WASHINGTON -- "Happy new year," I said to the long-haul trucker as we arrived simultaneously at the door of a service station just off Interstate 70 near Frederick, Md. The temperature was in the teens; the wind was gusting at more than 30 miles per hour; and his 18-wheel rig was covered with residue of the blizzard he had driven through on his way west.
"What's to be happy about?" was his frosty response to my cheery salutation. He continued in a tone more frigid than the weather: "Have you seen the price of diesel fuel? It's going to cost you 50 bucks to fill up your SUV. It's going to run me almost a grand. I'm an independent trucker. My wife lost her job last year when the company where she worked for 15 years shut down. I'm hauling Chinese-made auto parts from Baltimore to Indianapolis and then a load of scrap steel to California for shipment to China. My wife and our three kids are counting on me. And the clowns in Washington are trying to put me out of business."
Through beads of condensation on the store's window, I could see his big Freightliner sleeper cab idling at the pump -- and a neon sign advertising diesel fuel at $3.26 a gallon. As we filled paper cups of coffee, I tried to cheer him up by suggesting that "things will get better after the new Congress is convened on Jan. 5."
The trucker shrugged and concluded our brief conversation with a stark warning: "They better, 'cause if they don't make things right, we've had it. Our oldest son is a Marine on his second tour in Afghanistan. He was going to stay in the Corps, but since this 'don't ask, don't tell' thing, his wife wants him to get out when he comes home. Our daughter is working her way through college but couldn't find a job last semester. My wife is now home-schooling our 12-year-old because half his sixth-grade public-school classmates can't speak English, and most of his classes had a Spanish-language 'translation teacher.' Anyone who thinks Congress can fix all this is naive. Happy new year to you and your family, Colonel."
Reflecting on this somber discussion, I think the 18-wheel nomad's dark prophecy may well be right. Our country does indeed face enormous challenges -- both domestic and foreign -- many of them exacerbated by what the Obama administration and the 111th Congress did and failed to do. The most visible indicators: glaring price displays above gas stations and the increasing number of foreclosure notices posted on homes and commercial real estate across America. There is an unfortunate correlation in these signs of the times.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.