The Dowbrigade harangues Sen. John Kerry today in NH (Gabriel Feldman photo)
Despite the heightened Orange Alert, Logan Airport was surprisingly
quiet at 9:00 am this morning, bereft of obvious security measures,
as the Dowbrigade waited to pick up his younger son, arriving on
Delta from Atlanta.
Since his flight had left at 6:30 and
his mother lives some distance from the airport, he had embarked in
a taxi at 3:30 and hadn’t slept
the night before. As
such he was even less loquacious than usual when he ambled up, greeting
us with a "hi" and answering questions with "yeah" or "nope" whenever
possible. Gabe spends syllables as though they were his last silver dollars.
As soon as he threw his bag in back and we pulled away from the curb,
we exposed our plan. "Hey, Gabe, how would you like to take a little
detour on the way back to the house? We could go check out a couple
Now, Gabe is not inclined to do things unless he feels like it, in
which case he is capable of doing just about anything, as his recent
enlistment in the USMC unbeknownst to family and friends is mute testimony.
So, "Okay" meant he really wanted to go, although he had no idea where
we were going or when we would get back. The plan was to catch Gen. Wesley
Clark giving a policy speech in Concord, New Hampshire at 10,
Chow Down with John Kerry in a VFW Post in Milford, NH at noon. We
headed for the Interstate.
On the drive up to the Granite State the conversation ranged from New
"What did you end up doing on New Year’s Eve?"
"Went out" (no details were forthcoming)
to modern music (his):
"Guess what this song’s called?"
"You mean these are actual songs, with titles? But there’s no words
"They have a beat. Can’t you hear that repeated beat?" (son
"I thought the CD player was busted. That’s what my diskman sounds like
when it can’t read the disk."
"That’s the idea, Dad"
to, inevitably, politics:
"So tell me again why you don’t like President Bush"
(This son is a Bush supporter, partly, as far as the Dowbrigade can
discern, for the abundant dismay and discomfort it causes his father,
as he sees this president’s adventurism as the most likely to lead to
weaponry in the cause of truth, justice and the American way.)
"Because he’s an idiot"
"Some of our greatest presidents have been idiots"
It’s hard to argue with logic like that. It had started to snow hard,
and driving required concentration. We listened to the "music".
It seems they had relocated Concord, the site of the Clark speech, since
the last time we had passed this way. It was now NORTH of the infamous
New Hampshire Tolls. By the time we reached the toll plaza it was
almost 11, and so cutting his losses, the Dowbrigade pulled a neat if
technically illegal U turn right in front of the toll-takers, and headed
back south, to the noon Kerry Chili cook-off in Milford, near Nashua,
and close to the Massachusetts border.
We found the Milford, NH VFW Post just at noon. We pulled into
the absolutely packed parking lot just as the Senator was alighting
from his big blue bus and entering the hall. We dropped Gabe at the gate
found parking in a nearby gas station.
Inside the hall, the joint has hopping. It was definitely a SRO crowd:
all of the tables were filled and people were crowding all around the
edges of the room. There were at least 150 "real" people in attendance,
in addition to the 50 or so press and Kerry staff.
But the most immediate impression was the vibe in the room. There was
a real buzz here, unlike the ersatz, hard edged testosterone and caffine-laced
urgency of the Dean machine and the boozy earnestness of Joe Lieberman,
who for some reason always seems to be campaigning in bars.
This Kerry event felt like a party. Everyone was smiling and happy,
talking in animated tones and looking around the room like guests at
a wedding waiting for the bride to appear. There was gaiety and song
as a heavy-duty
system pumped out reggae and up-tempo world-beat music. Perhaps it was
the holiday season, perhaps it was the fact that Kerry was the first
the candidates we had seen who actually dared or cared enough to feed
the people. Somewhat simplistic, perhaps, and seemingly cynical, but
people like to be fed, and the symbolism of a political communion was
not lost on the crowd.
It was a happy and hungry crowd, hungry for good food and an entertaining
show. There was a feeling of community and fellowship in the air, and
an energy and enthusiasm which seemed most unusual for a political meeting,
but in a good way. There was good cheer in the air. Unfortunately, at
this point the candidate began to speak.
After a short introduction by ex-NH Gov Jean Shaheen, Kerry launched
into the familiar litany of Democratic dogma; education, the environment,
tax cuts for the rich, inclusion, multi-lateralism and a woman’s right
to choose. At first, he was a little stiff and his timing was off, as
he almost seemed to ramble from topic to topic. He was having trouble
reading the crowd; he would rush ahead when the audience wanted to applaud,
and then pause painfully in pools of silence, as if waiting for a cue
that never came.
But gradually, as he talked and listened, for he did listen, his words
and his emotions seemed to come into synch. Suddenly, he was like
a different speaker. Although he had surely recited these same
words dozens or hundreds of times before, he made them seem as though
he had just
thought of them, especially for us, and that his whole heart was behind
And the crowd was reacting. Every person in that room had, at least
for a moment, the absolute conviction that John Kerry was speaking directly
and exclusively to them. They were moving, physically and emotionally,
and leaning and applauding
Even Gabe applauded when Kerry lambasted President Bush for having the
lamest foreign policy in American history. We were watching a master politician
As he got into his rap, and the air in the room got closer, Kerry removed
his pressed blue blazer to reveal a wrinkled blue Brooks Brothers Oxford-collared
shirt that looked like it had been slept in, but clean, pure Prep. The
most amazing thing was that it was completely sweat-free. Not a patch,
not a shadow, not a dried-out high-tide line in sight. Although
he was wheeling and ranging, gesticulating and emoting, in a warm and
humid room filled to the rafters with heated-up people and steaming bowls
of chili, the candidate was calm, cool and collected. Enthusiastic
and alive, yes, but absolutely relaxed and comfortable in front of the
obviously had his sweat gland surgically removed.
In a quiet moment the Dowbrigade got to shake the Senator’s hand, and
ask him a couple of personal questions. When Kerry asked the Dowbrigade
what he did, we replied, "I’m a blogger. Do you know what a Blog is?"
"Of course," he replied, "its a weblog. What’s yours called?"
We told him.
Later, the Dowbrigade mentioned that the Untied States has the highest
incarceration rate of any country in the world, and asked Kerry if there
were anything the President could do about that. It was a trojan horse
of a question, as we were interested in whether he would venture into
two separate political minefields intricately involved in the incarceration
question: drugs and race.
Kerry leapt in without hesitation, stating that the President had EVERTYTHING
to do with solving that problem, which he attributed to discriminatory
drug laws (as close as he got to the second of my inferred issues) mandatory
sentencing and lack of legitimate opportunity. He proceeded to accurately
encapsulate why we can never win the "war on drugs" as delineated by
the current administration, and advocated a program of early childhood
education, counseling and intervention, and treatment on demand to reduce
the need for more prisons.
As he worked the crowd it became obvious that Kerry had a charisma and
a personal connection with his audience that doesn’t come across on television. How
could it – it is based on touch and smell and demeanor and reaction and
a moment of
contact, a fleeting half smile the camera can never capture. He made
simple people understand complex problems. Around the crowd heads
were nodding, and not from sleepiness. He made simplistic jingoism sound
reasonable to reasonably complex people, as when he said he was the only
who in the arena of world affairs could stand toe to toe with George
Bush and say to him, "Bring it on" (See how cheesy it sounds when written
down? Not when Kerry said it).
He commented wryly on his recent drop in the major polls, comparing
this stretch of the campaign to the terrible cold winter of 1775, when
the Continental Army of George Washington practically froze to death
in Valley Forge. He mentioned, in what sounded like a bombshell, at least
that he had spoken to former Presidents Carter and Clinton, and that
both had declared themselves ready and willing to act as Special Envoys
to the Middle East in an eventual Kerry administration. He took questions
from the audience.
Finally Jean Shaheen tore him away. He seemed genuinely sorry
to have to go. As we left the hall Gabe asked for our assessment.
"Much more impressive than the other guys I’ve seen so far. He
really seemed to believe what he was saying."
"Don’t forget he’s still a politician just like the other guys." Who
says the young ar gullible?
Driving back to Boston we passed through a strange and semi-mythical
stretch of the Interstate Highway System. Although we’ve driven through
it on several occasions, at key junctures in our life, we could never
find it on purpose, and believe it may only occasionally appear here
from another dimension.
At certain times it seems, like this afternoon at approximately 3:30
pm, one can spend several miles traveling simultaneously South on Route
3, and North on Route 95. The signs are quite clear. You are flying down
Rt. 3 at 70 mph, and you are flying UP I-95 at the same speed, AT THE
The first time we experienced this seeming physical impossibility was
during our sophomore year of college, and oddly enough while under the
influence of a mind-altering substance. Believe it or not, at one
time doing things like dropping all our incredibly intense academic endeavors
as well as massive doses of LSD and heading up to New Hampshire to visit
a Christmas Tree farm during Reading Period in January seemed like a
Encountering the phantom stretch of road during our return, we became
convinced we had strayed into a non-Einsteinean bubble in the space time
continuum. A place where one could be doing the limit in two
opposite directions at the same time. The funny thing is, before you
know it, that strange stretch of road leads straight home.
John Kerry is an old-line, traditional politician of the Kennedy-Patrician
school, but he’s a good example of the genre, and would at least stand
a chance against President Bush. On the other hand, were he somehow
to win the election, nothing would really change. Forced to make a choice
between him and an authentically innovative campaign led by a candidate
who doesn’t really even understand the implications of his own success,
the Dowbrigade is at a loss as to what to do. Count us, still, among