KEENE, NH -
While The Times opted to cover the 'Tons from 3Q's home turf of Keene, we decided to go for the later, presumably better rehearsed show in Nashua.
I woke up on Andy Comings' couch with 4 long strands of dark blood covering at least half of my left heel, the result of a minor dancing accident from the night before as the 80s vinyl spun and my flip-flops provided inadequate protection from the uncoordinated oafs surrounding me. Inherently, I knew this would be a day of metaphorical bloodshed, or at least it might shine some light on the lifeblood of my early political life. Or was the bloody Achilles heel just the metaphor of the day? Either way, I was getting ahead of myself.
I set off for the unusually long journey from Allston, where just a day earlier a local icon's life was tragically cut short, to Nashua via train and automobile, and some four hours later after the quaint drive through unknown Northern Massachusetts towns like Pepperell and Townsend I arrived in The Gate City. Aside from a brief stopover back in the summer of 2003 when I hit the outer Nashua strip to purchase a cd player for my old car (The Puget Sounder), and eat lunch at Hooters while it was installed, I had never really been to town before. I drove into the downtown area, where signs continued to point me toward a dining and shopping district that never really appeared, but I figured must have existed because the signs stopped. Then again, I guess I did see one restaurant. Hardly the proper downtown that dominates a place like Manchester, Portsmouth, or Plymouth, and fittingly I cut bait and headed out toward the airport for the rally at Daniel Webster College.
Even thirty minutes before the scheduled start, traffic was slow heading into the overflow parking lot, set up on a patch of grass next to a small pond on the edge of campus. I followed the crowd to the stage, which meant a lot of people walking nearly a quarter mile who, quite frankly, looked like they weren't used to walking nearly a quarter mile. We approached the rally in a great funneling motion, where we were more easily intercepted by clipboard-wielding activists and campaign staffers looking for our names, numbers and addresses. As an older woman would mention after I was sitting inside the ropes, "I've never signed my name so many places in my life."
Ay, but were you as identity-savvy as the survivalists out in Quabbin Qountry, you would have escaped Scot-free, having smiled and glared your way through a dozen or more refusals. The final entrance to the show was blocked off by two ten-foot folding tables, the last garrison to collect the information cards the campaign staff had been whoring all the way down the previous eighty yards of sidewalk. It was a classic rouse, leading people to believe that they weren't allowed in without some sort of "free ticket" that doubled as fodder for their mailings lists. A young kid in front of me put forth a similar fight for his right to enter without a ticket. Of course he was let in, but not without a look of pure disdain from the staffers. "Well, you can go in without a paper, but we reallllly would prefer if you had one." We were really dealing with the pros.
Not just professional field organizers, but professional campaigners. Professional politicians, really. This was an event for the inevitable candidate and her husband, the 42nd POTUS. Amateurs need not apply. Bomb sniffing dogs abound near the stage in the early moments of the rally, a 20-foot tall American flag served as the back wall of the crowd, and the backdrop for the stage, which included a full set of bleachers and a 10-foot crowd buffer, was a massive sign reading, "READY for Change" on the top line above a make-shift 3-star flag logo sitting over a line which read "Ready to LEAD". Around 3PM the campaign staff, mostly consisting of attractive girls in their early 20s, began passing out pro-Hillary signs, including fake-homemade ones. That latter really made me wonder how many of the major media photos, like the one in today's Times about Biddies for Hillary, are full of it.
Once the bleachers on stage were carefully packaged with a diverse group of old and young multi-cultural supporters (in fact, it was potentially the first time I have seen a black person in New Hampshire) all the pedestrian music played its notes and the moment we were all waiting for came to a head with the first notes of Celine Dion. Up the stairs from stage right walked a trio of dignitaries, a local state senator, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. The couple shook hands with the people on stage, smiled, and touched one another a lot. The crowd went wild.
After a red meat intro of Bill Clinton, touting the seemingly endless glory of his Presidency, the ex-President provided a full introduction for his wife. He promised to keep it short given the heat, but it was yet another campaign promise that went unfulfilled. As was probably the will of the people, Bill spoke nearly as long as the Senator, providing what he felt was the case for a Clinton Presidency, part 2.
The first words out of his mouth, after the usual blather about how good it was to be back in New Hampshire, were that he "would be here doing this even if we weren't married." Although he thanked the audience earlier for voting for the Clinton/Gore ticket twice in the 90s, he slighted Big Al by saying that Hillary was the best prepared non-incumbent candidate to become President that he could think of in all his 40 years of voting history. It is this exact reason, Clinton assured us, that it is important to elect Hillary as the Democratic nominee. He wasn't nearly as fear-mongering as Joe Biden, going on to say how it was the first time that he could remember when he would be happy with any of the Democratic candidates, going on to express his interest in reading news stories about Obama and Edwards, and to celebrate his long friendships with Biden, Dodd and Richardson. Sorry, Kucinich and Gravel, you guys must have been implied.
Bill rambled quite a bit more than I had expected, at times seeming to forget what he was supposed to say in what order, and toward the end making a noise with his mouth that sounded like he was sucking on ice. Nevertheless he highlighted her large role in his administration, having visited 82 countries in his first term as the "face of America" abroad. He implored us to "get the country back in the solutions business," as led by Hillary, touting her significant success as a New York Senator in bringing results to her constituents and winning a formidable amount of votes in rural, Republican-leaning upstate NY, where he said he most enjoyed campaigning for her, which he described as "teetling around the countryside" or something like that.
Oddly enough, Bill highlighted her early biography, much like Obama giving her credit for turning down lucrative jobs after law school in order to move down to Arkansas with him and improve the lives of children as an attorney for the Children's Defense Fund. Even more curious, he carried on about her work with prisoners, emphasizing that she truly cared for the welfare of those who had made mistakes in life, even to the point of making her seem truly soft on crime, Dukakis-style. Along the same lines, Bill made a direct appeal to our general election sensibilities, telling us not to buy the idea that Hillary is too polarizing to be elected on a nationwide basis. He told a story about her being more popular than him back in the Natural State, and theorized that the Republicans are only saying that stuff because they fear her. And fear not, because she will instantly restore America's reputation in the world once she is elected. Instantly.
I appreciated that Bill took the polarizing and unelectable themes head on, and it is undoubtedly impressive to hear someone with the gravitas of Mr. President give such a glowing endorsement. The two of them are a package deal for certain, and on the shoulders of that giant, Hillary took the stage.
She had been smiling proudly the entire time Bill was on stage, one of the many humanizing traits she expressed during the rally. They seemed like such a happy couple, and from those good feelings she bounded up to the microphone and began her speech. She quickly went over the basic Democratic platform, vowing with great applause to change the leadership in this country, improve health care, create an energy plan, get rid of No Child Left Behind and all the rest. Every theme she touched on began with the call of "Are you ready?"
Are you ready for change?
Are you ready for a better health care system?
"Are you ready for a President who will actually say the words 'global warming'?"
She even talked about bringing the troops home as soon as possible.
After the inevitability of the "are you ready?" calls, Hillary moved on to a theme of fairness and values. She mocked the Bush administration's questionable political appointees, and questioned the fairness of the tax system, most notably in terms of the current cause d'celebre, hedge funds. I don't think she mentioned that her daughter works for a hedge fund, but maybe I tuned out for a moment. This theme of fairness created a segue into the populist portion of the program. The sympathy in her voice ratcheted up a few notches as she spoke of middle class and poor America being "invisible" to the current administration, from the treatment of troops in Walter Reed to those everyday Americans with inadequate health care. On the other hand, Hillary "will be a President who sees, hears, listens to and tries to help" all people. In a HRC administration there will be no invisible Americans.
The most striking aspects to the speech lay in the tone. For starters, this was much less an intellectual policy treatise than it was an example of someone in power sympathizing with the people about the policies that are at the forefront of our government today. Every piece of the platform was accompanied with a brief and simple explanation of what they meant. Hillary wasn't trying to prove the superiority of her plans, she was simply trying to let us know that there are problems and she will fix them. She sounded very soothing and motherly in her explanation and sympathetic outpourings of her heart.
Between Hillary's soothing, womanly voice and Bill's emphasis on her bleeding heart background and her extreme suitability, the image that called out to me from this campaign rally was that the HRC08 Campaign is riding high on 2 themes going into the primary:
1) Hillary Clinton is a master of government, formidable in political skill and unmatched in readiness for the White House.
2) Hillary Clinton isn't the Hell-bent, cold, ambitious meanie that the vast right wing conspiracy has made her out to be. Quite the contrary she is a sweet, strong motherly figure worthy of your vote.
Given her unmatched name recognition, massive political network of campaign donors and Clinton family loyalists (and fond rememberists), those are two well-placed pillars on which to build a tall, tall lookout from which to peer into November, 2008. That in mind, I made the decision not to wait around in hopes of a handshake. Instead I quickly walked away from the rally as the blood crusted on my heel, making each step a painful one, and I remembered that I didn't owe Bill Clinton anything other than my civic engagement, a continued hope for a better America, and a little bit of pimp game on the streets. Instead, I just wanted to hustle out and beat the traffic jam which was, in my mind, the most inevitable thing I had seen all day.