Friday, February 05, 2016

"Not only are we going to New Hampshire, Tom Harkin..."

Still snowing in Moncton, but managed to get here early this afternoon, before the storm that kept Trump's plane from NH arrived here in full force.  Nice to have the first few hours of the drive safely in the books.  Nicer still that there are clear blue skies forecast all the way to Portsmouth tomorrow and the first of the events with Hillary, who (all current noise aside) is still the likely President come November.

How things change with the passing of years...  And how strange the fragmented memories that come rushing back at times. 

This return to the first-in-the-nation primary has me thinking of the past.  In November 2002, I was over in London, and saw Michael Moore live - part comedic performance, part politics.  Someone asked him near the end why the Democrats were so unwilling to stand up to President Bush, and if there were any outsiders who might be in the wings that would more forcefully challenge his reelection.  I am pretty sure that was the first time I heard Howard Dean's name.  

A few months later, I saw some clips from Dean's March 2013 speech to the California Democratic Party, with its fantastically confrontational opening line: "What I want to know, is what in the world so many Democrats are doing supporting the President's unilateral intervention in Iraq."  So, in the midst of a growing frustration with US politics (and so with global affairs), here was something unique, to inspire.  "I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore!"  Ah, amen to that.

And so I gradually found myself getting more interested, and then involved, in the campaign.  And so in the end, I took a week off from law school in January 2004 and drove to Concord, where I was billeted at the home of another local volunteer, and went door-to-door to canvass for him with people who had come in from all over America.  I met Rob Reiner in the campaign HQ and, in a particularly surreal moment, made my way up to the small town of Bartlett to see Martin Sheen do an event for Dean at the Josiah Bartlett Elementary School (West Wing was in season 5).  

12 years is not that long ago, and yet... Pre-Facebook (founded February 2004), pre-YouTube (founded February 2005), pre-smart phones (I took a disposable camera on this trip ffs).  
3 days after Iowa and the infamous scream (more on that in a moment) Dean and his wife did an interview with Diane Sawyer.  It was done on the Thursday before the Tuesday vote, and by Saturday afternoon we were dropping copies of VHS tapes with the interview in the mailboxes of registered voters who were undecided between Dean and Kerry, according to the detailed phone banking compiled over months.  At the time I remember being blown away by the logistics of pulling off that massive undertaking at the last minute.  Now all I can think is - VHS tapes!

None of that actual campaigning mattered, as Kerry won the NH primary as well and coasted to victory.  As this excellent video from 538 points out, it wasn't really the "scream" that lost it for Dean (although having to explain it certainly didn't help the NH efforts!)

But, as others have also pointed out, Dean's 50 state approach, Internet-based campaign innovations, and the focus on turning out new, young, enthusiastic voters were each adopted and improved 4 years later, in support of a superior candidate in Barack Hussein Obama.  And now today Hillary is in a primary battle in which her main focus is in emphasizing the extent of her credentials as a progressive.

All of which is to say, this trip to New Hampshire feels different, in a good way.  There is still a lot that is terrible and a lot to bemoan, of course.  There will always be that.  But there is also progress to remember.  Dean's key campaign slogan was: "Take our country back."  I will take some pleasure this time around in hearing Republican pretenders saying that they now want and need to do the same. 


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