A Tale of Two Campaigns

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A Tale of Two Campaigns
Wednesday, 28 February 2007
by Caleb Johnson

Now that the 2008 Presidential election is a mere two years away, it is inevitable that New Hampshire's tourists will be accompanied by less pleasant folk: aspiring rulers, two-faced demagogues, and two bit tyrants seeking a promotion to the grandiose rank of "leader of the free world." Already, several of these fine politicos have graced New Hampshire with their presence, hoping that the wise people of New Hampshire will let the rest of the nation in on the secret that only they are qualified to be the next President of the good old U.S. of A.

I'm not a big fan of the office of the Presidency. My impression of the men who have served in the office is not entirely favorable, and if recent history is any indication, I tend to believe that America will probably be presented with another opportunity to select between two sincerely lousy candidates. That having been said, I choked back my instinctive gag reflex and attended forums for two aspiring candidates: Democrat Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas.

Hillary 2008 - Let the Conversation Begin

Senator Clinton has adopted the campaign slogan, "Let the conversation begin." She's the clear front runner in the Democrat field, but needs to remake her image and demonstrate that she can woo enough Republicans and Independents to supplement her base. I was interested in seeing how she would pull off that task. Like no other candidate, Clinton is naturally divisive. It seems people either love her or hate her. Almost everyone has already formed an opinion about her. That may not be entirely fair, but it is the reality she must overcome if she wants to be President. To hear what she had to say, I attended her forum here in Keene on February 11.

The event began like a rock concert or sporting event. I half expected to hear, "Let's get ready to ruuumble!" followed by Clinton swinging down out of the rafters to the tune of "We Will Rock You." It's a shame she didn't. That would have been true entertainment. As it was, she walked out to the cheering throngs, accompanied by our very own State Senator Molly Kelly, who introduced her to the assembled masses. It was all downhill from there.

I had expected straight talk on a variety of serious issues. Instead, Clinton brought out an overworked page from an already overused playbook. She focused the theme of her speech on four main issues: education, health care, alternative energy, and blaming the President for mismanaging the war in Iraq and spending too much money. These are, to be sure, popular issues with the base, and focusing on these issues brought her a lot of applause from the assembled crowd. But she was preaching to the choir, and her sermon wasn't even that good. On education, she said we needed to do a better job of ensuring that those who want to go to college can do so. She even agreed wholeheartedly with a questioner who said that the government needs to provide free universal college education. But she failed to put forward any ideas for paying for her programs. She criticizes the President for spending money that the country doesn't have, and then in the next breath proceeds to draw up her own spending sprees. Her position on health care was no different. She asserted that the country needs universal health care, provided freely to all citizens. We all need three meals a day too. But that doesn't mean government should pay for it. But again, Clinton put forward no plan for paying for her schemes. She criticized Bush for mishandling the war, and on that she had some valid points. She claimed that the U.S. still has vital national security interests in Iraq, but she failed to present any conceivable way of resolving these issues. Let the point be made abundantly clear: If Clinton wins the Presidency, the troops will be staying in Iraq indefinitely. Even worse, she specifically named Iran as a great threat to the region, saying that we cannot afford to allow Iran to gain greater influence in the region. She stopped short of threatening military action against Iran, but the knowledge that Iran is on her mind makes me not a little uneasy. That's a door that needs to be slammed shut.

She was at her best when speaking about alternative energy. She made the completely valid point that the country doesn't need to choose between a healthy economy and alternative energy, that there is money to be made in alternative energy sources. That is a valid point. But again, she offered no real ideas for developing alternative energy sources. There is a big difference between identifying a problem, and having a solution to that problem. And solutions appear to be scarce in the Clinton camp.

Overall, Clinton's visit to Keene was disappointing. A friend described her performance as "thirty minutes of clichés." He might have been too kind. I'm not sure if she's running not to lose, or if she just really doesn't have any answers. I suspect the latter. Just for good measure, at the end of her presentation, her Secret Service detail roughed up a man who was holding an unapproved sign. Nice touch. It certainly didn't do much to alleviate my concern that Clinton would continue the autocratic measures of the current President. In a way, this was the most sickening part of the whole event. Make no mistake about it, for all her talk about changing directions, Hillary Clinton is business as usual.

Ron Paul 2008 - A Surprising Republican

I was already somewhat familiar with Texas Congressman Ron Paul before I went to hear him speak at a private reception in Pembroke. I was aware that he had voted against the Patriot Act. Twice. (In both 2001 and 2005.) I was also aware that he had been a leading critic of the war in Iraq. I don't normally give Republicans much of a hearing, but based on what I had heard, Ron Paul deserved a chance. I was in for a pleasant surprise.

Paul began his speech in a refreshing way, by expressing his own reluctance to run for President. Paul is still in an exploratory phase, not having yet officially declared his candidacy. He spoke frankly about that reluctance to enter the race, explaining that he's not entirely sure he wants the job, but feels that his message is very important. He said that in the coming weeks he would determine whether he thought he could carry that message effectively. I found that attitude refreshing, especially in an age dominated by pompous politicians who feel that they are uniquely qualified to rule over us. Paul doesn't feel uniquely qualified. And he doesn't seem to want to rule over us. His focus is on his message, which is essentially that America needs a new direction. He noted that some people had accused him of not being a "strong leader," but he rebutted that accusation: "Sometimes being a strong leader means resisting the temptation to use power." During his time spent in Congress, Paul has consistently resisted the temptation to use power. He is consistently ranked among the highest members of Congress by civil libertarian groups for his commitment to American liberties.

Throughout his speech, he highlighted problems that he believes are indicative of systemic dysfunction within the American political system. He spoke out against Presidential signing statements, which are statements that a President issues when he signs a bill and that modify the legislation. Bush has signed more signing statements than any other President, but Paul was gracious enough not to mention that. Paul also targeted executive orders and regulatory policies which carry the force of law. These are dangerous because they give the executive branch the ability to make laws, concentrating too much power in the Presidency. Paul wants a significant change in direction.

He also focused on economic issues. He spoke out against the dangerous transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy, noting that this frequently precedes a significant economic downturn. He identified the source of the problem as being a government which consistently spends more than it takes in.

Throughout his substantive analysis, Paul was warm and friendly. He was interrupted often by applause, which he handled gracefully. At one point, he told the group, "I love leaving Washington and coming out to speak with the people. I never get applause when I speak in Congress." The crowd chuckled. If he's making Congress uneasy, that's probably a good sign.

Throughout his speech, Paul was never vindictive. He didn't point a finger of blame at the President or at fellow Congressmen. He resisted any temptation to blame the Democrats for all that ails the nation. Instead, he consistently highlighted the fact that these problems have been going on for a long time. They are systemic failures, not the failures of a single person or a single administrator. In a political climate that rewards divisiveness, this too was refreshing.

He really started to roll when speaking about the War in Iraq. He spoke frankly about his efforts to prevent the War. In committee, he introduced a bill to officially declare War on Iraq. He told his fellow congressman, "We all know that there's no reason to declare war on Iraq, but if you guys want to go to war with Iraq, at least do it right and declare war!" Paul told them that he wouldn't be voting for his own resolution. In fact, no one voted for the resolution, but Paul noted, "They were so mad at me for making them go on the record." Commenting that some of his Republican colleagues wanted to go to war because Iraq was in technical violation of a UN resolution by firing on American planes that were flying over Iraqi airspace, Paul shook his head and seemed genuinely perplexed. "You're telling me that we're going to bomb a country because somebody shot at a plane and didn't even hit anything?!" This sort of common sense is rare in Congress, and even rarer among Presidential aspirants. On the issue of war in Iraq, Paul's stance was unequivocal: "The troops shouldn't be over there in the first place, and there's no reason they can't come home now."

Paul concluded his speech by talking about liberty, which he believes is in danger. He spoke about his effort in Congress to protect freedom of speech on the Internet. On this issue, he has walked the walk: In its Technology voter guide, CNET gave him the highest ranking score of any member in the House or Senate for his effort to secure Internet freedom. In his speech, he alerted the group to an attempt in the Senate to censor political speech on the Internet in the days preceding an election. Although this measure was defeated, Paul predicted it will resurface. He reminded those in attendance to beware any time the government declares "war" on something, noting that the war on drugs, poverty, and terrorism have significantly eroded civil liberties.

Paul is not currently the front runner in the Republican field. He isn't even an officially declared candidate. But his speech, like his candidacy, is refreshing. Paul seems to be genuinely authentic. He doesn't have the feel of a politician. His arguments are substantive, and his demeanor warm.

For my part, I hope Paul decides to run. In a weak field, Paul is a true champion. America is at a critical crossroads. Our liberties have been trampled. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are in shambles. Our reputation has been tarnished internationally by decades of provocative foreign policy. Paul is the only candidate thus far who seems interested in reversing that trend. And for that, if he runs, he has my vote.



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