Sunday, August 26, 2007

Edwards Wins Two Votes in NH

My wife Deb and I were two of the 200-250 people waiting for John and Elizabeth Edwards at City Hall Plaza in Manchester Sunday morning.

There we are, surrounded by the combination of seriousness and wackiness that I've come to expect in New Hampshire politics. PrioritiesNH (a group that wants our defense budget redistributed into programs that help people) has a few people handing out cookies whose icing is a pie chart of the federal discretionary budget, while some others drive past in the topsy-turvy bus, which you just have to see. People are wearing a variety of t-shirts to advertise their organizations: Health Care Voters, the ONE Campaign, and seven members of the letter carrier's union. Oh, and I'm carrying my Yearly Kos tote bag.

I've been trying hard to stay objective about Edwards. A lot of people I respect are for him, and my wife was just about sold on him already a few weeks ago. I like what he's been saying, but I'm trying not to be too influenced by the sense of personal identification I feel because Deb has had cancer. (I've written about Elizabeth's situation before. I'm not an optimist.) That can't be enough to vote for him, and besides, I have irrational reasons to like Obama too. When I read the chapter in The Audacity of Hope where Barack is flying in a borrowed private jet and wondering how these experiences might change him, I thought his writing voice sounded a lot like mine. It's hard not to root for a guy once I've made that observation.

So the Edwards campaign bus pulls up with Sheryl Crow's "A Change Will Do You Good" on the sound system. The song is from 1996 when Deb was in treatment. That year we spent a lot of time sitting on the couch watching VH-1, so I've seen the video many, many times and know exactly where I was when I did.

Maybe objectivity is over-rated.

Elizabeth is off the bus before John, and she looks good. Trust me on this, I know the signs. She either has her own hair, or a wig that handles wind better than any I've ever seen. She moves well and doesn't look like she has recently gained or lost much weight. She seems sharp mentally. At one point during the question period she bounded out of her front-row seat to add something to John's answer. (Then she handed John's microphone back and said, "Your turn, hon.") So he's not dragging her around and she's not going through the motions. She's campaigning.

Card chairs are arranged in a circle about four deep. Edwards' path into the circle goes right past me and I shake his hand, which I don't usually do at campaign events. In Elizabeth's introduction, she tells a story that deserves to be true: When John was campaigning in Manchester in the 2004 cycle, a guy tried to jab at John's career as a trial lawyer by showing up in a head-to-toe shark costume. John pointed him out to the crowd and said, "I agree with you. We really do need to save the dolphins." The guy tried to say that he's a shark, not a dolphin, but the suit muffled his voice and hardly anybody heard him.

Now that he's been introduced, Edwards makes prepared remarks for about five minutes. His lead point is that the system is rigged and broken. "The reason we don't have universal health care is very simple: drug companies, insurance companies, and their lobbyists in Washington. We're going to have to take those people on." He says we need to elect Democrats in 2008, but just sending new people into the same corrupt system won't be enough. We need a deeper kind of change.

His statement on the war is something I might have written myself. After Congress comes back from vacation in September, General Petraeus is going to report on the Surge, and then there will be a battle about funding another year of the war. The question Edwards thinks we should focus on is: "Has the Surge had any effect in reaching a political settlement in Iraq? Because there is no military solution." He believes the answer is no, and then asks "How long do we keep this many troops in Iraq if there is no political progress?"

The mandate of the 2006 elections, Edwards says, was: "Make George Bush end this war. That's what the American people said. Congress needs to stand its ground." He says that the Democrats should "use every tool including the filibuster to make sure that no Iraq funding bill goes to the President without a timetable for withdrawal." This is exactly what I want to hear. And I retain just enough objectivity to wonder if he could take this position if he were still in the Senate.

He answers questions for about 20 minutes. In the 2004 cycle I was uncanny at getting to ask questions, but I haven't been called on once in this cycle. Maybe I'm not the target voter this year. But the questions are good and Edwards handles them well. I won't try to list them. On trade policy and jobs, he says that current policies are based on what is good for the profits of multinational corporations, and that he will ask himself what is good for the middle-class worker. He talks about his father working in the textile mills and says, "I've seen what happens when the jobs leave."

Asked a question about No Child Left Behind, Edwards says one of those lines that you have to have a southern accent to pull off: "You don't fatten a hog by weighing it." He says that taking money away from a school because its students are performing badly is "insane".

The final question is from a middle-aged guy who says he's choosing between Edwards and Obama, because he'd rather vote for Giuliani than Hillary. (Scattered boos come from the crowd.) Edwards ducks the invitation to bash Hillary or Obama, but says that he stands out because he is a fighter. The fighting theme segues back to the drug and insurance companies. "If you give them a seat at the table, they'll eat all the food. You have to beat them." Without accusing Obama of being too nice, he tells us that "you can't be nice to these people. We've been nice to them. That's the problem. And they haven't given up anything voluntarily."

That's a theme I could stand to hear more of. It's not just about drug and insurance companies. It's about Bush on Iraq. For that matter, it's about the administration on almost everything. It's Congress going hat in hand to the Justice Department or the Vice President's office and asking pretty-please will they respond to our subpoenas now that we've relaxed the deadlines twice already. Pretty-please will they start obeying the surveillance laws now that we've made it more convenient for them? Pretty-please can the attorney general stop lying under oath?

Nice doesn't cut it with these people. They aren't giving up anything voluntarily. We have to take it from them.

I think that means I'm sold. Edwards has sound positions and (unlike Gore) can express them in terms ordinary people can understand. He grasps (unlike Clinton and Obama) that the way for a Democrat to project strength is not to borrow militaristic rhetoric from the Republicans, but to stand strong for progressive values. He knows his message, and (unlike Richardson) stays on it.

So I'm finally sold. Deb was here weeks ago, but I'm slow. Two votes for Edwards.


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