what she called "aggressive Christianity."

"There is this aggressive morality that seems to me to have nothing to do with Christianity," she said. "Our fathers were mostly Unitarians, not at all holy rollers."

She also said it feels like there has been a closing of the American mind.

"I can't understand when in our nation's history being an intellectual, having a questioning, curious mind, wanting to travel, became bad," she said. "I don't understand when it became stigmatized."

She said Italy appeals to her because it is a country that holds secular values, with a "mind your own business" attitude to religion and an acceptance of the fallibility of its government.

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