A week ago I got up early and drove to Windham High School, a couple of miles from my house. I had a ticket to see President Obama speak at the school that morning, and althought the weather threatened rain, I wasn't about to let this opportunity pass me by.
I did have misgivings though. I'm not the most patient of persons, and I'd heard that seeing a president or another candidate for the office speak could involve a lot of waiting and standing around. How badly did I want to do this?
Badly enough, apparently. I drove along Hwy 111 and that early on a Saturday morning there really wasn't much traffic. But when I got to one of the elementary schools where it was suggested that we park there was a large crowd waiting for a shuttle bus and I decided to turn in there.
I was glad that I did. When the bus turned on to London Bridge, the road in front of the High School, a line of cars stretched almost all the way back to 111. It didn't take very long for the people on the bus to decide it would be a good idea to get off and walk.
It didn't take very long to walk the rest of the way to the High School. In short order we were given our instructions, put into lines, and the crowd of people settled down to wait. We watched the Secret Service stop every single car that drove up to the High School and use dogs to conduct a search. So that was why the line of cars was so backed up! I was very glad I had taken the shuttle bus.
The atmosphere had a festive carnival air. People selling campaign buttons and tshirts presented their wares. All kinds of people stood in line, young, old, hippies, button-downed, blue collar, white collar, red neck, country, city. Many different New England states were represented, from Rhode Island to Maine.
I listened to the stories as the people around me chatted. Some people were experienced campaign followers that had seen many different presidents and candidates in person. Just as many were like me, first-timers at a presidential event. Several of us "older" folks could remember seeing John F Kennedy campaign when we were little, including me. I had a vague memory of a smiling, handsome man in a convertible, passing by as we stood on the sidewalk in St. Louis. I think I would have been in 1st or 2nd grade, 1960. My how times have changed.
At 10:30am they opened the doors and let us into the building. After a quick run tothe bathroom I entered the gym and found a place to sit on the second row of the bleachers, fairly close to the stage. Windham High School does not have a very large gymnasium. I wondered how many people they would try to cram into this space.
Pretty many, it turns out. We were packed in, the doors were shut, and it began to get very, very warm. All we could do was think cool thoughts and hope that it wouldn't be too long before the president appeared.
Well, 2 and a half hours later, he strode into the gym, waving and smiling. In spite of the heat, the crowds and my exhaustion, I found myself exhilarated and excited as soon as he walked onto the stage.
One of the first things that drew me to Obama was his speeches. Of course there was his electrifying speech at the 2004 Democratic convention, but, in addition to that there was his wonderful victory speech in Chicago, his speech on race in Philadelphia, his speech on the Middle East in Egypt. Obama's speeches were intellectually stimulating as well as thoughtful and inspiring.
The speech at Windham High School was a standard campaign speech. There was no nuance, no thought-provoking considerations. Republicans - bad for the middle class. Democrats will save Medicare and Social Security. The affordable care act will help the uninsured and save money for all.
It's not that I seriously disagree with anything that Obama said. It's just that he managed to set a very high bar four years ago and in the early years of his presidency. I miss the intellectually challenging and thought--provoking side of Obama. It's too bad that modern campaigning precludes that sort of rhetoric.
Four years ago I was so relieved and glad to see the Republicans out of power and the Democrats back in. I would like to see him re-elected; I'm also worried that the economy and all the negative advertising will make it very difficult for him to win again. I'm also suspicious of many of the traditional ways of garnering votes. Canvassing door-to-door and phone calls are big in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a swing state so both parties are vying for every vote out there.
But it seems to me that such tactics have a minimal impact compared to Television ads and news reports. I have had plenty of people here in New Hampshire, however, explain to me how important personal contact can be in this very small state where every single vote counts. So what do I know.
I do think that the key to either party winning this year has everything to do with how many of the voters on their side of the ticket will actually bother to vote. This is another place where I'm worried about Obama's chances. So many people that were excited about his candidacy 4 years ago are now disillusioned and disappointed. Maybe he wasn't able to turn the economy around as quickly as they had hoped. Maybe he didn't close Guantanamo, end the wars, promote gay rights. Whatever their personal issues might have been, Obama probably turned out to be more moderate, less effective, and more hampered by Congress than they expected. Will those people still take the time to vote in November?
I'm also in the process of reading Richard Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson. I've just finished the part about how he stole the 1948 Senate election. The extreme corruptedness of Texas politics at that time, and Johnson's absolute obsession with acquiring and keeping power, are influencing how I look at this year's election.
I know that it is a mistake to idealize politicians. Politicians would not do what they do if they did not have an innate hunger for power. Neither Barak Obama nor Mitt Romney are exceptions to this rule. The superficial motives of an individual politician may differ (why do so many of them seem to have daddy issues?) but if they did not have a huge need for the power that electoral office brings, they would not run.
Elections invite fraud. I hope we are beyond the days of the kind of fraud that occurred during the 1948 election, that involved the blatant "counting" of voters that never even went to the polls, by political bosses and machines that had their own personal reasons for wanting to see Lyndon Johnson elected. But I suspect that fraud still sometimes occurs, because another basic truth about elections is that the hunger for power influences the morality of politicians. That need to win allows people to justify actions that they could not otherwise condone. I don't think that sort of behavior can ever be entirely eliminated.
So I find myself looking at this year's election with a cold and clear-eyed scrutiny. Does this mean I will vote for any Republicans on the ticket? Nah. I may be feeling a little cynical, but I still tend to come down on the left side of most issues. And yes I will vote, in spite of my misgivings about possible fraud. Voting is something I still idealize. It bothers me that so many people in the US don't bother to vote, and when I fantasize about doing something that would make a difference in this country I would work on voter registration and education, and getting people to the polls on election day. With an educated responsible electorate what kind of country would we be? We can only dream.