Clark and Gephardt in New Hampshire, 12/20/03

Published: 12/20/03

On Saturday, December 20, 2003, I went with Dave Winer, Tracy Adams, and her mother, Jane, to listen to talks by Democratic presidential candidates Wesley Clark and Dick Gephardt in New Hampshire. I went because I kept finding myself explaining to people that I didn’t really know enough about the nine candidates to make an educated vote at this point. Here was my chance to hear them myself. Dave chose the candidates mostly based on the proximity of where they were speaking to Boston and each other. Carol Moseley Braun was also in New Hampshire that Saturday, but it was not possible for us to include a trip to listen to her in the plans for the day. My notes from Clark and Gephardt’s talks follow.

Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark spoke at the Marion Gerrish Community Center in Derry. The audience of all ages listened to his brief talk about his positions on several key issues: the environment, education (primary and secondary), jobs, the economy, health care, and Iraq. He seemed relaxed as he spoke and covered his main points concisely. After he finished, he took many questions from the audience.

The first concerned paying for all of his plans. He suggested decreasing the deficit and raising taxes for those with incomes over $200,000. He gave some numbers about how much money America could earn by raising taxes about 4% for people in that income bracket and above.

A man asked who he might choose for a vice president. Clark refrained from a solid answer by saying there were many nice, talented people among the Democrats, like Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer.

He spoke about his support of public financing of elections. Outspending opponents isn’t good enough; Clark thinks we should be able to elect the brightest, not the richest or the one with the deepest pockets.

Dave asked a question about the Internet as a campaign tool, but Clark didn’t seem to understand what Dave was asking. Clark’s response had something to do with using the Internet to raise money, not as a communication tool, which was what Dave was trying to get at.

An older man spoke about his $4,000-a-year bill for perscription medication when he asked about Clark’s thoughts on the recent Medicare bill. Clark expressed his displeasure with the bill. He says that the legislation may kill the program instead of working with it. He wants to focus on getting the drug companies to lower their prices. He doesn’t understand why the government passed legislation limiting the it’s power to negotiate with the drug companies and he wants to change that. He emphasized that the government usually negotiates for the lowest price when it’s forming contracts. He can’t understand why they don’t do that with the pharmaceutical industry.

A man whose son is in the Navy inquired about how Clark would have prevented 9/11. Clark said that the current administration had been warned by officials in the Clinton administration about the threat Osama bin Laden posed. He thinks the Bush administration did not take appropriate steps to address the threat. He emphasized that the training of the president is key in how he addresses potential terrorist threats. Clark implied that there might have been problems with how Bush was trained. Clark indicated that he had that training because of his military background. Clark did state that he didn’t think there was anything the Bush administration could have done to stop the terrorist attack on our country before it happened.

That man also asked Clark what he thought Muammar Kadafi’s real motive might be. Clark explained that Kadafi has been lying low for quite a while, perhaps because he realized the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, went too far. Clark elaborated on the situation, then said that it is an example that shows we can take care of problems diplomatically without using force.

A woman asked about his plans regarding the H1B visa program. The program, Clark explained, allows immigrants into the country under special circumstances to work in high tech jobs at wages lower than what an American would make at a comparable job. His dislike of the program seems to stem from the unfair wages. The program should be eliminated, in his opinion, and those immigrants should come into the country under the same programs as other immigrants.

He mentioned that he wants to increase funding for science and technology because it’s been a long time since the country has had such an initiative. He emphasized that the humanities are important, too, but feels like the country is weak in the sciences and mathematics.

In response to a question about education, Clark talked about how he thinks teachers are the secret to education. The teacher and the teacher’s aides are leaders. They should be allowed to lead, not be forced to teach standardized tests. States need the freedom to set their own standards. Clark wants to create more resources and funding to train teachers.

He related a story from a school in New Hampshire he recently visited. Because of a recent change in the laws, the school lost hundreds of thousands of dollars when its scores on standardized tests weren’t adequate for the system. This school is in an area of New Hampshire where many refugees and immigrants settle. Many of the students come to school without any knowledge of English; some come to the school just days after moving here. People speak twenty-five different languages in its corridors. It is a special school and the teachers work well and hard with these students. The students are learning a lot, but their standardized test scores may not reflect that because of language barriers and the special nature of the school. Luckily, the principal was able to appeal the decision and the school’s funding was reinstated.

A teacher asked about Clark’s thoughts on dissent, democracy, and what it means to be an American in light of some of the free speech restrictions that seem to be put in place by the Bush administration. Clark told a story about his days in the Vietnam War. While he was serving our country, he was aware of all the protesters. He kept thinking that the spirit of America was that some people could serve in battle and others are still free to express their dissent. He thinks there is no democracy without free speech and dissent and that they are very important elements of our democracy.

Clark thanked people for coming out and stayed around to talk to his supporters.

There may have been about 100 people there. Many people organizing the event seemed to be in their 20s and early 30s. Attendees were of all ages with the average age perhaps being in the mid-thirties. They were very enthusiastic about being able to see Clark and applauded very loudly when he entered and left the room and at key points in his talk. People seemed energized.

Dick Gephardt spoke at a restaurant called MacNeill’s in Manchester, New Hampshire, at 3 pm. He began by thanking the many local volunteers who have been helping with his campaign in New Hampshire. His main points included increasing the number of jobs, establishing universal health insurance, and changing the tax cuts. He repeated his points during his talk and didn’t seem to be as good at public speaking as Wesley Clark. He sprinkled his words with expressions indicating his faith, like “God-given,” he didn’t tell a story well, he seemed rushed, and I found the way he uses numbers misleading.

When answering questions, he talked about decreasing America’s dependence on oil from the Middle East, establishing an international minimum wage relative to each individual country, and increasing funds available for college students.

He responded at length to a question about prescription drug costs by emphasizing that the Republicans made deals with the pharmaceutical industry that really caters to their needs by giving them many financial incentives funded by tax dollars. “Yeah, I’ll have a policy that’s not written by the pharmaceutical industry,” he stated after detailing provisions of the current agreement. He also said that he’d make the Medicare medication bill consistent so that seniors get equal benefits.

He did not really give an answer to a question about medical marijuana and what he thinks about the possibly illegal raids on California residents using the drug for medicinal purposes.

A man asked about the presence of weapons of mass destruction elsewhere in the world. Gephardt expressed his displeasure with Bush’s actions and his failure to get to the root of terrorism. He wonders why our government hasn’t taken any action against Saudi Arabia even though many of the 9/11 hijackers came from that country and Saudi Arabia may continue to finance terrorist activities. He also mentioned that our nation’s security efforts–including local response teams of firefighters and police–are underfunded and that the Iraqis who will be taking over their country’s functions, from the register of deeds to alderpeople, need adequate training.

Someone asked how he will fund many of his plans. Gephardt wants to elminate the Bush administration’s tax cuts. He also thinks we can get the budget surplus we had under President Clinton back. Then, he can use that to pay for programs like Social Security.

He wants to be bipartisan and hopes to reach out to moderate Republicans.

The average age of the roughly 70 audience members was probably close to fifty-five. The audience was much more subdued than those at Wesley Clark’s talk.

My notes about Gephardt are much briefer than my account of Clark’s talk because Gephardt’s appearance was considerably shorter than Clark’s and his opening “thank yous” lasted for almost three minutes–about 1/5 of his speech.

I am not sure whether I will be able to attend any other talks by any of the other seven presidential candidates.

Dave Winer posted his notes and photos on Scripting News.

Addendum 12/22: On Sunday, December 21, I attended campaign events for Howard Dean and Joseph Lieberman. Read more

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 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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