by Our Frozen Correspondent
MONDAY, JAN 7: Damn! Hillary is a lot better than I expected. It is NOT easy to pick a favorite candidate here. And, I’ve only seen the top three. I understand Bill Richardson is also very like-able. In fact the fellow next to me at Hillary’s speech asks her if she would consider taking him on the ticket as her running mate. Hillary says she likes Richardson a lot (see, he’s likable), but of course she can’t start picking a vice president yet.
On the last day before the primary, at my last candidate event, I figure out how to beat the system. I show up late, but still ahead of the candidate (they all run late), avoid standing in line, accept a seat in the overflow room, and get a good look at the candidate up close and without a wall of cameramen in the way when she pays a visit after the speech.
The overflow room, the Salem High School cafeteria, is filled to capacity – about 300 people. It seems to be a similar turnout to the Obama speech which was also held in a high school. However, the monitors are dinky (2 of them flanking a big sign that reads “CONDIMENTS”), compared to the big-screen monitor Obama’s people provided. The camera work is not as good, either.
The Hillary campaign has the best merchandise, though – lots of buttons, knit hats (this is New Hampshire where people don’t wear ball caps in the winter), shirts and other items.
The candidate is preceded by the t-shirt toss. They are mindful of the overflow room. A campaign worker runs in with t-shirts to toss to us. He gets the biggest cheer of the evening so far. The majority of people in the room are women. Most of them are over 30, but there are a number of young girls, too, many with their moms. One, a six-month old, gets a diaper change at the next table. A kindergartener, a little girl with a mop of black hair, excitedly draws a poster for Hillary on a legal pad provided by mom.
Hillary’s voice is reassuringly soft and warm and she is personable – not what I expected, not the impression one gets from the media. Her message, delivered as the other candidates were in front of a huge American flag, is strikingly similar to Obama’s (or is his similar to hers?), but there are echoes of Edwards’ talking points, too. The big difference is that Hillary goes into a lot more detail about how to implement her ideas.
Like Obama she talks about how she will reach across the aisle to create bi-partisan co-operation, ending the bitter partisanship of the last 8 years. But, she says “we can’t expect kid gloves treatment from Republicans.”
Those of us who have heard the other candidates, detect subtle criticisms of them and subtle rejoinders to their criticisms. She began to draw one of these subtle comparisions without naming anyone, using the much overworked slogan of all the campaigns, “Change!” (yeah, a new president will mean change, duh). Some (meaning Obama) demand it, she said, some (presumably meaning Edwards) . . .
And, here she was interrupted by a very fat man who rose from the audience and started chanting “Iron my shirt! Iron my shirt!” at her. As he was being forcibly escorted out she said the “remnants of sexism are here tonight.” She said that was one reason she was running, to break the highest and hardest glass ceiling “for our daughters.” The gentleman should learn to iron his own shirt, she said. The cheers and applause there thundering – louder than for the t-shirt toss, even.
The one word that sums up her speech is “experience.” She makes much of it, saying at one point that she’s running to solve problems, not to live in the White House – that’s not such a big deal to her anymore. The audience hoots and applauds.
She says the likability factor is much overrated (swipe at Obama), citing the fact that George Bush was the candidate in the last election that people said they would most like to have a beer with. There are other criteria, she said (losing my vote right there).
She addressed the same issues as the other candidates: Iraq, the economy, education, and health care insurance. She hit many of the same emotional points as the others on these, but she offered more in the way of solutions to them. She addressed issues the other candidates did not in her Q&A session, notably immigration.
Her plan for Iraq was a little thin, however. It consists of “on day one (of my administration) we will get a plan.” She claimed it was too complicated and risky to come up with a plan without consulting with the Pentagon, which could only be done once in office. She did say that within 60 days of her inauguration she would “begin” to bring troops home.
She promised to tackle global warming, noting that doing so would create many “green collar” jobs. Obama says the same thing, but calls it the “green economy.”
Like the others she wants to scrap No Child Left Behind with its emphasis on testing, favoring a system (as Obama does) that tracks a student’s individual academic progress. She wants to do something about the high cost of college (same as Edwards and Obama). She wants a $3500 tax credit for parents of college students. She wants to eliminate the student loan industry, and set up a tuition-in-exchange-for-national-service program. Obama wants to do that, as well. Edwards proposes universal all-day kindergarten, and universal pre-kindergarten programs, a National Teaching Academy, incentive pay to teachers at disadvantaged schools, and “second-chance” schools for dropouts. Edwards had the best No Child Left Behind zinger – he said a farmer friend of his observed that “you don’t make a hog fatter by weighing it.”
Her health-care plan, she said, is to extend to all Americans the same benefits congresspeople have. Everyone will be covered, she said. Not much detail there.
Her program, she said, is “based on what is achievable (swipe at anti-corporate crusader Edwards).” She then opened the floor to questions.
On immigration, she first stressed border security, even advocating “barriers” in some places. She said there should be a crack-down on employers who hire illegal aliens, citing the loss of jobs to Americans, such as carpenters and drywallers who have been driven out by illegal immigrants willing to take less pay.
Of the 12-14 million “illegals” who are here already, she proposed giving them ID cards, but requiring them to pay back taxes and a fine, to learn English, and to “wait in line” for citizenship applications. She said we can’t round all these people up and kick them out. Not only would that be impractical and expensive, but the economy depends on these people. Since she had just said illegal immigrants were putting Americans out of work, this seemed like playing on both sides of the fence, so to speak.
She lit into the front-runner Obama a little – he was misrepresenting his congressional achievements, she said, claiming to have passed legislation when the legislation in question had passed only the Senate, not the Congress.
She tried to “Lloyd Bentsen” him, too. Bentsen famously squashed empty-headed twerp Dan Quayle in a 1988 vice-presidential campaign when Quayle dared compare himself to Jack Kennedy.
She objected, she said, to Obama comparing himself to John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Kennedy, she said, was a war hero and had 14 years experience (experience!) as a congressman before he ran for president. Martin Luther King, she said, devoted his life to organizing and wrote speeches such as his “I Have A Dream” speech which are national treasures. Obama, though gifted, is not of the caliber of these two great Americans, she implied.
She took a number of questions, but not so many that the audience fell asleep or left. Then she shook hands and headed for US in the overflow room, where a young secret service agent had been watching us hawkily for the last hour. She might have been the twin of Obama’s secret service agent, both of them built like a sharp pencil, except her hair was blond, whereas Obama’s was a redhead. Neither looked like she had much of a sense of humor. Not on the job.
Hillary in person is more petite than expected, but then so was Edwards. She stood next to the vending machines and fielded a number of questions (giving us “overflows” much more attention than Obama did). The little black-haired girl stood on top of a table waving the poster she had drawn for Hillary. She jumped down and, assisted by a parent ,tried to work her way to the front of the close-packed crowd.
Hillary shook many hands as folks crowded around. Then she was whisked out, surrounded by her entourage, waving goodbye from the corridor to the two highschool girls in sports uniforms who banged on the glass wall and took a picture on a cell phone. “Oh, the POST got in the way of her face!” the picture taker wailed, looking at the result.
As I worked my way out, I passed the little black-haired girl, the rumpled, undelivered Hillary poster in her hand, sobbing in her mother’s arms.
As I drive home I hear an interview with Granny D on the BBC. Though she supports Edwards, the reporter asks her what she thinks of the other two major candidates. She adores Obama, she says, he reminds her of Kennedy. She supports Edwards but would not mind Obama winning. Although as a woman she would like to support Hillary she can’t because “she is bought and paid for, bought and paid for!”
This is the dilemma, it is impossible to judge a candidate only by his or her stump speech, personal appearance ,and likability. Obama is charming, to be sure. Hillary is sensible and reassuring.
Edwards is energizing and the most progressive-sounding. But, Hillary is well bankrolled by special interests. Obama’s charming statements, when you think about them, are suspicously middle-of-the-road. And, based on his past record, Edwards may not be as much of a fiery progressive as he is making out.
OK, Granite Staters, you’ve been living with these candidates for months, visiting with them in your living rooms, looking into their backgrounds, parsing their every word. What’s your verdict?