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January 28, 2004, 10:45 P.M.

The New Hampshire primary has certainly made the Democratic race interesting. I expected Joe Lieberman to do better and Howard Dean to do worse, but all in all, the outcome was not a great surprise.

Edwards and Clark will certainly live to fight through the South, and they should both be strong there. The fact that four candidates are coming out of New Hampshire alive and well will certainly keep interest in the primaries at a high level. 30,000 more voters participated in this year’s primary than the last and record amounts of money were dumped into the state. Despite the intensive effort on the part of the major candidates, the top vote getter garnered only 39% of the vote. The rest of the candidates were bunched in the middle, their messages intact and candidacies alive. If Edwards and Clark each win a few southern states, which they could conceivably do, and if they carry that around the country, with no one candidate winning everything, Democrats could be going to their convention with no clear nominee. This can’t hurt a party that is still trying to find its message. It also doesn’t hurt that the closeness of this race is stimulating renewed interest in the Democratic Party.

Now that John Kerry is the actual frontrunner, he has got to get a personality. This guy is not Mr. Personality, and likeability is going to be a big factor as this race tightens up in the south and moves to the Midwest.

The trick for all of the campaigns is going to be to pick states where their candidates can do well and concentrate efforts there. The Kerry campaign proved the value of this strategy in Iowa where they put on a big push.

January 28, 2004, 10:30 P.M.

When I was growing up and the Viet Nam war was raging, my parents were best described as hawks. I don’t think that they ever articulated any good reasons for their beliefs; my memory of their rantings suggests that they simply adopted the “party line” of the Johnson administration. These “arguments” were so stock and uninspired that I could regurgitate them almost at will by the time I was in seventh grade: commies knocking on the Golden Gate, etc.

I also had the influence of an older sister who was soundly in the anti-war camp (admittedly from the safety of a Catholic, all-girls prep school) and who was wont to make the occasional peace rally, sit in or non-violent demonstration. She was not hard-core, but she certainly was of her own mind, much to my mother’s chagrin.

The issue, or topic, of the Viet Name era soldier was one that held me in the balance between my sister’s world and that of my parents. I knew family members, friends and community members who served and died in Viet Nam and I knew people who refused to fight. Somehow I resented and came to disagree with the policies of my government, but I never could translate that into hatred or disrespect for the military, nor could my sister. Perhaps it was her influence, but I always respected the soldiers who did their duty and did not let my feelings about the war change that. Nor did I let my empathy for the soldiers translate into hatred or disrespect for protesters or those who chose not to serve (affectionately called cowards, draft dodgers, chickens and various other animal and vegetable references by my mother). My mother bought the party line, the administration’s propaganda, used to justify American involvement.

When soldiers began to turn against the war and began to speak out against continued involvement in large numbers, no explanation or justification could keep us there. This is not to suggest that American involvement ended because of the changing attitudes of soldiers, that is only a part of it. The changing attitudes and eroding support of the American public, and the coming of age of the anti-war activists, ended the war. But when the soldiers spoke out, any pretext of support crumbled. Of course, the politics of the 1960s and 1970s is more nuanced and subtle than this simplistic explanation, but it’s a place to start looking at U.S. involvement in Iraq.

American soldiers are doing what they are expected to do in Iraq and in Afghanistan every day. But they are being put into situations for which they are ill-trained and unprepared through no fault of their own. Meanwhile, the politics of propaganda and rhetoric are the result of their ill-defined mission and the lack of a plan for post-war reconstruction. My criticism of Bush administration policy is not a criticism of the men and women who are in the armed forces. The Bush administration would have us believe that our soldiers fought, and are fighting, to free the Iraqi people. To say that I am unpatriotic because I question my government’s motives and policies is an insult to the American soldiers fighting and dying to give the Iraqi people rights that my own countrymen and the U.S.A. Patriot Act would seek to deny me.

January 26, 2004, 8:50 P.M.

Last week the state legislature failed to pass legislation that would have placed a constitutional amendment overturning the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s landmark Claremont school funding decision on the ballot in November.

In his inaugural address, Laconia Mayor Mark Fraser committed himself and his administration to communicating directly with our legislative delegation on issues of importance to the city and the state. The mayor followed through on that commitment and urged lawmakers to reject the constitutional amendment. The mayor was joined by Laconia School Board chair Marge Kerns.

Mayor Fraser wrote to members of our legislative delegation urging them to work towards a permanent solution to the funding crisis and to remember the importance of a system of “checks and balances,” which our system of government is built on. The wisdom of his position should be clear, but apparently it was lost on some legislators, because only Representatives Holbrook and Fitzgerald voted against the measure. As usual, Representative Dewhirst failed to even show up for this important vote.

In my experience, our legislative delegation is largely, if not completely, out of touch with the needs of our community. They are party loyalists, with little or no concern for establishing and supporting a local agenda. Before the election, they were all invited to local forums, meetings and information sessions by constituent groups, the school board and others. They didn’t show.

New Hampshire’s citizen legislature, the largest legislative body in the world some say, is intended to give a voice to all of the people. Our legislators work for us and if they are not representing our interests they need to be tossed out.

In future posts, we are going to look at the attendance and voting records of our senator and representatives and we are going to join the mayor in seeking to hold them accountable for representing us.

January 26, 2004, 8:30 P.M.

I had a great discussion with Belknap County Democratic Party chair and Dean supporter, Beth Arsenault, this evening. I told Beth that I am still undecided, but that my choices looked like Edwards, Kerry and Lieberman. I love these discussions with her because she always makes me think.

Beth pointed out that all three had some explaining to do on (1) the Iraq resolution; (2) No Child Left Behind; and (3) the Patriot Act. She is right. Beth’s reason for pointing this out is that she feels that, in order to beat Bush, Democrats will have to distinguish themselves on these issues, and only Dean can do that.

Kerry, Lieberman and Edwards will have to explain their votes because the Republicans will force them to. Flip-flop ads will abound and if any of these three is the nominee, they will be unable to mount the same frontal assault as Dean could, having not voted on these issues.

That is precisely the problem for Dean, however. He can say now how he would have voted, and I believe him, but he is able to say that without having been under the same pressure as the other three at the time. Not that political pressure is an acceptable reason, or excuse, it is not, but it is an explanation.

Whoever runs against the Bush/Rove machine will be faced with an onslaught of well-funded, well-planned and vicious politics. These people mean to create a political dynasty at all costs. They are pandering to the wealthy, to drug companies, to oil companies and to the media to sustain their base of power and empire. The refusal of CBS to run an anti-Bush ad during the Super Bowl is a prime example of how profoundly indebted to the current administration the American media and American industry are.

I just don’t think that Howard Dean can win because politics is national, and he is too liberal for most of the country. I predict that the south and the industrial Midwest will be his undoing, and Iowa was but the harbinger.

January 26, 2004, 5:45 P.M.

[Ed. note: This is an update of an earlier post.]

Woe Is Me: Last week Dianne and I saw Senator Kerry when he spoke at the Elks Lodge in Laconia. At this point in the campaign, candidates all have pretty stock speeches and canned answers to questions on major issues. Kerry was no exception. The problem is that there is not a lot of new information or substance in these stump speeches. They are essentially safe and sanitized pep rallies.

During Kerry’s speech, I found myself wanting to interrupt the Senator from time to time and ask him how he was going to accomplish the goals and ideals he outlined. There was not a lot of meat in the speech. The Q&A that followed was more of the same. Many answers were indirect and seemed evasive.

My principal concern was with Kerry’s answer regarding the vote giving the President the authority to use force in Iraq. I would like to hear Kerry say that the vote was a mistake, that he and the rest of the members of Congress were misled, and that such broad authority should never be given again. It is hard for the Democrats who voted to give the President the discretion to wage war to now say that they were surprised that he actually did. This is especially true when the President in question is Bush 43.

Only Lieberman has completely stuck by his position and he should be given credit for that. It’s not Kerry’s stand on the war at the time of the Iraq vote that bothers me. Rather, it is his political backstepping now that troubles me. If he now thinks the war was wrong, he should admit to being wrong, or misled, or to making a political decision to vote the way he did. This will be a general election issue and one on which he is vulnerable to attack.

For Kerry, the last Democratic debate was more of the same. He looked downright uncomfortable as a theoretical front runner and he was almost too careful. His dialogue was almost exactly the same prepared speech we had heard earlier in the day, and his answers and explanations did not improve with age. To us, the big debate winner was Joe Lieberman. He was strong in his convictions, articulate in his answers and comfortable in his delivery. There was substance in his answers as well. He admitted when he was wrong (on the issue of the First in the Nation New Hampshire primary) and seemed confident enough to admit that with time, one’s mind can and sometimes should change. As I have often said, the hallmark of a great mind is its ability to change. Joe showed me a lot, and I’m sorry that I missed his visit to Laconia today.

Edwards also looked and sounded good. He is a comfortable debater and handled questions from the panel very well, often not accepting the premise of a question when it was designed to make him look bad. The gun control question is the example that comes to mind. Josh Marshall has described Edwards as the best public speaker of the bunch. In fact, he is mesmerizing. The problem is that not much of the substance of his message sticks with you after the speech is over.

Clark did not come off looking good on the “aren’t you really a Republican” question in the debate. He also did not look as prepared as you might expect, but his Patriot Act answer was one of the best of the night. Clark said that he could not reconcile fighting for freedom abroad and denying it to citizens at home. I liked his answer on choice and how he reconciled his position with that of the Catholic Church. He said essentially, “I disagree.” Dennis Kucinich was great on trade, charts and all, while Al Sharpton kept the focus on inclusiveness. Both of these candidates have issues that need to be included in the platform (limited as they may be) but they are marginal at best and they will soon be gone. Their supporters are not numerous, but I expect that Edwards will benefit when Kucinich drops out. I don’t know where Sharpton’s support will go.

Dean seemed to regain some of his fire later in the debate when asked about the war. This is his issue and he needs to continue to ride it home. The kinder, gentler Howard is coming out at the wrong time. The war whoop in Iowa, followed by a dumb statement like, “I lead with my heart instead of my head sometimes” has seriously hurt his effort. If Dean does not get out of New Hampshire with at least a very strong second, stick a fork in him, he’s done. Electability is the big issue for undecided voters and many people who I have talked to say that they like Lieberman but don’t feel he can be elected. He is especially popular with my Republican friends who can’t support the current administration. During his debates with Cheney four years ago we all thought he would have been a better candidate than Al Gore. I wonder what will happen this time around?

I’m still undecided, Dianne is leaning toward Edwards, and the Primary is Tuesday. Oh, woe is me.

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Copyright 2003 Edward Philpot

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