Dean and Lieberman, New Hampshire, 12/21/2003

Published: 12/22/03

On Sunday, December 21, 2003, bloggers Dave Winer, Michael Feldman, and I went up to Manchester, New Hampshire, to attend campaign events for Democratic presidential candidates Howard Dean and Joseph Lieberman. This trip is part of my efforts to educate myself about the candidates as well as an opportunity to provide information about the candidates to blog readers from a source that is outside the mainstream media and campaign literature.

We got a late start, so we didn’t arrive at Howard Dean’s event until after he had already begun talking. He stood in front of a giant American flag. A woman interpretting his speech through sign language was in the right rear corner of the stage. The audience of 150 people sat all around the stage. Dean was relating his thoughts about the situation in Iraq and veterans benefits when we walked in. Then he briefly discussed health care, prisons, ways his administration in Vermont worked with parents to improve education (a key to keeping people out of prison down the road), and the environment. He mentioned that his campaign is different from the other Democratic presidential campaigns and emphasized his desire for a balanced budget.

He doesn’t like the No Child Left Behind Act, especially since it brought the Vermont schools down to the level of schools in Texas. He believes strongly that communities should have most of the control over their own schools, not the federal government. He explained this in terms of school prayer as well as other issues. He disagrees with the Bush administration’s decision to support school prayer because the separation of church and state is important to him. Communities should be able to decide issues for themselves, like prayer in school. In the question and answer period, a teacher asked what he will do about the act. He would like to change portions of it. The teacher qualification requirements need improvement. Stringent requirements may not be an appropriate response in a time when teachers are scarce. Dean does agree with portions of the act, though. He thinks minority test scores and accountability are important, but implied that some portions of compliance could be handled locally instead of federally.

Then, he expounded on the difference between Republican campaigns and Democratic campaigns. He emphasized that Republicans often focus on negative things: things that scare people or things that divide our society. He wants to focus on challenges we have in common, namely jobs, education, and health care. He mentioned that these were all things that we’ve lost or that have been compromised under the Busn administration.

During the question and answer period, he mentioned that he believes in same sex unions because he thinks people should have equal rights under the law. He worked to legalize civil unions in Vermont. The Medicare bill does not help the people who need the most help. The practice of not negotiating with the pharmaceutical industry is something he wants to change. Bush charges things on credit, burdening our children and grandchildren, because he doesn’t understand money.

When asked how he is going to convince Republicans to vote for him, Dean opined that honest explanations appease and convince people about whom to vote for. He hopes that voters will weigh the importance of a stand he might take that they like versus a position he holds that they may not agree with and decide what is more important.

A fan of independent media, who mentioned that blogs are one of her information sources, asked how Dean would help independent media. He wants to decrease media ownership. Many corporations control too much information, especially in certain markets.

To address a retired airline pilot who complained about the policy to retire pilots at the age of 60, Dean agreed that age discrimination is a problem. If we expect people to work longer, we should make it easier for them to do so. Everyone ages differently, so setting a mandatory retirement age in some fields, like the airlines, may not be appropriate anymore.

A man asked how he can beat Bush. Dean thinks people are excited about his campaign. He referred to his campaign finances. If 2 million people give $100, he’ll have as much money as President Bush. He reviewed his earlier comments about the Republican campaign strategy: their campaign is about fear and negativity. Giving them a vision for a better America that is real is one way to get votes. He went on to say that he’ll support anyone who gets the nomination because he really wants Bush out of office.

Referring to a Clark speech, an audience member inquired about Dean’s thoughts on arts and arts funding in America. Dean responded by saying that arts funding begins with better funding for special education. He would like to improve the funding for the arts.

I could not hear this entire question, but it sounded like a man wondered how Dean will deal with a divided Senate and House of Representatives if the Republicans still control them. Dean’s main strategy would be getting his supporters to help with close and open races for seats in the Senate and House so that more Democrats may get elected.

Another question I couldn’t quite hear had to do with the cost of the health care system. Dean supports universal health care and thinks the government can run health care cheaper than a private comapny.

A man wanted to know about Dean’s exit strategy for troops in Iraq. He doesn’t want to pull troops out just yet. Iraq needs to be stable first. We need to clear security risks, establish a governing council, and bring in foreign troops. Stability won’t happen while American troops are there.

The audience was a nice mix of ages. The average age may have been in the 30s. Dean says he’s interested in getting young people involved: he thinks they’re the key to victory in 2004. As a public speaker, Dean does a decent job. He repeated a few of his points several times, seemed nervous when answering some questions, like the retired pilot’s question, and sometimes gave responses that didn’t quite address the question.

Next, we went to a bar where Joseph Lieberman was campaigning. Since Dean’s appearance lasted longer than we expected it to, we were a little late arriving at the bar. Lieberman was milling around with the bar’s small crowd of about 20 people between the ages of 20 and 60. Lieberman and a reporter who interviewed him might have been the oldest people in the bar. Because of the people trying to talk to Lieberman and his interview with the reporter, I didn’t see a good opportunity to talk to him, so I did not pursue one. Michael, however, grabbed a seat near Lieberman and listened to some of the interview. He even had a chance to talk to Lieberman when the interview was finished. He wrote about it on his blog Dowbrigade.

Read Dave’s comments on Scripting News, Michael’s thoughts on Dean, or his conversation with Lieberman on Dowbrigade about the events.

My schedule worked out for me to go up to New Hampshire twice this weekend to learn about four candidates. (Read my notes from Wesley Clark and Dick Gephardt’s talks on Saturday, December 20, 2003.) I’m not sure if I’ll be able to attend appearances by the other five Democratic candidates. It’s quite possible some of them may not campaign very much in New Hampshire between now and the primary in a few weeks and it’s almost certain that they won’t make appearances in the state where I live.

Addendum 1/25: More coverage of campaign events is in the stories section.

More political coverage by the Thursday night bloggers is on the Berkman Thursday meetings blog.

Disclaimer: I am reporting on events as I saw and heard them. I am not endorsing any particular candidate through these reports and will try to refrain from endorsing or favoring any particular candidate on this blog.

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