During the night, I had a dream about my father, the fourth dream I’d had about him since he died 30 years ago. I gave him a word he’d forgotten in a seminar on labor law he was teaching.
Realizing that the packet I’d given Kucinich on the self-employed proved their numbers and importance, but did not lay out a strategy to reach them, I went to the Wolfeboro Public Library to write one. Banged out a concise two pages calling for cutting the Self-Employment Tax in half, increasing Small Business Administration Loans to the self-employed, and pointing out that 30% of the self-employed have no health insurance.
Took off for Concord, 50 minutes away. I was late for a Town Meeting Wesley Clark was having at the Havenwood Retirement Community at 2:00. Missed the first hour, but arrived to hear an elderly woman ask about the outrages of the School of the Americas and its responsibility for killing thousands of innocent Latin Americans, including priests. Clark responded that the School of the Americas had changed over the last ten years, and not to judge it by misdeeds of the past. Plenty of people from Harvard business school had also done wrong, but that didn’t mean you should just shut down Harvard. The School of the Americas had reformed, as had Harvard.
Several elderly people asked questions related to an America they now perceived as filled with fear and selfishness, and which had lost the ideals of the New Deal. Clark responded articulately that he believed in a nation that saw itself as a community, not simply as a nation of top dogs. He promised to rescind the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and to get the United States working together towards common goals like renewable energy. Also, his experiences in foreign policy made it evident to him that the United States could not engage the world unilaterally, but must work together with nations as partners. He already had excellent relations with many world leaders.
Clark had time for one more question. He called on me and I gave him my pitch for the self-employed, proclaiming that I was a self-employed farmer and to to save the family farm, the self-employed had to be saved. I was pleased when the crowd cheered. Clark responded by stating that last year he had become self-employed himself, and that I was absolutely right about the heavy hand of the 15.3% self-employment tax. He did not know that the self-employed now outnumbered union members, but found it believable. As concerns Small Business Administration loans to the self-employed, they absolutely should be greatly increased. Clark allowed me to follow up with another question, and I simply asked if he would be willing to cut the Self-Employment Tax in half, returning it to the structure of 1950, when the self-employed only paid the employer’s share of the Social Security Tax. That would surely get the attention of 20 million self-employed Americans. Clark responded by saying he’d have to think about it.
The Town Meeting ended and I joined a line of people to shake Clark’s hand. When I got to him, I handed him my packet and said that if he followed the yellow highlighter for two minutes, he’d get an important demographic insight for himself and the Democratic Party. He said he’d try to find the time and handed it off to an assistant.
As I exited the retirement community, I met Rex from Tennessee. Rex was a Gore supporter, now in New Hampshire trying to get the lay of the land. He thought Gore had made a terrible mistake endorsing Dean, who he did not think could be elected. He was impressed with Clark, who he believed had a terrific learning curve.
At 8:00, Kucinich, Edwards and Lieberman were having a forum at Temple Beth Jacob in Concord. That gave me time to check candidates’ schedules on the internet at the Concord Public Library, call home, and have dinner.
Temple Beth Jacob held 150 people and was overflowing. Most had written out a question for the candidates, and from these the Rabbi was choosing which questions would be asked.
When the forum got going, each candidate was polished, articulate and in good humor. The first question the Rabbi asked was to sum up in two minutes the candidates’ positions on the war in Iraq, free trade, and nuclear disarmament. The candidates thought he was kidding, but the Rabbi wasn’t—just do your best, he said.
Lieberman began by declaring that the world was a better and safer place without Saddam Hussein. The problem with the war in Iraq was that the Bush Administration had been unprepared for the days after victory. As for nuclear disarmament, he was opposed to the tactical weapons now being proposed by the Administration. These new nuclear weapons undermined the United States leadership in non-proliferation. Lieberman did not get to world trade.
Edwards followed by avoiding discussion of the war in Iraq, focusing instead on free trade. He supported free trade only when there were provisions guaranteeing labor rights and environmental protections. Child labor was not an economic choice, it was a moral choice. The fact that American jobs were being lost for child labor sweat shops sickened him.
Kucinich declared that the war in Iraq was not just, that he had a plan to get the UN in, and the United States out in three months. As President he would do all he could to rid the planet of all nuclear weapons. Finally, his first act as president would be to withdraw the United States from NAFTA and GATT.
Many questions followed. Measured in crowd response, one of the most telling was when the Rabbi asked the candidates what their positions were on the security wall Israel was building on its borders and through parts of the West Bank. Lieberman responded that he supported building the wall as a reasonable means to protect Israel from terrorists—only a handful of people in the audience applauded. Edwards stated his commitment to the United States engaging both the Palestinians and Israelis in peace talks as the best hope—but avoided taking a position on the wall. Kucinich said the wall represented fear, not hope, and opposed it—he received strong applause.
During the evening and his closing speech, Edwards revealed himself to be a populist who was not content to have two Americas; one with good public schools, the other offering poor educations; one America with the best health care in the world, the other with little or no health care, one America wanting for little and full of hopes and dreams, the other America living paycheck to paycheck and full of fear and despair. It was intolerable that in the richest nation in the world, there were children going to bed hungry.
Kucinich was clearly moved by Edward’s closing speech. While Edwards closed boldly, Kucinich closed softly. He remembered sleeping with his mother and five siblings in a car in the streets of Cleveland, looking at the fires from the factory chimneys as beacons of hope. He remembered his job for the Cleveland Plain Dealer as a messenger boy, entering the homes of proud working families, and being given precious pictures of sons, to be returned after the paper made copies for the obituary listing these sons as killed in action in Vietnam. Kucinich feared that Iraq was becoming another Vietnam.
Lieberman closed by stating again that ridding the world of Saddam Hussein was worth the war in Iraq. He was committed to social justice and the environment. He believed that separation of church and state was a cornerstone of our society, but that there was nothing wrong with one’s faith informing one’s actions. Faith was a hugely positive factor in American society and history. As for George W. Bush, however, he did not consider destroying the environment, God’s creation, a faith-based initiative, nor did he believe cutting programs for the poor and less privileged faith-based. If elected President, he would reinstate taxes on the wealthy to restore many social services cut by the Bush Administration, but would leave the middle class tax cuts in place because the middle class in this country were truly struggling. In fact, he would further reduce taxes on the middle class.