'Money is not the solution, it's the problem'

In the town due to host last night's presidential debate, Rebublicans feel betrayed by Bush. Leonard Doyle tests the water for the bailout
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The Independent Online

Billy Stripling hurried to his job as an elevator maintenance man as dawn broke over Memphis yesterday. A southern white conservative from just outside Oxford, Mississippi, where the presidential candidates were due to debate last night, he rejected George Bush's warnings of economic meltdown and the notion that taxpayers like him should swallow the painful medicine of what he calls "Big Government". "Their way of fixing things is to throw money at it," he said, "Money is not the solution, it's the problem."

A dyed-in-the-wool right winger, Mr Stripling, 63, might have been speaking for the bedrock of opinion that has Republicans running scared. They fear that deep-seated hostility to the rescue plan on "Main Street" will see them thrown out of office on 4 November, when most seats in the House of Representatives are up for re-election. Millions of conservatives no longer have any trust in the Republican leadership, and instinctively oppose anything that would give the federal government more power over their lives.

He voted twice for George Bush, but now calls him "Chicken Little". The shrill warnings of economic apocalypse don't wash with blue-collar workers like Mr Stripling: "It's him saying 'the sky is falling, the sky is falling', but tomorrow's another day, and we'll get through, but not by giving more money."

Nearly eight out of 10 Americans – 78 per cent – say Congress should approve the rescue of the financial markets, according to an overnight Gallup Poll. But they also want to see changes to the plan to give more oversight to Congress and to ensure the Wall Street executives who brought about the mess are not enriched at their expense.

Mr Stripling is among the 11 per cent of the electorate who reject the plan to raise taxes by as much as $5,000 (£2,700) a family to bail out the bankers. He is not concerned about panic, and while he likes John McCain, he could just as easily cast a protest vote for the libertarian Bob Barr.

George Vergos, 79, is rheumy eyed and weary from decades working his fryer to produce "Southern down home cooking". "It's hard to figure out how some of the smartest bankers could mess things up so bad," he said."The poor people didn't put them in a bind, it's the rich who are responsible." A life-long Republican voter, he is now going to throw his lot in with the Democrats. "I'm for the rescue if doing nothing is going to just cause a depression and throw millions out work," he said.

Loretta Glover, a parking attendant, said a banking collapse wouldn't hurt her because: "I don't use credit cards anyway." She said she was going to pay close attention to the debate between John McCain and Barack Obama before making up her mind. "I'm open to both sides right now," she added.

Back at George's café, Mike Bass, 49, said the bailout was needed, however painful it might be. "Just as long as the taxpayer gets some of the equity and the bankers feel some pain to ensure that it never happens again," he said.

He blamed the Republicans, "the party of big money," but also the greed of ordinary people in buying houses they could not afford. "America's corporate bankers exploited that quirk of human nature," he said, "and they cannot be rewarded for doing that."