Rose at 5:30 to get to a 9:15 Dean rally three hours away in Lebanon. As I drove, I grew increasingly depressed. The Kerry event had left me feeling like a whore, but because I was not being paid, I decided I was more like a slut. Kerry’s reply to the free trade question infuriated and sickened me. He had not advocated for including labor, environmental and human rights protections in these trade agreements, rather, he had torn a page from the Bush Administration by blaming the imbalance in trade on the unfair practices of other nations. As for his declaration that he would be an international enforcer of intellectual property rights, how did this square with his earlier declaration that he was dedicated to fighting the world’s AIDS pandemic? How many people had to die at the altar of intellectual property rights before effective AIDS drugs were inexpensively distributed worldwide?
I had not birddogged Lieberman because I found his merciless advocacy of corporate power, free trade, and the war in Iraq abhorrent. I had added Clark to my “do not birddog” list after being appalled by his answers concerning the School of Assassins, the high price of prescription drugs, and the American Empire. Now I considered including Kerry.
Howard Dean was looking better and better to me. He had been shaken in Iowa, and though his rally in Concord had been difficult, he had stayed in control and shed his arrogance. I believed if he could do well in the New Hampshire primary, he’d be a stronger candidate for the experience.
The Dean rally was in the Lebanon Opera House. I arrived 20 minutes early to get a good aisle seat near the front. The event started about a half hour late, but by the time it began, the Opera House was overflowing with people of all ages and demographics. Some of them may have been undecided voters, but most seemed to be there to show their support.
On the stage about fifty people were seated on bleachers, backdropped by a huge American flag. A woman spoke of the fantastic healthcare plan Dean had created in Vermont, including the Dr. Dinosaur Program for children. Then a huge screen descended from the ceiling. Dean’s new five minute campaign video was played. When the video ended, the screen rose, and Dean made his entrance to a standing ovation.
Dean was hoarse and suffering from a cold. But his words were strong. Dean covered much the same ground he had in previous speeches, but now it was personal, because he was speaking from the heart in a voice that did not have the strength to yell, only to command attention. He raised issues. Then talked about the campaign itself. This was a campaign about hope for America. This was a campaign to get all Americans to participate in our democracy, to bring out to the polls the 50% of Americans that had given up on voting. This was a campaign about telling the truth, and only making promises that could be delivered. This was a campaign that believed if one person was left behind, all were diminished. Hope and the energy of ordinary people drove this campaign. This campaign was about ordinary people taking back their country, as they had at the turn of the century and during the depression. This was not a campaign about believing in Howard Dean, this was a campaign about people believing in themselves. “We want our country back. You have the power.”
Time after time the audience stood to applause. By the time Dean concluded his speech, they roared. Dean needed the energy of this crowd, and he was grateful. He stood for questions.
The first person who spoke did not want to ask a question, he just wanted to personally say thank you.
Then I was called on, and delivered this speech.
“Governor Dean, thank you for speaking for common people. As you well know, this is the Live Free or Die state. I’m a self-employed organic farmer, and I firmly believe that the right to be one’s own boss is as fundamental to American freedom as free speech or the right to privacy. There are over 20 million self-employed Americans, but we are being hit hard. Thirty percent of the self-employed have no health insurance, we receive less than 1/10th of 1% of Small Business Administration loans, although we make up nearly 3/4 of all businesses, and we are subjected to the 15.3% flat Self-Employment Tax on all our income. A self-employed family earning $30,000 can not afford over $4,000 in Self-Employment Taxes as their first expense. I appreciate that you speak for small business, but 20 million self-employed Americans need to hear their name: ‘self-employed’. Please be our champion. Thank you.”
The crowd gave me a big applause, and then Dean explained the Self-Employment Tax; the employer and employee share of payroll taxes combined as one flat tax. When he had entered medicine, he too had to pay the Self-Employment Tax. It was a hardship for self-employed Americans, and one of the reasons payroll taxes had to be reformed.
An organic farmer spoke of her distrust of genetically engineered food. Dean replied that he personally did not fear GEO food, but believed that GEO food should be labeled because people had a right to decide what they would eat.
A man asked about AIDS in Africa. Dean responded by saying that research and treatment had to be fully funded not only for humanitarian reasons, but for national security. The Bush Administration had a total disregard for science. It was outrageous that the word condom had been taken off the federal government’s AIDS website.
Dean’s last question was about how he would create jobs. He talked about the importance of balancing the budget by repealing the Bush tax cuts. Federal revenue would also be raised by ending corporate handouts and closing tax loopholes that only benefited the bottom lines of corporations. This money could be invested in national infrastructure, and small business incentives—after all, 70% of the new jobs were created by small businesses in this country. And unlike large corporations, small businesses didn’t leave communities for cheaper shores.
Dean concluded by stating that he was the most electable candidate because his campaign was about allowing ordinary people to believe in themselves again. That’s how George W. Bush would be defeated. “We have to stand up for our country. I don’t need to win, we need to win. Live free.”
The crowd erupted in a standing ovation. Dean shook hands, unrestrained by a barrier, and stayed with the crowd a long time. I had him autograph a “No War” New Year’s card. I then handed him my packet. “These are the demographics of the self-employed in the upcoming primaries. When you say small business, please just add the words ‘self-employed’, ‘small business and self-employed’. Twenty million self-employed Americans need to hear that.”
Dean stopped to study the numbers, then said thank you, and I reciprocated.
I drove to catch Edwards at noon at the Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College. I arrived early and took a front row seat. About a hundred seats circled a small space in which Edwards would speak. Edwards was an hour late, and by the time he arrived, all the seats were taken, with over a hundred people standing. He shook many hands as he entered, including mine.
This was the fifth time I’d seen Edwards, the third time I would see his show from the start. Now, I realized that all that ever changed was the order of paragraphs, with an occasional expansion of thought. Edward’s genius was to make it look fresh, as if he’d never said it before. All candidates repeat themselves, surviving the campaign trail with stump speeches and words that have worked well for them in the past. But Edwards performance was like watching a play; I’d already seen it in its entirety twice, and on this third watch knew exactly what was coming. Now there seemed nothing genuine about him, and although I liked his seemingly populous message, took note that he never used the words union, small business, or farmer; nor did he ever refer to any specific case of an injustice done to any labor group. Edwards said he knew how to win, but nothing about his performance now inspired in me belief that he could lead.
When the questions came, Edwards performance seemed even more staged. He used questions not to inform, but to get him to a sound bite he’d missed on his first pass. Fielding a question about whether or not he supported Israel’s security wall, he stumbled over himself badly, and never directly answered the question.
This was the second time Edwards had spoken at Dartmouth. Perhaps, this is why few rose in applause when he finished. He shook hands with people as he exited, but was intent on getting to his bus.
I drove two hours back to Wolfeboro to listen to the candidates debate on the radio. Unfortunately, Fox had refused to release the radio rights to New Hampshire Public Radio, and I could not find it on the dial. I rushed to find a bar that had it on, and sat down to watch just as the debates began.
From the beginning the questions disappointed me; they had almost nothing to do with the candidates’ national agendas. The one answer that surprised me was Edward’s response to a question about the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress in 1996. He claimed to have little knowledge of the Act because he had not been a member of the Senate when it was passed. But since when did knowledge of the law of the land hinge on whether or not a Senator was a member of Congress at the time of its passage? Edwards had said he would champion civil rights, but was clueless that the Defense of Marriage Act explicitly denied gay unions any federal benefits or protections—Social Security, for instance. Al Sharpton understood the issue, and I regretted that this was Sharpton’s only New Hampshire appearance.