I cocooned myself in blankets all night. It was 20 below zero outside and the wind was blowing at 25 miles an hour. When I got out of bed, I dressed in two thermal undershirts. The temperature in the dining room was 36 degrees. I made coffee and then took off for a Town Meeting with Gephardt at the Pleasant View Retirement Home in Concord at 10:30.
The Town Meeting was in a small room seating only about 75 people, mostly elderly from the retirement community and a Concord elementary school class. Behind the microphone was a huge banner with Gephardt's name; Social Security and Medicare were printed dozens of times as the backdrop.
Gephardt entered with the demeanor of a gentle man. He delivered a slow, methodical and informed speech about the horrors of the Bush Administration. Then he spoke to the Gephardt economic plan: It would reverse all the Bush Administration tax cuts, not only for the wealthy but the middle class as well. The Gephardt plan would get America working again and would provide health insurance for all Americans. This would be accomplished by the federal government picking up 60% of the cost of private health insurance policies, chosen by Americans themselves for their own diverse needs. Sure, middle class families’ taxes would go up several hundred dollars, but they would receive several thousand in health insurance savings. Gephardt then explained how his son Matt at six weeks old had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Only the fact that Gephardt had health insurance allowed Matt to be treated with the experimental drugs that enabled him to survive; Matt is now 33 years old. Health insurance for all Americans was deeply personal with Gephardt. Gephardt concluded his speech by reiterating that he had led the fight in Congress against NAFTA and GATT, and that if elected President, he would make sure these trade agreements included environmental and labor protections. He believed it was time to develop an international minimum wage.
Gephardt had time for three questions. Our eyes connected and he called on me. I identified myself as a family farmer and that to save the family farm, the self-employed had to be saved. By the time I had finished my rant, I had clearly struck a chord with Gephardt. He said he usually addressed the needs of the self-employed as concerns health insurance, but I was right that the problems of the self-employed go far deeper than that. The Small Business Administration did have to change their polices concerning the self-employed by greatly expanding the microloan program. As for the Self-Employment Tax, that was a hardship for the self-employed that needed to be addressed, but he currently did not know what to do.
A child asked Gephardt his last question—about his position on the war in Iraq. Gephardt answered that he had supported the war, but never imagined how unprepared for its aftermath the Bush Administration was.
The event concluded with Gephardt being given an original invitation to the 1948 Truman inauguration. Gephardt hoped he would be the second President from Missouri, and was clearly pleased.
Gephardt shook hands for about 10 minutes. When I got to him, he said I’d delivered an extremely eloquent speech. I gave him my self-employed packet, and said I hoped he’d find time review it, only together could unions and the self-employed defeat Bush.
While leaving, I met Alex. He was part of a camera crew of students from NYU. They were following all the candidates during winter break. Matt said I was excellent yesterday talking to Clark, but even better today with Gephardt. He thought the self-employed was an important issue, and so far I was the only person he’d seen making the candidates address it. He asked if I would be at the Town Meeting with Dean at the Concord High School that evening. I said I would.
I had several hours to kill before the Dean event. Went to the large and warm Concord Public Library and spent time on the internet studying the candidates schedules. Dean would be speaking at 5:00 in Concord, Edwards at 7:00 at a Town Meeting in Nashua City Hall. Not much was happening the next day, as all the candidates but Clark and Lieberman were flying off to Iowa.
I arrived at the Town Meeting for Dean a half hour early. Found myself a good seat amongst the 200 provided. In the next half hour, the space would overflow with people and press crews. Dean was late and a young woman sitting next to me struck up a conversation. Aurelia was an artist from California. She had been a big Dean supporter and had worked hard for him—now she was having second thoughts because of what she believed was his growing arrogance. She had flown to New Hampshire just to make up her mind. I told her that I believed Dean was leading the first populist movement in my lifetime. However, I too was developing reservations about Dean, and that I was afraid that, like President Bush, he might be unable to admit when he made a mistake. I described myself as the self-appointed advocate for the self-employed. She replied that that must have been a tough job interview.
Matt from the NYU film crew came up to me and said I should be pleased. At Gephardt's Town Meeting in the afternoon, he had made a point of speaking about the self-employed.
Dean arrived. Several high school supporters stood behind him. Two spoke of their commitment and all the work they had done for his campaign. They gave him a Concord High School jacket.
Dean launched into his speech, speaking forcefully and quickly. He began by comparing the Bush Administration to the Republican Administrations of McKinley and Hoover. Never before had corporate America so dominated the federal government. Take the Medicare Prescription Drug Package—it was nothing but a huge give away to the pharmaceutical companies. The federal government was by law now not allowed to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices, or import drugs from Canada. Look at the energy plan worked out by Vice President Cheney—billions of dollars of fossil fuel incentives and almost nothing for renewables. Under a Dean Presidency, wind, solar, geothermal, biobased fuels, and other renewables would all be funded and encouraged—it was a national security imperative to become less dependent on Middle East oil. And what about the Bush Administration’s attack on the environment? Take gutting the Clean Air Act, which identifies four atmospheric pollutants. How did Bush’s Clear Skies Initiative reduce air pollution by 25%? By eliminating carbon dioxide as one of the four pollutants. There were four pollutants listed, now there were three; a 25% reduction!
He would repeal all the Bush Administration tax cuts. Sixty percent of American families had only received about $300 in tax savings, but had lost thousands in government benefits and services, as well as watching their local taxes go up. Only by restoring tax revenue could much needed social programs be restored, health insurance and education improved, and at the same time the budget deficit brought down and eventually balanced. The majority of the American people knew that the Bush Administration tax cuts had cost them money; they would accept a few hundred dollars more in federal taxes for thousands of dollars in benefits.
Foreign policy: The United States must have a strong military. He supported the Gulf War, intervention in Kosova, and the war in Afghanistan. But attacking Iraq made the United States no safer; it simply inspired more terrorists. He was glad that Saddam Hussein was in jail, but at what cost? Nearly 500 Americans dead, over 2000 wounded—he’d rather have those dead Americans living, and those wounded Americans whole, than Hussein in jail. Hussein and Iraq had been contained, and had been no threat to the United States. Yesterday, the Carnegie Foundation stated that there had never been any Weapons of Mass Destruction, and that the American people had been systematically deceived. Colin Powell, yesterday, also stated that their was no connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. The United States’ real enemy was Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Imagine rather than attacking Iraq, the $157 billion had been spent pursuing al-Qaeda and protecting our infrastructure: the United States would be safer today.
Dean moved on to world trade. It was true that he had supported NAFTA and GATT. This is because he had believed that these trade agreements would improve the lives of not only Americans, but all the people of the world. As enacted, however, without labor or environmental protections, Americans were losing jobs and the standard of living for the rest of the world was not improving. A Dean Presidency would change these trade agreement to include labor, environmental and human rights protections.
Lastly, it was difficult for a President to accomplish change without the cooperation of Congress—but as President, he knew there was one thing he could accomplish. His first day in office, he would reverse all of Bush’s executive orders decimating the environment.
Dean had time for four questions, none of which were interesting. When he was finished, the audience rose to its feet and Dean received a sustained applause.
I asked Aurelia what she thought of the speech. She said it was too strident for her taste, but decent.
Dashed off to Nashua, 40 minutes away, to get to Edward’s Town Meeting at City Hall. The room was packed with nearly 200 people. I missed Edward’s opening speech, but had arrived just as he began answering questions.
Many questions were addressed to Edward’s concerning healthcare. Edwards answered with compassion. He believed that the Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit was an outrageous give away to the pharmaceutical industry, and was a perfect example of how special interests corrupted and now controlled Washington at the expense of the American people. Edwards was proud to say he had never taken a dollar from a lobbyist. He believed that the revolving door that enabled government officials to leave their positions, and then quickly take jobs lobbying for the industries they had just been regulating, was a disgrace, and a practice that must end.
When asked about balancing the budget, he said he could not make all the promises the other Democrats made and claim to balance the budget at the same time—an Edwards Administration would dedicate itself to improving healthcare and education and creating jobs, but no one should expect to see a balanced budget for at least ten years. His education plan, for instance, would guarantee that the federal government would pay the first year of college for a student in exchange for ten hours of work a week, but after that first year, the student was on his or her own to find the means to finish college. This was the kind of hard compromise that had to be made. To help lower the deficit, Edwards would repeal the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy and would also increase the capital gains tax. Why was investment income now being taxed at a lower rate than labor? As far as Edwards was concerned, labor was more valuable to society than capital and should be taxed at a lower rate. Under the Bush Administration, however, labor was now deemed less valuable than investment. Edwards promised that as President he would raise the minimum wage to $7 an hour.
A man asked Edwards why the United States was now helping the earthquake victims in Iran, when that nation was our enemy. Edwards answered that he believed that Iran represented more danger to the United States than nearly any other nation because of its history of sponsoring terrorism and its nuclear program. He never addressed the question of mercy towards earthquake victims.
After about 20 questions, Edwards had to conclude because the building had to close. He received heartfelt applause and stayed to shake many hands.
When I left the meeting room, I was surprised to be handed a flyer contending that Edward’s supported Bush’s crackdown on medical marijuana in California. I would have appreciated it if someone had asked that question.
I left the building to ten below zero weather and a biting wind. I called my brother in Wellesley, Massachusetts, about 45 minutes away, and asked if I could spend the night. By the time I was done writing directions at the outside pay phone, my hands were frozen.