Joe Lavin

January 2, 2008

Vacationing with the Candidates

I had a few days off after Christmas, and so on Saturday I drove to New Hampshire to see both John McCain and Bill Clinton. Boy, do I really know how to have a good time? Next vacation, I'm planning to go to Washington and watch somebody make a law.

McCain and Clinton, of course, weren't together. McCain was at the VFW Post in Merrimack for a town hall meeting at noon, and later Bill Clinton was campaigning for his wife at a pottery shop in Dover. Why was a former President appearing in the dusty warehouse of a pottery shop? I don't know. Apparently, the Dover yarn shop must have been closed.

To be honest, I actually liked both of the candidates. I'm mostly a Democrat, so I didn't really agree with McCain on many issues, but I do respect him, and he's also funny. I've been to a few of these events for the Democrats, but this was the first time one of them started with the Pledge of Allegiance. As a liberal, I tend to forget some of the middle lines, so I hope my mumbling of the Pledge didn't give me away to the Republicans. At one point, when a blaring car alarm went off, McCain announced, "There's a liberal democrat in the audience." Luckily, it wasn't my car, and I was able to stay undercover.

McCain was introduced by the Governor of Minnesota, (So how many of you have seen the Governor of Minnesota on your vacation?) and then McCain spoke for about 25 minutes. After that, he took questions from the audience. As the campaign staffer explained beforehand, "He'll take 12 to19 questions, depending on his mood." This sounded ominous, as if halfway through McCain might get cranky and storm off in anger, but I think that's part of his appeal. We all kind of like the idea of having a President with a temper.

He talked on a number of subjects, including his support for the war in Iraq, the importance of fighting Al Qaeda, immigration, education, and the fact that Curt Schilling of the Red Sox supports him. He said that Time should have chosen General David Petraeus as the Person of the Year, rather than Russian President Vladimir Putin. "When I met [Putin], I looked into his eyes, and the only thing I saw were the letters K, G, and B," he said. Later, he complained about all the money Congress wastes and announced to big cheers that "we have betrayed our base." He even had me cheering too until I remembered where my base is.

And then, like the true American he is, he walked next door to The Dowg Shack, ordered two hot dogs to go, and hopped back on the Straight Talk Express. Watch out Romney. I think McCain's ready to kick some ass.

After an hour drive that somehow took me two hours, I ended up at Salmon Falls Stoneware in Dover to see President Clinton. I'm not really into talking to campaign staffers for these things, but I would love to talk with the people who do the scheduling. It must be an amazingly difficult job to figure out where to put all these candidates. I've so far attended events at a textbook warehouse, on the steps of a Dartmouth College building, behind a baseball stadium, in a bookstore, at a VFW Post, and now at a pottery shop. Who knows where the next one will be? I'm guessing it'll either be at a high school gymnasium or a balloon factory.

I also want to talk with those who choose the music that plays during the hour you have to wait for the candidate, because, really, I've heard enough Bruce Springsteen already. And does every candidate have to play "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet?"

For both events, the audience was a little, shall we say, elderly. Clinton for one can certainly pull in the old folk. I was talking to a volunteer with the ONE organization, and he told me about the last time he saw Bill. "I was standing there after his speech, and all of a sudden all these old people started to climb over my back with their walkers to get him to sign their books. It was crazy." On the way out, I heard one woman in her seventies sighing to her friend, "He really knows how to give a good speech."

By the way, ONE is a great bi-partisan organization committed to ending world poverty. I know this from googling it later, not actually from talking to the volunteer. That's because we mostly talked about the New England Patriots' chances to go 16-0, and about his plans to get drunk and watch the Patriots that night. You know, the issues and all that.

There are two things one forgets about Bill Clinton until seeing him again in person. One, how inspiring he can be. And two, how boring he can be. The man somehow combines both in the same package. Just when he starts citing statistics and your mind is drifting off, he'll bring you back with some line and suddenly have you ready to give up your job and volunteer to save the world. (Luckily, he tends to go back to the statistics before you actually give your notice at work.)

This was one of Clinton's last events of the day. Earlier, he had been in Manchester, "doing what I do best, eating at diners." Clinton talked about many things, including how companies can make more money by developing green technology, how we can raise the money to insure most Americans by making healthcare more efficient, and how his wife is actually more fiscally conservative than the Republicans who are living in "LaLa Land." He even joked about how Republicans are suddenly showering him with tax cuts now that he finally has money.

He also marveled over how so many people claim that Hillary has been scheming to be President all her life. "If you're a Yale law school graduate from Chicago, what do you do if you want to be President? You move to Arkansas and marry a guy who just lost his last election?" he asked.

I confess that he did confuse me at times. He started by listing the five reasons we should vote for Hillary, but then there would be all these other reasons nested within the big reasons. So I would be standing there, and he would say, "And the third reason that you should vote for Hillary on education is…" and I would suddenly realize that I couldn't remember the first two. This is a man clearly in need of a PowerPoint presentation. There was a big American flag behind him, but couldn't somebody have at least sprung for a whiteboard? He's a former President, for God's sake.

In short, he did make a compelling case for his wife. He told us he would be there campaigning for her even if he weren't married to her, and I believed him. Wisely, Clinton didn't mention what else he would be doing if he weren't married to her.

©2008 Joe Lavin

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