by Mark Dunau
“Birddogging” is an expression used to describe the activities of single-issue advocates when they follow political candidates to campaign events for the purpose of drawing focus to an issue. New Hampshire is a great place to birddog insofar as nearly all the presidential candidates focus a large measure of their in person campaign appearances there the month before the New Hampshire Presidential Primary, the events are relatively small, and from the center of the state the candidates are nearly always less than an hour and a half away.
Friday, December 14
I am driving my 1996 Buick Century to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire (on Lake Winnepesaukee in the center of the state) for the purpose of birddogging the Democratic Presidential candidates on behalf of the self-employed. I am the self-appointed advocate of the self-employed, armed with an original political analysis written for the purpose of compelling the candidates to recognize the number of self-employed (20 million), their importance to the economy (over one trillion dollars in receipts), and their ability to swing primaries and eventually the Presidential election the way of the candidate that recognizes them by name, “self-employed,” and their needs. My analysis of the self-employed is backed up by national and state-by-state statistics drawn from the Census Bureau, and together they are bundled into a manila envelope with a powerful cover sheet that I am intent on getting into the hands of the Democratic candidates.
Halfway to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, I stop at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts to pick up my 19-year-old son Bera, a young man with an encyclopedic like mind, who loves politics, knows intimately his father’s 2004 birddogging stories, and now is keen to birddog himself.
The fall semester is over, but I have to wait for Bera to finish a paper. After five hours, Bera is done, and by 7:00 P.M. we are on the road, bound for Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.
We arrive in Wolfeboro at midnight. The snow is thick on the 100-yard long driveway, but the Buick manages to crawl halfway up. We laboriously carry our gear to the water tower, a three-story 12-by-12-foot structure that stands behind my mother’s much larger summer house. We light the wood stove, and the water tower quickly heats up, although it is only 10 degrees outside. As we wait for the water tower to warm, we sweep it up, and throw two mattresses that have been ruined by squirrels out of windows from the second and third floors. After scavenging bedding and mattresses from the big house, we quickly go to sleep.
Saturday, December 15
Shopping, the laundromat for Bera, a late breakfast, then off to the library to cruise the internet for the candidates’ events.
At 3:30 P.M. Bill Richardson will be having a Town Hall north of us in Conway, only 30 miles away. Tomorrow, the 16th, Dennis Kucinich will be holding Town Halls in Franklin and Manchester, followed by another Town Hall in New London the 17th. On the 18th, John Edwards has a series of Town Halls scheduled, with Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown performing to warm up the crowd. Dodd, Biden, Clinton and Obama have no events scheduled.
We go back to the water tower for a couple of hours, where Bera works on a book review he has to complete for a class. The water tower, although it still has electricity and a telephone, no longer has propane, a working refrigerator, or running water. I set up the kitchen with camping burners, cooler, and gallon jugs of water, much like a campsite. Then I make up my self-employed packages of political analysis and statistics, with the following cover glued to the front of the manila envelopes. (To read the full analysis, please go to the end of this article.)
By 2:30 P.M. we are on the road, heading into the gorgeous and geologically ancient White Mountains, where Conway is nestled, and Bill Richardson will soon be speaking. I do not believe it will be hard to find the high school of a small New England town, but I am wrong. I have to ask directions three times before I find my way to Kennett High School, and, consequently, we are a half hour late. Fortunately, Richardson is nearly an hour late, so we have plenty of time to seat ourselves and review his campaign literature.
We are in a room where about 100 folding chairs have been placed for the Town Hall. There are few empty seats, and most of the seated are over 50.
A campaign Town Hall usually means that the candidate will give a relatively short speech, and then an audience member can ask any question he or she wants, if the candidate calls on them. Consequently, part of being a good birddogger is getting the candidate’s attention.
Richardson arrives, dressed in a blue suit, handsome and portly. The teenage son of the namesake of the school, Kennett, introduces him as his candidate because Richardson would fund the arts as an integral part of education, as he already has done as the Governor of New Mexico.
Richardson speaks. He thanks everyone he can think of, and makes a joke about his small staff of one. Then he talks of the five pillars of his campaign.
Richardson finishes to polite applause. He has spoken clearly, and with some humor. He takes questions which reveal little else about his positions. I do learn, however, that he hopes to offer Medicare to anyone over 55, and that he would offer veterans’ health care benefits not only through Veterans Administration hospitals, but any hospital.
I am the second to last person Richardson calls on. I launch into a short speech.
“Governor Richardson, I am grateful for your desire to restore the Constitution, and to be a President that would represent the people. However, I do not understand why neither you nor any other Democratic candidate ever speaks out for the 20 million self-employed Americans, who’s businesses take in over a trillion dollars a year, and who are currently the highest taxed, most regulatory burdened, least protected Americans. Why can an incorporated business take its health insurance premium as a business expense, but a self-employed business can’t, with the effect that a self-employed person who pays $10,000 for health insurance must pay $1,500 in self-employment tax on the money earned to buy health insurance? The self-employed know who we are because of the self-employment tax, why don’t you speak for us?”
At this point the crowd broke out into the loudest applause of the night, which clearly surprised Richardson, who said, “This is an issue I obviously should know something about, but don’t. What do you mean by ‘self-employed’?”
“I’m talking about the 20 million people who pay the 15.3% flat self-employment tax.”
Richardson, still confused, asks, “But what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a farmer.”
Richardson replies, “Judging from the reaction of this group, I’m going to have my staff look into the condition of the self-employed, particularly as it relates to health care, which doesn’t sound fair.”
Richardson fields one more question, then the Town Hall is over. A staffer asks for my contact information, and I give him my self-employment package. A reporter from the Union Leader wants to talk to me, and I have Bera speak to her because Richardson is leaving. I hand him my self-employment package, which he promises to read.
As we leave the high school, several self-employed people come up to me, and thank me for speaking out for the self-employed. The self-employed were just about all that was left in many rural New England towns.
Bera and I drive home feeling good about the evening. We have decided not to spend our money at restaurants, but to feast on seafood instead. Soon we are sitting down to a large pot of mussels.
Sunday, December 16
Bera and I wake up to a howling wind and blizzard. We don’t leave the water tower. I finish up about 150 New Year’s cards, Bera finishes his book review of Are We Rome?
I take a walk at dusk to the lake. Nearly a foot of snow has fallen. When I return, I try to start the Buick, but nothing happens.
Bera makes a delicious dinner of scallops with spaghetti.
Monday, December 17I wake up at about 6:00 A.M. to deal with the car. I shovel it off, then slam the starter about a dozen times with the tire iron before it turns over.
I go back to the water tower to have breakfast, letting Bera sleep.
I listen to Laura Knoy interview Joe Biden on her New Hampshire Public Radio show The Exchange. For nearly an hour he uses Knoy’s and call-in questions to stroke himself, reciting his achievements and experience, with nearly no description of what a Biden Presidency would seek to achieve. Bera, listening in bed, describes Biden as unctuous.
Bera and I go back to the library, where Bera emails his book review to his professor, and I confirm that Kucinich will be speaking at Colby-Sawyer College in New London at 4:00 P.M. Edwards has a Town Hall scheduled for Nashua and Keene the next day. John McCain is having Town Halls around the state the 18th and 19th, which I consider going to out of my disdain for Rudy Giuliani.
Bera and I have crab meat sandwiches for lunch, then drive to Colby-Sawyer College to see Kucinich.
When we arrive, we discover that Dennis Kucinich will not be speaking, but that his wife Elizabeth will be standing in for him.
Wheeler Hall is half full with 150 people. Elizabeth Kucinich, about 30 years old, stands in front of a large picture of the signing of the Constitution with the words “Defend the Constitution” blazoned across, under which is a smiling Dennis Kucinich. Dressed in a navy blue pantsuit, she is striking, tall with long red hair. She speaks with the accent of her country of birth, England.
She states that Dennis can’t be here today because he is doing his job in Washington as Congressman, fighting to keep money for the Iraq War out of the current appropriations bill to fund the federal government. She explains that because Democrats have the majorities in Congress, and, consequently, power over committees and scheduling, Democratic leadership could simply refuse to bring war appropriations to the floor. Democratic claims that they simply do not have the votes to stop funding the war are fallacious.
She talks about Dennis as the only candidate to vote against the war—leading 125 Democrats to vote against it in 2002. She describes when she first met Dennis in his office in 2005, and saw a small figurine of Gandhi, and a picture of the light of God hanging over a bookcase devoted solely to the Iraq War. Dennis fought against the Iraq War and continues to fight its funding because he knows more about it than any other candidate. He is the only candidate that would bring the troops home in three months. Dennis wants a new security doctrine, Strength through Peace, which rejects unilateralism, preemption and war as an instrument of policy. She then opens up the floor for questions.
She takes a question from a man who likes the UN, and doesn’t understand why Congressman Kucinich is against the World Trade Organization, which he believes is a UN organization. Elizabeth tells him that the WTO is not a UN organization. She explains how NAFTA and GATT have led to a race to the bottom, undermining labor and environmental standards. Dennis would cancel NAFTA and GATT.
Elizabeth fields a question about global warming. She talks about Dennis wanting to create a Works Green Administration, modeled after Roosevelt’s WPA, which would focus on creating employment through cutting green house gas emissions by retrofitting homes and businesses with insulation and solar panels, and developing other alternative energy sources.
She takes a question about the population explosion. She explains that although Dennis is one of seven children, he has only one daughter. He supports family planning. Bush has gutted family planning around the world, even excluding condoms from programs.
As a relief caseworker in Africa, Elizabeth explains that she has seen firsthand the enormity of the problem of lack of water. She believes there must be a balance between the deprivation of many undeveloped countries and the wastefulness of our own society.
Elizabeth calls on me. I praise Congressman Kucinich’s populist vision, and ask her why there is no mention of the 20 million self-employed in his literature, particularly as it relates to health care.
She uses my question to talk about Dennis’s single-payer universal health care plan. Currently, the United States spends 2.2 trillion dollars on health care costs, twice per capita of any other nation in the world. Yet 46 million Americans have no health insurance, tens of millions more have inadequate health insurance; the system is broken, and one third of health care costs is just for administration and profits. Dennis believes in a not-for-profit health care system, Medicare for all. Imagine how the health care system would be transformed if an additional 700 billion dollars were put into care. Dennis’s plan would be paid for by doubling the Medicare tax, now 2.9% (combined employer and employee’s shares), saving most Americans thousands of dollars a year on health insurance premiums; money they could use to pay for other needs.
She fields a question about illegal immigration. She declares that most undocumented workers are economic refugees, the victims of NAFTA and GATT.
Elizabeth Kucinich concludes her talk by asking everyone to work for Dennis, whom the media continue to ignore because his positions are a threat to vast corporate interests. Dennis supports the people, and as the sign reads behind her, he will defend the Constitution.
I wait in a long line of people who wish to exchange some words with her. A staffer, an Iraq War veteran, talks to me about the importance of the union movement. I tell him I grew up in the union movement, but the self-employed need economic justice as well; unions and the self-employed together are the foundation of a populist movement. He takes my self-employed package, pleased to see that it includes union numbers. Then I shake hands with Elizabeth Kucinich, and give her a self-employed package as well.
Bera wants a break from seafood. We eat barbecue, then make our way back to the water tower.
Tuesday, December 18
Bera sleeps while I listen to Laura Knoy interview John McCain on The Exchange. I am considering going to a Town Hall with John McCain to pass on some knowledge about Giuliani that he might find helpful. I want to tell McCain that while Giuliani claims to have cut taxes for New York City residents twenty times, he did not cut NYC’s 4% flat unincorporated business tax (read 4% flat tax on NYC’s self-employed), a tax which exists in only a handful of municipalities across the country, and one that New York State abolished as a state tax over 20 years ago.
The interview of McCain covers five different aspects of his platform.
When the interview is done, I know I will not attend a Town Hall with John McCain; his solutions would be tomorrow’s problems.
Bera and I have to choose between seeing Edwards at 4:15 in Keene, or 7:45 in Nashua. We choose Keene because Bera has a college friend there who has invited us to eat dinner with his family after the Town Hall. We also know that this will be an easy place to shower; we are both filthy for lack of running water.
It takes two hours to get to Keene State College, which is in the southwest corner of the state, and about as distant a point from Wolfeboro as possible. We are a half hour late, and there is standing room only in the auditorium, with nearly 400 people in attendance.
As a backdrop to the stage is a huge flag, in front of which are about 25 supporters looking back to the audience; I guess that this is the easiest way for cameras to read an audience’s response.
We are only inside a couple of minutes when Peter Coyote introduces Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown. Both state that they have never endorsed a candidate before, but they believe that John Edwards and his family are great people with a great message. Despite no sound check, they go on to perform fabulously four songs, including “Angel from Montgomery” and “Are You Ready for Love”, which they dedicate to the 35 year love affair between John and Elizabeth Edwards.
Peter Coyote introduces Granny D, the 97-year-old grandmother who at age 90 walked across the United States on behalf of publicly funded elections. Between wheezes (she says her health is not as good as it was when she was 90), she strongly articulates that John Edwards is her man, and the person most likely as President to leave future generations with the legacy of publicly financed elections. Granny D seats herself on the side of the stage with Peter Coyote, Bonnie Raitt, and Jackson Brown.
Elizabeth Edwards rises from these celebrities to introduce her husband, a man she fell in love with 35 years ago at law school.
John Edwards enters to strong applause. He is dressed in blue jeans and sneakers. He thanks Coyote, Raitt, Brown, Elizabeth, and his daughter Cate, now in law school, and seated next to her mother.
Edwards launches into a speech about corporate greed and power, attacking NAFTA and GATT. Corporations actually get tax breaks to do business overseas and take their jobs with them. He describes an Edwards Presidency as an epic fight to end corporate power over people. The other candidates believe they can negotiate with corporations and special interests to restore a government that serves the people, but Edwards knows it’s a fight. Corporations will never willingly give up their power; it has to be taken from them. How long are drug companies and insurance companies going to run America? He will bring universal health care to America now. For 20 years he won in the court rooms, he knows he can win justice for the American people in the White House. He was born for this fight.
His grandfather and father worked in the mills of North Carolina. It was hard work, and they spent their lives at their labor. Why? Because they knew that their toil would result in a better life for their families. That’s the America he believes in. An America where a worker knows his life is just as important as his boss’s, and that where there’s work, there’s hope. The challenge is to make this country a better place than we found it.
The richest 1% of Americans have twice as much as they did twenty years ago, while the majority of Americans have less.
Thirty-seven million Americans go hungry every day.
Today, 200,000 veterans are homeless. America can do better than this.
On January 8, New Hampshire voters will rise up.
Edwards concludes to a standing ovation.
He fields questions. Does he support tort reform? Edwards replies that he does not believe the amount of money juries can award should be limited. He would, however, make it more difficult for frivolous lawsuits to get to court.
His wife, Elizabeth, is not satisfied with this answer. She stands up, walks over to Edwards and takes his microphone. She explains to the questioner that insurance companies are exempt from antitrust laws, and that’s a huge part of the problem. Edwards looks on in amused admiration, waiting for her to give him back his mic.
Edwards is asked whether he would reopen the 9/11 investigation. He responds that any crime committed under the Bush Administration will be open to punishment under an Edward’s Presidency.
Would he close Guantánamo? He would stop torture, close Guantánamo, end extraordinary rendition, stop the practice of our government hiring American mercenaries to fight in Iraq at five times what we pay our soldiers.
What’s his position on nuclear power? He’s dead set against it. Global warming is not only an environmental crisis, but a moral crisis. He will invest in renewable energy to create jobs that cannot be sent overseas to create energy independence. But nuclear energy is dangerous, too poisonous, and too open to terrorist attack to be the key to America’s energy future. His position on nuclear energy sets him apart from the other candidates.
Edwards is asked about No Child Left Behind. He answers that first he’d try to change it for the better, and if that didn’t work, he’d scrap it. As for college, he believes that 10 hours of community service a week should entitle any person a college education at a state school.
Edwards concludes the Town Hall by telling a story about a woman who said she would have voted for him, if he’d bothered asking for it. So now he’s asking.
“Give me your vote and I promise to give you back democracy, give you back the White House, give you back America.”
Edwards, his wife and daughter stay to mingle with the crowd. I see that John Edwards is only holding a pen to sign autographs, and that there is no hope that he will keep my self-employed package. I make my way to his daughter Cate, introduce myself as a person whose parents were also both lawyers, and hand her my self-employed package, telling her about the importance of the self-employed.
I then go to Elizabeth Edwards, and modify the same speech. Both women are gracious to me, with large, warm smiles.
I go to John Edwards, shake his hand, and thank him for his populist vision. I try to feed him this line: “America needs a corporate lawyer for its President like it needs a hole in the head.” I flub the line, but Edwards finishes it for me.
I find Bera outside the auditorium with his college friend, Gavin. We follow Gavin to his house.
Bera and I shower. We eat Reuben sandwiches and mashed potatoes prepared by Gavin and Bera for dinner, joined by Gavin’s mother, René. I tell René that it was a great show, but I’m surprised that Edwards only brought up the war in Iraq peripherally as it related to mercenaries. I know his official position is 50,000 troops out now, all the rest within 10 months, but why did the war have such a low profile?
Two hours drive later, Bera and I collapse in bed.
Wednesday, December 19
Bera and I check out campaign schedules at the library. We decide to see Edwards again at 4:00 P.M. and Richardson at 6:30 P.M. Both Town Halls are in Dover. Tomorrow, Obama will be speaking at 7:00 P.M. in Rochester. I try to RSVP over the internet to the Obama event, but the event is full. I take the telephone contact information.
We go back to the water tower, where I call Obama campaign headquarters in Rochester. I am told that the event is still open, and I tell the staffer that Bera and I will be attending tomorrow.
Bera and I have time on our hands before heading to Dover for the Edwards and Richardson events, so we cross country ski on nearly perfect snow on trails behind the water tower for an hour. We have a late lunch of lox sandwiches, then head to Dover, less than an hour away.
Edward’s Town Hall is at 4:00 P.M. at Macintosh College. About 80 people are seated in the 100 folding chairs set out for the event. Edwards arrives at 4:30, and quickly gets to work, covering much the same ground he had the night before. At this event, however, he emphasizes the white 77-page book that outlines the details of his proposed polices.
He fields questions quickly, and I am the second person he calls on.
“Senator Edwards, I appreciate your populist vision. But I do not know why you are not speaking to the 20 million self-employed Americans, who are the backbone of rural economies, and many local urban ones. Harry Truman said, ‘Corporations have lobbyists, but the self-employed only have me.’ I’ve read your book, and we’re not mentioned. You have a strong anti-corporate message, and the self-employed are those businesses that have chosen not to incorporate. Will you please speak for us.”
Edwards has a great smile, and he uses it with these words, “Good job. I think I may use that Truman quote.”
He moves on to the next question, which is about Iran. He would support the moderates.
What about nuclear weapons? He’d like to take the lead in abolishing them.
Darfur? He’d establish a no-fly zone, and use the United Nations to ratchet up pressure.
Bera asks would he support repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act? Edwards states that he has a different approach. He’d make it easier for employees to form unions, would increase penalties for violating labor laws, and would ban permanent replacement of striking workers.
The last question is about health care. Edwards outlines his universal health care plan. It would cost about one hundred billion dollars a year, to be paid for by repealing the Bush tax cuts to Americans that make over $200,000 a year. Health insurance companies will not be allowed to have more than 15% of their premiums go to administrative costs and profits. Private insurers will have to compete with a Public Health Insurance plan that he would create. The health care plan could evolve into a singe-payer approach, if Americans choose the public plan over the private insurance plan.
Edwards concludes to polite applause. I approach him with my self-employed package, and he gladly takes it, saying, “I really appreciate this.”
Bera and I leave Macintosh College to find the McConnell Center in downtown Dover. We find it easily and have time enough to have giant plates of nachos for dinner at a nearby restaurant.
When we return to the McConnell Center, we wait in folding chairs with about 50 other people in a room that could have seated far more. Richardson arrives over a half hour late with his very tired wife. He says this is his tenth event of the day.
Although Richardson is tired, he gives of himself to the audience. As in Conway, when we first saw him, he makes ending the Iraq War his front and center issue. He ends his opening speech by telling a story about FDR. When FDR died, a train traveled across the country, and in a small southern town, a reporter saw a large man crying, nearly inconsolably. The reporter asked the man if he knew FDR, and the man replied, “No, but he knew me.” Richardson wants to be that kind of President.
Richardson takes questions. The third person he calls on is Bera, seated several rows from me, who reminds Richardson that Democrats have been representing the needs of the self-employed at least since the days of William Jennings Bryan, who said, “We say to you that you have made the definition of a business man too limited in its application. The attorney in a country town is as much a business man as the corporation counsel in a great metropolis; the merchant at the crossroads store is as much a business man as the merchant of New York; the farmer who goes forth in the morning and toils all day is as much a business man as the man who goes upon the Board of Trade and bets upon the price of grain. We come to speak of this broader class of business men.”
Richardson responds by speaking to his staffer, trying to remember in which northern town another man had made the same pitch for the self-employed. Finally, I interrupt him by saying that that man was me, and that the town was Conway. With a grin Richardson recognizes my face, and moves on to the next question.
Despite the fact that his wife and staffer are making all the signs that it is time to go, Richardson will not leave until he has answered all the questions of people with raised hands. His most interesting answer is to a question about his position on NAFTA and GATT. Richardson believes they are “done deals.” All he can promise is that the United States would be signing no more Trade Agreements that undercut U.S. labor and environmental standards.
After the Town Hall, I ask Richardson whether he read the self-employed package I gave him in Conway. He answers, “I read it on my flight back to Iowa. I thought it was compelling.”
On the way back to Wolfeboro, I buy a used DVD of Stranger than Fiction, which Bera and I enjoy before we go to bed.
Thursday, December 20
There is another snow storm outside.
We listen to Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican Presidential candidate, interviewed on The Exchange. His no government control philosophy makes it easy to understand his appeal to single-issue voters as diverse as antiwar activists and homeschool proponents. To my estimation, however, he goes off the deep end when he equates limiting rights of corporations to produce toxic chemicals with limiting freedom of speech.
We make our way to the library again to check out schedules. Now, we discover that Bill Clinton will be speaking in Wolfeboro at 4:15 P.M., and tomorrow Hillary Clinton will be speaking in Stratham. We RSVP through the internet to both events.
On the way home, we buy four lobsters, which we devour for lunch.
The snow has mixed with rain, and driving is treacherous. Fortunately, the event is only three miles away at Wolfeboro’s World War II museum. We get in line outside the museum, and soon are waiting in a packed exhibition room with over 200 people on folding chairs, surrounded by WWII memorabilia, and a scout plane hanging over our heads. Bera and I decide to move to the second floor balcony, where we stand.
Bill Clinton is late, very late. But the audience is patient because conditions are terrible outside. After an hour and a half, he shows up at 5:45 P.M.
A supporter of Hillary Clinton introduces Bill. Applause is tepid for support Hillary moments, but the audience lights up when Bill, looking trim in a brown suit and cowboy boots, takes the stage. Behind him is a huge flag, to the right a sign declares, “Ready for Change! Ready to Lead!”
Bill Clinton proceeds to mesmerize the crowd with a speech that gives examples of Hillary’s intelligence, compassion and foresight; with the undertone that if you like him, imagine how special Hillary must be to continuously amaze him for the decades they’ve been together.
According to Bill, Hillary is responsible for public schools being required to offer students with disabilities an education, America’s first micro-loan program, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Twice he states, “Hillary is a world class genius at improving other people’s lives.”
He believes that Hillary will reestablish the United States as a meaningful agent of diplomacy because she understands that people’s common humanity is more important than their differences. She was instrumental in ending the centuries-old conflict in Northern Ireland.
She will fight global warming through her understanding that a post-carbon economy is upon us, and that she will embrace it as a means to create millions of American jobs.
She has a good health care plan. A good education plan. She understands that the American military must be rebuilt after the Iraq war debacle, and that currently the United States is terribly unprepared for any new conflict.
When he was President, he kept score of what worked and didn’t work. He’s proud of the fact that when he left office, the American people were better off than when he entered, something that can not be said of the Bush Administration.
Bill Clinton concludes by telling a story about a golf game at an exclusive country club. A caddie, a man with an iron grip, took him aside to talk about Hillary. The caddie explained that he had been a fire marshal in NYC the day of 9/11, and the following weeks. From day one, Hillary Clinton was the only politician warning people about the air, and to take measures to protect themselves. Because of her warnings, there were people alive today that would have otherwise died. When the fire fighter was finished, tears were streaming down both their faces.
Bill concludes to a standing ovation. I decide not to try to give him my self-employed package.
Bera, who has a wall full of debate trophies, is amazed at Clinton’s performance. It is not the substance of what he said that amazes him, but the spell he cast.
When we go outside, we discover that the snow has stopped, but that driving is still terrible. It was 6:45 P.M., and Obama is to speak at 7:00. Given the driving conditions, however, I knew that Obama would likely be very late as well. We set out for Rochester, 30 miles away.
The Obama event is at American Legion Post #7. The flashing lights of a police car mark the place. We park around the corner, and try to enter the Legion grounds, but are stopped by a police officer, who asks where we are going. I state that I am here to see Obama, and that I have RSVP’d. He responds by saying that there is no such thing as RSVP, at which point I tell him flat out that the Obama headquarters in Rochester had called to make sure we were coming, despite the snow. Then a campaign worker intervenes, and tells me to make my way to a side entrance. The exchange with the police officer is weird, and leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
We enter the Legion hall to find about 400 people people patiently waiting for Obama, now nearly an hour late. For the first time at a campaign event, we are asked our names to check if we have RSVP’d. We take seats in folding chairs at a distant corner from the stage.
Soon, Obama arrives. Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, the long-shot Democratic winner from New Hampshire in 2006, introduces him.
Obama, dressed immaculately in a dark blue suit, is met with polite applause. To his right is a large flag, behind him is a sign reading, “Change We Can Believe In.”
He talks about his days in Chicago as a community organizer. He quickly moves on to the need to fix health care, and the need for energy independence. In order for these two huge challenges to be met, we must change business as usual in Washington.
Everywhere he goes he sees people struggling economically. He’s running for President so people can be heard. He's running to tell corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda are over.
As President, he would tie the minimum wage to inflation.
In education, he would push the arts, and offer $4,000 toward tuition for every year a student worked in community service.
He would grow the economy through energy initiatives.
Health care is deeply personal to him. As he watched his 53-year-old mother die of cancer, he saw her worry about whether her health insurance would cover the cost of her treatments, rather than focusing on getting well.
He will not hesitate to strike those that would do this nation harm.
He will bring the Iraq War to an end within 16 months, though are troops may have a role in rebuilding.
He will focus on diplomacy. America will lead again. He will end the slaughter in Darfur. He will close Guantánamo, restore habeas corpus, end extraordinary rendition.
He believes that there is a time that can be too late, and that time may be upon us. He does not want to lead blue states, he does not want to lead red states, he wants to lead the United States. He will stand up for justice, health care, and education for every child.
Obama is not at his rhetorical best. The crowd listens, but is not very enthusiastic.
He opens the floor for questions. I know I am too far distant to have a chance to be called on.
The first question concerns his strategy for working with Congress. He answers that Congress is too beholden to lobbyists, and that it is up to the President to set the agenda.
A woman surprises him with a question about his character. At another event, she explains, she tried to have her picture taken with him and her child, and Obama said, “Make it quick.” Obama, trying not to be irritated, answers that he knows of no candidate who spends more time with crowds.
What does he think of the 9/11 Commission report? He’d implement all its recommendations.
How can he be running for President and fulfilling his responsibilities as a Senator? He hasn’t missed a vote that was close.
What about the Trade Agreements that have cost Americans jobs? He’d make Trade Agreements more fair.
How would he deal with the increased power nations have over our government due to our borrowing and our dependence on foreign oil? The less oil we use, the less power foreign governments will have over us.
He concludes by stating that no President is perfect, but that all Presidents must listen to the people. He believes that one voice can change the world, and tells the story of a South Carolina woman who taught him a cheer at a small rally of 20, only to find that same woman leading her cheer at a rally of 30,000 with Oprah a month later.
He leads the crowd in the cheer, repeating, “Fired up. Ready to go.” The crowd participates in the cheer, but is not supercharged.
The Town Hall ends. Obama mixes with many supporters. I decide not to try to get my self-employed package into his hands.
Bera and I head back to Wolfeboro.
Friday, December 21
This is our last full day in New Hampshire. We will be seeing Hillary Clinton in Stratham tonight. Until then, there is nothing to do but have fun. Bera and I spend four hours skiing most of the 30 kilometers of trails behind the water tower. Then we’re off to Stratham, a little over an hour south of us.
This time we’re not late. The Town Hall is in the gym of the Cooperative Middle School. I ignore the ushers’ directions, and place myself in a position likely to get Hillary Clinton’s attention. Bera takes a seat away from me to increase our chances that Hillary will call on one of us.
Behind the podium is a flag, and a sign stating, “Working for Change, Working for You.”
The Town Hall begins only fifteen minutes late. Hillary Clinton, her mother, daughter, a state senator and two other speakers make their way to the stage.
The state senator from Stratham is the first to speak. Her son was born with severe physical disabilities, and Hillary Clinton changed her family’s life by leading the fight to include special needs kids in public schools. She knows that when Hillary becomes President, she will be fighting for all of us every day.
A man explains that he is a Wall Street financier, Republican, 9/11 victim, Katrina victim, and Hillary Clinton supporter. He tells the story of surviving Hurricane Katrina due to a Hillary Clinton staffer. The staffer cared about his family’s plight, when no one in the Bush Administration did.
Then a union steward from Rome, New York talks about all the jobs she saved and created in Rome.
Hillary Clinton takes the stage to loud applause, dressed in a bright blue blazer and pants. She tells the audience that in large part the 2008 election will be a decision about how we recover from Bush.
How do you make change? You work real hard for it. In our country you need to know how to bring people together through negotiating skills, how to work across aisles.
In Arkansas she worked hard for rural health care and quality education.
In the Senate, legislation she sponsored was passed that required drug companies to test drugs not only on adults, but on children as well. Before her legislation, doctors had to guess at children’s doses.
If you want to know how she’ll do business in Washington, look at what she’s already done. There are problems that we must solve not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans. She offers a new beginning for America and the world.
She will bring universal, affordable health care to Americans. If you like your current plan, keep it. If you are not satisfied with it, her plan will will give affordable access through lower premiums and tax credits to all the health insurance plans currently available to Congress and federal employees.
The nation’s dependence on foreign oil is in fact an opportunity to create millions of new jobs to break that dependence. Of course, currently there are two oil men in the White House that perceive alternative energy as a threat to their interests.
In the 90s, the economy served everyone. Under the Bush Administration, 100% of benefits have gone to 10% of Americans. The average American family has seen a $1,000 drop in income.
The nation needs an economy that works for everyone. Fiscal responsibility is required, as well as the elimination of tax cuts that disproportionately favor the wealthy.
Families’ futures are being mortgaged. The nation is borrowing money from China to pay for oil from Iran.
A new beginning in education is needed now. She supports universal pre-K. End No Child Left Behind. Make college affordable again. And take care of people who don’t go to college, but who are relied on every day.
She is sick of government incompetence and ineptitude. America’s prestige needs to be restored. This nation needs to offer diplomatic solutions again.
The young people have done everything that the military has asked of them. When they come home, they need to be taken care of. Bush has cut veterans’ benefits; she will increase them.
A vote for her is a vote for you, your family, and everyone. The first primary in the nation is New Hampshire, and it is an awesome responsibility.
She will be ready on day one. She will be a President that can deal with the unexpected, that can create a movement for change, that will enable this nation to be in control of its destiny again.
Hillary concludes to strong applause, some people rise in their seats. She fields questions.
She is asked how she would improve education? She answers that children's’ education is not one size that fits all. She would individualize instruction, starting with smaller classrooms.
How can we trust election results after Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004? She has introduced the Count Every Vote Act, and that as President her duty is to make elections believable again.
Then she calls on me. I say, “Senator Clinton, I appreciate the big tent you are trying to raise for the American people. But I do not understand why neither you, nor any other Democratic candidate speaks to America’s 20 million self-employed: the highest taxed, most regulatory burdened, least protected Americans. Specifically, I’d like to know whether your health care plan will enable a self-employed business to deduct its health insurance premium as a business expense, as can a corporation, and whether the tax credit you speak of to help pay for health insurance is applicable not only to income tax, but to the 15.3% self-employment tax. Thank you.”
Hillary Clinton pauses for a moment, then states that the tax credit is applicable to income tax only. However, because health insurance premiums under her plan will be priced according to need, she believes that the self-employed will greatly benefit. As concerns the self-employment tax, she believes there is an issue of unfairness there, as it is a form of double taxation from which the self-employed receive no benefits. Perhaps, another entity needs to be created to pass on business benefits to the self-employed. She has had hundreds of Town Hall meetings, and no one has brought up the self-employed before. She believes this is a very important concern, and asks to speak with me after the Town Hall to share my ideas.
Hillary fields a question about whether she’d lift the cap on income to which the Social Security Tax can be applied. She says she wouldn’t, because it would negatively impact families that make $100,000 to $200,000. Her solution to preserving Social Security is to create a bipartisan commission similar to the one Reagan created, and which worked so well.
The last question she answers concerns whether or not she’d have the federal government pay for the special education services for the disabled that cost public schools so much, and which the federal government mandates. She believes the federal government should be paying for special education services, and, as a rule, does not believe in unfunded mandates.
The Town Hall ends to more strong applause for Hillary Clinton. I find Bera. He uses his height to spot Hillary in the far corner of the gym, mingling with the crowd and signing autographs.
I make my way up to her, and she recognizes me. I show her my self-employed package, and explain that it represents my best ideas as to how to serve the self-employed. She makes sure my contact information is on the package, then hands it to an aid, saying, “This is important. Make sure it gets back to me.”
I thank her, and turn around to see Bera smiling at me. We walk to the car and decide to find a Chinese restaurant for dinner.
Saturday, December 22
Our birddogging trip is over. We drive back to New York to a solstice party and bonfire at a friend’s farm, and where we will reunite with the rest of the family, Lisa and Shane.
I have placed my self-employed package into the hands of Richardson, Edwards and Clinton. The package has not included my understanding of the means to effectively and inexpensively reach the self-employed. I will only consider sharing that knowledge with a candidate that contacts me after New Hampshire.
I believe that the political dance and media circus around the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary is in large measure about manufacturing consent. It is easy for me to view my week birddogging with Bera as a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. But I am also a farmer, and have faith in seeds.
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