commentary by Timothy Horrigan; July 23, 2008
Someone who sounded like a paid telemarketer called me around lunchtime on Friday July 18, 2008 to invite me to a "Town Hall Meeting" with John McCain. Ostensibly, according to my Caller ID info, she was calling from McCain campaign headquarters. I had already heard that he was coming, but I was surprised they were calling me. I am a Democrat. I am not going to vote for John McCain (although he was, after Ron Paul, the second most unobjectionable candidate in their 2008 field. But this is not to say that he isn't objectionable.)
Initially, I wasn't planning to go but when Tuesday morning rolled around, I did show up. My report on the event is below, and also appears on DailyKos and BlogForAmerica:
John McCain said today (Tuesday July 22, 2008) that most of his paid campaign workers were ex-cons on work release. This is not true: he was just joking (in response to a statement by a local supporter who was disappointed that the paid staffers weren't doing much for the campaign.) His staffers are in fact the usual mixture of college kids and older true believers.
That was not the only thing he said which was totally untrue. He also said that we are winning the war in Iraq, that the "surge" had been a success, and that Iraqis in Basra and Kirkuk were already leading normal lives.
John McCain said today (Tuesday July 22, 2008) that most of his paid campaign workers were ex-cons on work release. This is not true: he was just joking (in response to a statement by a local supporter who was disappointed that the paid staffers weren't doing much for the campaign.) His staffers are in fact the usual mixture of college kids and older true believers. That was not the only thing he said which was totally untrue. He also said that we are winning the war in Iraq, that the "surge" had been a success, and that Iraqis in Basra and Kirkuk were already leading normal lives.
I wasn't planning on actually going inside John McCain's Town Hall meeting at the Rochester Opera House on Tuesday, July 22. Strangely, I was invited: someone called me from a boiler room ostensibly at McCain's national headquarters (according to my Caller ID which read 1-703-418-2008), and I did RSVP. I wasn't intending to actually show up. I had no idea why they called me. I am pretty sure I did sign up with his web site last year to receive info about his campaign, but he hadn't sent me any in a long time. Moreover, I am (as their voter lists probably indicate) a staunch Democrat (so staunch I am even running for the NH state legislature.)
While wandering around with some anti-McCain signs left over from a MoveOn.org event, I ran into some activist friends of mine who were waiting near the end of the line. There was a rumor going up and down the line that McCain might announce his Vice Presidential choice today, right here in Rochester. I joked that he was going to choose Jeb Bradley (an extraordinarily mediocre ex-Congressman who is trying to win back his seat and who was working the line, alongside his primary opponent John Stephen and an independent named Peter Bearse.) Jeb Bradley would have been the ideal choice from my perspective: he is a terrible candidate, and it would get him out of the way of the incumbent Carol Shea-Porter (who is a great progressive leader, and also a friend of mine.)
The campaign didn't allow my signs into the venue (but I had stashed mine in the car.) This is a form of censorship, which is unfortunate given that the event was happening on public property. (The Rochester Opera House is part of the City Hall.) This type of censorship is standard operating procedure for both parties: in fact one of the people I came in with was a stalwart local peace activist named Barbara Hilton, who was detained in 2007 at a Hillary Clinton rally in Portsmouth for refusing to hand over some antiwar signs. Barbara became the star of this McCain town meeting, but I will get back to her in a few paragraphs.
Even though they confiscated signs at the door, the McCain campaign handed out fake home-made signs inside the auditorium. There were only a dozen or so signs and they were all made by the same person. They may even been printed. Some of the slogans were jabs at Obama, but subtle ones, such as "McCain: Change for the Better" or "Republican Pride: McCain." (The second slogan alludes to Michelle Obama's widely miscontrued statement about how she never felt really proud of America till her husband ran for President.)
The audience was not that big: some of the 500 or so seats in the auditorium were empty. It was a good venue for the event; an lovingly-restored century-old auditorium with rows of wooden seats on the floor, and more in a U-shaped balcony. There were some murals of topless nymphs flanking the proscenium, but these were discreet enough and in any case perhaps their presence gave the impression that McCain was not a rigidly puritanical Republican. Oddly, several of the citizens seated on the stage have liberal T shirts on. McCain had about half a dozen red-clad members of DividedWeFail.org up there and his handlers even allowed a woman in a purple Health Care Voter T shirt to sit in the front row. (DividedWeFail.org actually got some time to speak at the event. This is a joint venture of the AARP, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Service Employees International Union, is a group which is doing something, it is not clear what exactly, about increasing access to health insurance.)
The introductions were given by two of the members of a (tiny) group called "Democrats for McCain." I wonder in retrospect that perhaps the McCain campaign was consciously recruiting Democrats to appear that the event. Rochester is the largest city in Strafford County, which is the most solidly Democratic county in the state, and perhaps there aren't even enough Republicans left in the vicinity to fill up the hall.
The second intro ran very long: the speaker was a UNH biology professor named Bill Condon who rambled on so long they started playing the intro music while he was still talking. A petite but distinguished-looking white-haired gentleman in a black suit ambled casually into the stage behind Condon and waited his turn to speak. This was Senator McCain. (I worried that a biology professor supporting a Republican Presidential candidate in 2008, when many Republicans support Creation Pseudoscience, might be painting himself into a corner. However, neither McCain nor Dr. Condon took a position at this event on the Theory of Evolution.)
Mc Cain opened by saying the government has to stop spending "your money" on "bridges to nowhere" and he oddly also came out against agricultural subsidies. He is, however, in favor of spending our money on the War in Iraq. He reminds us many times that the surge is working: things are now supposedly no worse than they were in 2004. He claims many times that Obama is in favor of defeat whereas McCain will only send our troops home in "Honor and Victory."
On the issue of energy, he wants to build more nuclear power plants. He reminded us liberals that the French get 80% of their electricity from nukes, and they build plants in just five years, rather than 10 to 15 years in the United States. He proposed 45 new nukes by 2030. (He didn't mention that no new nuclear plants have been built in the United States in more than 15 years.) He wants more offshore drilling. And he wants to have a gas tax "holiday" where the federal gas tax (which is only 18 cents a gallon) would be lifted for a while. He claimed that this 18 cents per gallon would keep a trucker he met the day before in Maine in business. (Of course if the holiday went on too long, the nation's highway network would fall apart, since the gas tax is the main funding source for federal highway aid— and without roads to drive on, the trucker would be out of a job again.)
McCain's healthcare plans were vague, and he mostly talked about what he would do for veterans. He wants to have a GAP card (Government Assistance Plan) for veterans who don't have access to VA facilities and who lack private health insurance. The subject of the VA was a contentious one... and that may explain why he gave Barbara Hilton so much time.
Her basic point was that the war is illegal and immoral and was started so we could steal the Iraqis' oil. The Senator frowned at first but listened respectfully and shushed the crowd when they started booing. He kept the dialog going with her for quite a long time: she got to ask two followup questions and he gave her more than 10 minutes out of an hour-long event. He disagreed politely with her, although he did admit (without ever mentioning President Bush's name) that the war was "badly mishandled for four years." (Presumably he meant 2003 through 2007: his story is basically that everything has been hunkydory since General Petraeus took over and we had our Surge.) McCain claimed he couldn't withdraw our troops until Victory had been won, although he refused to say exactly what it is we are trying to win. It was a good dialog, although he told one highly improbable lie, which is that millions of Iraqis are leading normal lives in cities like Basra and Kirkuk. He proposes a strategy of "Clear, Hold and Build," and presumably, when we reach the light at the end of the tunnel, we will have won the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.
(That was a snarky reference to Vietnam, the war where he served our country with honor, losing six years of his life in a POW camp, and suffering injuries whose effects are clearly visible today. I feel a little bad being so snarky, so I will just point out that I am thankful for his service— but I will say that as a nation we actually dishonored his service for keeping his war going for at almost a decade past the point of diminishing returns. The high point of the American invasion of Vietnam came around 1966 or 1967, and it was all downhill after that, but we didn't start leaving till 1973, and we didn't get out for good until 1975. )
My DailyKos posting
My BlogForAmerica posting
July 23. 2008 Dover, NH Foster's Daily Democrat story (contains some glaring inaccuracies)
Senator McCain's July 23, 2008 Manchester Union Leader op-ed (also contains some glaring inaccuracies)