AllPolitics - TIME This Week

The drug ads? Those "are aimed right at her." -- Fabrizio

"V chips, computers in classrooms, school uniforms. They are all about giving her control of the lives of her children." -- Baer

[TIME Magazine]

Lori is sitting in the cafe at Schnucks Markets' 24-hour Super Center, talking about what scares her. Like the national debt. "It's in the trillions, right? I barely know how to write that number." Then there's Social Security, the issue that hits her each Friday when she does RPM's payroll. "Every week it gets taken out of my paycheck, and will I ever get it back? Then I do the books, and I see it deducted from the payroll, and I think, Someone else is using my money." Glancing across the restaurant to a pair of women in their 70s having coffee, she adds, "I wonder if there will be anything left for me. Sam certainly won't see a penny."

Lori has never been the victim of a crime; she doesn't even know anyone who has. But she still thinks about it a lot. She has been downtown only twice this year, and locks her doors when she drives across the city limits. Having a child of her own has turned Lori into a law-and-order hard-liner who believes in capital punishment and thinks prisons coddle criminals. But on abortion, Lori belongs to the church of the second chance. "I'm upside down and tossed on this one. People I love have had them. I can see why it's done for rape, incest and life endangerment of the woman. I'd never have one unless my life were in danger." She ends up landing right at the heart of America's silent consensus: she doesn't want abortion outlawed, but she doesn't want it easy. "Maybe the government should say that you can have one and only one abortion," she says. "But if you screw up and want to have one again, that's too bad."

Lori doesn't know whom she's going to vote for, but she does know she has trouble even remembering that Bob Dole is in the race. "It's like he's not even there," she says. "I have to force him to enter my mind." She knows a little of his story, admires his gritty recovery from his war injury, but is worried that he might not live out his term. "I want someone more contemporary."

Clinton's missteps don't much bother her--she doesn't care about Whitewater or his affairs, doesn't know who Dick Morris is--but the President's manner does. "I hate that Clinton said he didn't inhale." She likes Hillary Clinton and isn't keen on Newt Gingrich. "His name alone irritates me. I know that a newt is a lizard. We had them growing up. If you touch their tails, they break off as a defense mechanism, but then they grow back." Not that she's thrilled by her Congressman, Richard Gephardt, who would replace Gingrich as Speaker if the Democrats take over. "He's been around an awfully long time, but nothing seems to be any different."

Foreign policy doesn't interest her; the office manager thinks the country should be run by a CEO. But she isn't sold on Perot, and once again imagines the research she'd do. "I'd like to call one of his companies and speak to 10 of his employees and hear how they feel about him."

"The fact is, you could watch the presidential campaign and not see anything touch on most peoples' frustrations and concerns. Whatever politics or government means to them today, it's a fraction of what it was 20 to 30 years ago. It's less relevant, and they don't think it matters very much." -- Pollster Bob Teeter

It's evening now, everyone's home, Sam's cold is better, the lights are coming on up and down the street. Lori's house is sheathed in olive-green steel siding; there's a Japanese maple squatting like a sumo wrestler out front, and a sweet gum tree, and a big red oak in the back shading the gas grill and the lawn chairs. The house is a home--a sweet, messy testament to the compromises of parenthood; the curtains are lace, the couches paisley, the walls papered in cream with pink roses and wreaths of dried flowers, all soft edges and tones that fade behind the yelping primary colors of Playskool and Fisher-Price.

The TV is on, the movie of the week with Tori Spelling, but the sound is muted. Lori's favorite show is ER; it's paced at about the same rate as her life. Sam doesn't watch much of anything other than Barney and auto racing. The clock ticks; the ceiling fan whumps. Mike has given Sam his bath; the baby arrives, damp and in mismatched pajamas, to snuggle. Lori says his hair smells like candy.

She is talking about government. "I guess I see it all as a bunch of red tape," she says. "I think if I got food stamps or something I would be grateful." She has to pause and think a long time to imagine anything government has done for her, any difference it has ever made in her life, anything politics or politicians could ever do for her. Then she gets it. "Maybe I'll be able to get an SBA loan someday, start my own business."

Sam cries when Lori slips outside to sit on the porch steps and have a cigarette and a glass of Tang. She won't smoke in front of him, but this is what counts as her down time, and it's a soft, cool, edge-of-autumn night full of wishing stars. The 1986 Ford Country Squire station wagon, gray-green with faux wood paneling, sits in the driveway. She bought it when she was pregnant. Some people build bookcases or drop $250 on a souped-up stroller. But this is the way a car girl nests. "I don't care what I drive as long as it's safe."

When she was young and began falling in love with cars, she could tell the make and model in the dark, just by the headlights. She and her friends chased the cars around the neighborhood, played tag and kick the can. "Those were the days. Life was good and easy then," she says. And she laughs to herself. "It's still pretty good. It's just not easy."

--With reporting by Wendy Cole/Shrewsbury

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