John Edwards wrapped up a Friday of small town stops at the Washington County Fair Building with a brief speech on the “sacred contract” with the troops and families and about 25 minutes of question and answer with the audience.
After driving at unofficially high rates and arrive in Washington IA at 5:52 for a 5:45 event I find that today’s campaign standard time is “about 20 minutes behind.” Not bad for the last event of the day. Music is a Mellencamp-free Motown set with Smokey singing “The Way You Do the Things You Do” and Aretha’s “Baby I Love You” (yes, I know it was on Atlantic not Motown). The Washington County folks are passing a petition on changing the county supervisor election system.
No TV crews, just local print, mostly photographers. There’s a nice cordoned off press area that I have to myself. It keeps shrinking as more chairs are added for the crowd. The Fort Madison event seemed to be the big media hit for the day.
6:02 and the county chair is introducing the dignitaries – which is the county party exec board. No higher-up electeds except the chair who’s on the city council. Wash Co is traditionally GOP, but an occasional Dem can win here. “They haven’t told me how long to talk.” “Stretch” says a staffer. “Pass the hat,” says the party treasurer.
Phil Collins? “Take Me Home?” That’s a hip choice – for the 1988 caucuses… “272 signed in,” reports the staffer – the Edwards campaign is always diligent with the crowd counts. I catch a drawl of “y’all” from one of the staffers handing out the DVD that was mailed out a few months back,
6:23. State 29 was giving Hillary a bad time for running 45 minutes late… another local is intro-ing Roxanne Conlin who will intro Elizabeth who will intro John. Interesting she’s on board, and she notes that “given her background.” Her intro can be summed up as “electability.”
6:31 and Elizabeth’s intro-ing while John’s rolling up the sleeves. It’s casual Friday so John has jeans. A kid baseball story becomes a political metaphor “we don’t care how he gets home, just so he does.”
6:34 and John is on. The obligatory Elizabeth health reference to start. The Sacred Contract is quickly outlined: health care, job security for vets and families.
“Bush is using the term global war on terror to justify every bad thing he’s done.” Rejects the term, says we need to undermine the causes of terrorism. We need to be seen as a force for good in the world again. The short version of the speech for a new crowd. (For longer versions: Iowa City in January, Cedar Rapids in April.)
6:40 and on to questions. First questioner suggests simply considering terrorist individuals as criminals. Edwards cites new Gore book and contrasts politics of fear vs. hope. As long as world belies America is at war with Islam, we can’t lead. A whole generation is sitting on the fence and we need to be able to lead again. “Close Gitmo” gets applause (unlike McCain’s crowd).
Next questioner wants to bring manufacturing jobs back to U.S. Edwards: Some of the jobs aren’t coming back. But still many things we can do. Need standards in our trade policies. “Trade hits certain people like a laser” when a plant closes. We need a safety net for those people and communities. Need to end oil addiction, that’s 1-2 million new energy jobs. Broadband Internet to small towns.
How did you get interested in poverty? It’s a huge moral issue, reporters wonder why… it’s what I care about. “When the Democrats don’t speak up for those who have no voice, our party has no soul.” (applause) After 2004, Elizabeth said “you just lit up” on the subject of poverty and “this is what you want to do.” Katrina also a factor. Edwards talks about his various activities, kids to college programs, etc. Then he adds “But you wouldn’t have heard about that, you all been talking about my $400 haircut.” Many laughs. “It wasn’t worth it.” More laughs. Back on topic. Talks about a two job mom who had to turn off heat to buy school books then was afraid human services would take kids away.
A balding man says “I wish I had your hair” and asks about health care: “how are you gonna pull this off when others have failed?” Edwards: Most Americans now favor dramatic change on this (also war, energy, etc.) If a plan appeals across lines of ideology, it has a better chance. “And I actually have a way to pay for it.” Outlines Health Market plan. Government plan is “Medicare plus”, or subsidized premiums if choose private plan. No preexisting conditions, mental health parity, portability. To pay for it, get rid of Bush tax cuts – $90-100 billion a year (applause).
What can a president do to increase unionization? Edwards uses the “labor is greatest antipoverty movement” line, which still gets applause. A president can talk to America about the importance of labor. Card-check unionization, no permanent scabs (my word not his). A legal environment that’s more conducive to organizing. Need to organize the service economy, those jobs can’t move. If they’re unionized, a good middle class life, if not, poverty. “Just that simple.” American gets to decide which. "This is not just about unions, this is about empowering America."
7:06 and that ends the questions. He makes the pledge card pitch and Jackie Wilson sings "Higher and Higher" (didn’t Obama play that too?) The crowd diligently starts to fold their own chairs.
After ten minutes or so of the handshake scrum while we hear R.E.M’s “Orange Crush” (the music gets a little more casual post-speech as people start to leave), the staffers usher the press types into a kitchen off the main hall for a fast five minutes of questions.
The reporters focus on Edwards’ rejection of the term “global war on terror.” Edwards doesn’t back down:
“My reaction is to the entire term. It’s the use of a political term to beat up people and justify behavior that is not justifiable. It’s very calculated. And when I said that, you saw not only Bush, but Cheney and other administration officials reacting… they’re terrified they’re not going to be able to use this term.”
“I will keep this country safe – but in a smart way that will undermine the forces supporting terrorism.”
Asked what should come next following Thursday’s war funding votes, Edwards said, “What should happen in September is what should have happened this week – setting a deadline. (Congress) should not have backed down. I want all the troops out by March – all of them.”
The staffers usher Edwards out the door. Elizabeth is still mingling with the last hangers-on in the hall, literally holding a baby. Also still there is State Rep. Nathan Reichart, D-Muscatine (I'm still grateful to him for helping my long-ago campaign, and eventually he knocked off the guy that beat me); asked if he’s endorsing he says he’s “just checking it out.”
(Special thanks to wifi hotspot the Chocolate Cafe in Fairfield.)