Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Changing Gears

Tonight's debate was not as revolutionary or record-breaking as CNN likes to make it seem, but it did seem to mark a new period in the months leading up to primary season. Previous debates have seen a rush by the press and many voters to identify winners. Now, after a few rounds of no real movement, things are starting to change as real losers--the second tier candidates who still can't break out of their anonymity--are being slowly left behind. I'll take two candidates as examples here to show what's changing.

Chris Dodd

Here's a guy with experience and some great ideas that addressed a number of the issues raised in tonight's debate. Save perhaps his brief mention of his national service plan, Dodd failed to break from the rambling oration that he's so used to and get down to talking about the things that make him strongest. I was sadly unimpressed by his ability to articulate the plans I know he has for the environment, the Iraq war, and health care. Post-debate surveys show that 3% of viewers believed Dodd won tonight's debate (the lowest of all candidates), and 12% believed he lost (the second highest behind Mike Gravel). Dodd's campaign has changed a lot since the first debates--he's brought on some new advisors, picked up some endorsements, hit the trail in Iowa and New Hampshire as hard as anyone--but when it comes time to make a name for himself on the national stage nothing seems to happen.

Joe Biden

Polling only one or two percentage higher than Chris Dodd going into today was Delaware Senator Joe Biden. Biden has had difficulty establishing himself on the national stage in the past few months as well. There was a different energy in the air tonight because of the new debate format, and Joe Biden adjusted, and succeeded as a result. People saw his strong and no-nonsense speaking style and his ability to address the point on hand. At times he even responded in a quiet, emotional manner when appropriate. And what did viewers think? 14% said he won--putting him only 1% lower than Barack Obama and higher than Senator Edwards.

It's hard to say what the long-term reason behind these changes we're seeing now is. One explanation is that voters are picking up on smart energy: the ability to passionately speak about your position on an issue--even if it's not the best position. Chris Dodd might win an election on paper, but he's not doing enough to get us inspired enough to read about them at his website. Don't be surprised, however, if Joe Biden sees a surge in online donations, a small increase in media coverage, and it's not unrealistic to predict that he could start to move up a bit in the polls.

There's a cushion that people like someone like Hillary Clinton enjoys; she doesn't have to worry about the endlessly annoying "thank yous" she gives to anybody that asks her a question or does anything immediately before her. The same luxury doesn't exist for someone like Chris Dodd or Joe Biden because Hillary Clinton can count on waking up tomorrow with 40% of all Democrats supporting her.

It's that 5-10% undecided vote right now that is looking for an energized candidate that they think has a shot of making a mark on things. And to give him credit for the way he's handling himself, Joe Biden IS that passionate, sensible, experienced candidate that seems to show the hope of having some election-class mobility that makes me start to like him more and more.

All in all, it may not have been the element of YouTube that did the trick tonight, but we're finally seeing some changes in this election. To me, I'll sacrifice two hours of my time to see it unfold on CNN.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

But Will He Clean Up the REAL Ocean?

Mitt Romney just released another one of his overly-dramatic and emotional television spots. This time the spot's called "Ocean," a reference to the world that surrounds young people and shapes their behavior.

To be honest, I don't really mind the ideas that make up the bulk of the ad; it's probably best that there be less porn on the internet, less violence in games and movies, and fewer drugs on the streets. Problem is, I can't help but laughing when I hear Mitt Romney acting like some kind of preacher or parent of all America's children.

Anyways, give it a look.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Two Roads in New Hampshire

You can't judge a campaign by where it holds events, but the mood difference between John McCain's conference-room Iraq War speech and the "Clinton Duo's" tour stop in Nashua this afternoon was clear.

Despite the upbeat reports I've heard on the news since I returned home, those gathered at the Courtyard Mariott in Concord, NH to hear McCain today were hardly a lively bunch. Unlike the times I've seen him in the past, John McCain didn't ooze with the maverick charm that he followed him around only months ago. On top of all that, I can't help but think that hearing an Iraq War speech instantly spoils whatever meal I was trying to eat. And so we find John McCain; a man genuinely committed to the issues that he preaches, but perhaps doomed by a struggling campaign and a war he still supports so strongly.

No matter how bad this war shapes up to be, I still think that a candidate who favors an international offensive against terrorism (such as Mitt Romney or Rudy Giulliani) could win over the American people and take the Presidency. What I don't believe, however, is that a candidate as close to the President and his course of action in Iraq can win over a big enough following at the time being.

Having followed Senator McCain for the better part of four years, the eerie feeling I felt today while milling around the Mariott was completely unexpected. In an election of mayors and governors who change their words and beliefs from crowd to crowd, it's still nice to see someone like McCain stick to his true beliefs. Sadly for him, there's a reason someone like Romney has moved around the board so much: so he doesn't end up like John McCain--a veteran in more ways than one, staying aboard a ship nearly every passenger is fleeing.

I wasn't surprised to find the vibe at Hillary Clinton's "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead" rally in Nashua so positive. It's no secret that she's polling first in nearly every state except Illinois?it's exciting being the frontrunner.

To be honest, I was not particularly looking forward to even being there. The overly-staged and too-well-organized nature of these big events has usually been an unpleasant consequence of #1 status. Hillary's campaign--no doubt because of its tremendous amount of on-hand cash and a steady stream of volunteers--puts on a seamless show that is nothing short of spectacular. Water stations, internet connections for the press, colorful backdrops behind the candidate's every silhouette. If you can bare to look beyond the production it's a wonderful experience; and everyone from the front row to the lawn chairs across the campus green was sucking in every moment of it.

Just being around such energy has completely changed the way I think about this coming election. I like to play favorites in politics, and I especially love underdogs. Until now I've only seen the gap between frontrunners and the second tier of candidates manifest itself during the televised debates; Clinton and Obama getting twice the talking time of Biden or Dodd. I would have thought that after seeing the Bill and Hill show roll through that I would be left entirely unfulfilled with what a saw; saddened by the money machine that pushes onward without rest, back and forth across America. But when you're at a rock concert it's hard not to get sucked into the overwhelming swell of energy.

Only forty minutes apart, two Senators find each other in entirely different worlds. In one world there are hand-made signs, moms with their daughters, and a couple whose passion and intensity for politics and the life of an election establishes them firmly as the true political juggernauts in the Democratic party. The other world is noon-time soup and spaghetti, quiet conversation, and a proclamation of one man's belief and the acknowledgment that things aren't looking good.

When the course of events seems all but certain, there's no saying where two New Hampshire roads will eventually lead. But this still is New Hampshire, and if it seems as if the audience is too quiet to be listening, they are. John McCain will rise again, not because of the funds he'll have to raise or the key hirings he will need to make, but because he still shows up when every newspaper says he's as good as dead.

(All photos: Luke N. Vargas. 2008. All Rights Reserved)

Until NPR Asked the Questions....

Until this weekend I agreed with a lot of what Governor Mike Huckabee has stood for in his campaign. I didn’t so much mind his position of leaving the issue of gay marriage up to the states. With abortion, I stood by his “life begins at conception, but it doesn't end at birth" line. But when I heard Huckabee talk about America’s health care crisis I realized, finally, enough with the one-liners.

Mike Huckabee recently appeared on National Public Radio's "On Point" with Tom Ashbrook (Listen HERE). The hour-long segment included a conversation with Ashbrook and a short piece with questions from listeners. One answer that Huckabee offered caught my attention: his response to a question from an individual who asked why Huckabee does not support a single-payer system to solve the health care crisis in America (yes, there IS a crisis—CLICK HERE). The Governor's response really put me off and bumped him down on the list of Republican candidates in my eyes.

Mike rephrased the listener’s question and instead insisted that the problem in America is not a "health care crisis," rather a "health crisis." He continued with a barrage of lines including, "we're paying to treat the guy who fell off the cliff instead of putting a fence on the cliff."

I don't agree with everything Michael Moore says, but ‘SiCKO” made me aware of a reality in America where many of our fellow citizens are denied the care they desperately need. Millions of Americans, who experience everything from accidental injuries like severed fingers to a range of cancer types, go untreated because they can’t afford the cost of proper, complete treatment. Even worse, many of these people HAD insurance and the faith that the money they paid companies such as Aetna, Cigna, and Humana would guarantee them care if and when they needed it.

Sadly, I don't think these individuals would see any improvement in their situation under a Huckabee administration.

We were passed by Europe a long time ago with regards to recognizing the need for universal health care...but Latin America?! Check out this quote from 'wikipedia':

Most countries in Latin America have public health care provided. Mexico is planning to launch its own universal health care network...Health care in Venezuela is probably the most extensive and given the country's fortunes in oil wealth, expenditure has recently increased greatly, starting with mass vaccinations.

47,000,000 Americans don't have health insurance. That’s fact. The saddest part of the problem is that while America can boast it’s one of the most compassionate nations in the world because of our tradition of liberty and freedom for all, so many of the important figures in this country are so dug in to positions of small government and lower taxes at any cost that political principle and individualism might win out over the morally right solution—universal health care. I'm firm in my belief that every American should indirectly pay for universal health care for the 47,000,000 Americans that can’t afford it now. Furthermore, such a system doesn’t lead towards a society of dependence and unfair burdens being placed on those of us who are insured; a working-class citizen could fall into poverty by paying $60,000 for finger surgery or a few hundred bucks extra in taxes that would guarantee free health care for their family.

Which option seems more American to you? Should we have a nation where injuries go untreated and sicknesses claim thousands of lives because we won’t all chip in to solve the problem?

Mike Huckabee says that what separates us from the terrorists is that they celebrate death while we celebrate life. Well, 18,000 people die in the United States each year because they can’t afford health insurance and the care they need. I won’t argue that the terrorists don’t celebrate death more than us, but we have got to realize that even a great country like the United States can no longer get by on reputation and tradition alone.

I won't call out Huckabee as not being compassionate, as I think he's one of the most caring politicians out there, at least among the current GOP field of candidates. I do think, however, that he's dead wrong about the actual problem of health care in America.

I have relatives who've fallen seriously ill and have their insurance company refuse to pay for their treatment. Mr. Huckabee, they didn't smoke, they weren't overweight, they didn't do drugs, they suffered because no politician has had the guts to stand up to America's biggest criminals: the insurance industry. 47,000,000 uninsured Americans sure sounds like more than a “health crisis” to me.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Holding My Complaints; Giuliani at the New Hampshire Technical Institute

I attended a "policy announcement" from former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani at the New Hampshire Technical Institute this morning. I was expecting the unveiling of a thoroughly-crafted Iraq plan or energy crisis resolution but was nonetheless satisfied to hear Rudy explain his new "Twelve Commitments." Sure, I don't agree with all of them (or more than a few), but it's nice to see "America's Mayor" in person; he certainly doesn't seem like a womanizer or RUDEy when you're sharing a room with him.

Thanks for the candidate access, New Hampshire.

(all photos: 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Highest Grade; John Edwards at NEA 2007

Eight presidential candidates (from the Clintons and Obamas to the Dodds, Bidens, Kucinichs, and a lone Republican, Mike Hukabee) spoke at the annual National Educational Association meeting in Philadelphia this past week. It's comforting to hear the eight speeches delivered, as it seems nearly every politician at the conference understands one of the most obvious problems in education: No Child Left Behind doesn't work at the current levels of funding and support it has received under President Bush.

As you can imagine, so many candidates talking about one topic ensures the repetition of a handful of talking points. One candidate stood out, however.

Senator John Edwards connected a wide range of issues with the problems facing American education today. Among these was the continuing problem of poverty in America (a cause that Edwards has devoted years of his professional and political career to solving), an issue that effects the lives of children both in and outside of school.

Edwards stressed that poverty's impact in education could be reduced through measures that would draw skilled teachers to the most needy schools across the country as well as a proposal that would fund new early-education programs. The idea of promoting early-education ties in with Edward's theory of how students from poorer and less fortunate families will slowly fall behind in school because they entered the system with a disadvantage. Putting an emphasis on early-education and making it available to every American child would allow millions of children to have a better chance of experiencing higher education.

Furthermore, Edwards said that if a student were to enter the education system with lower ability than his or her fellow classmates, but was able to achieve a great deal of progress over the course of his or her time in school, that standardized achievement tests such as those so prominent in No Child Left Behind would not reward individual student's progression over time. When a system only looks at the end result of a school career it doesn't see people as people, it sees people as numbers and test scores.

Edward's quote of the night emphasized that point, "A test does not tell us what we need to do help our children to learn. A child is more than a test score."

With a number of candidates saying the right thing, it's hard to pick winner. But Edwards, despite criticism of his own personal spending and actions, is able to connect the issues of the less fortunate to the policies he understands so well. A+

Huckabee Rocks New Hampshire

The weather may have been iffy at times, but Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Capitol Offense (his band of long-time buddies and Arkansas capitol workers) put on a lively show at the Delta Dental Northeast HQ in Concord, NH.

There's something to be said for a politician who can show off a talent besides speech-delivery and writing; Mike Huckabee's skill on the bass qualifies him as a solid musician who could play at the White House dinners instead of just watching.

It's like Huckabee's philosophy about education: if you can add something new and interesting into the education of a child, be it music or art, it's an opportunity not to be wasted. The same holds true with the constant barrage of campaign stops and bus tours--who wouldn't want to see a Governor play in a rock concert?

In keeping with the picnic-like atmosphere, Huckabee left out the long talks about policy and the presidency. In his words, "we want to prove tonight that you can have a lot of fun being a Republican and supporting Mike Huckabee for President." And with that Mike and the band launched straight into 'Roll Over Beethoven.'

I've got a feeling the rest of this coming primary season won't be as light and fun as Huckabee's concert would make it seem, but hot-dogs, music, and Mike Huckabee sure make for a nice afternoon.

Note: I'll have some video from the concert up later when I'm finished editing it together.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

Friday, July 6, 2007

Not Just Buttons and Stickers

It's not that Mitt Romney's campaign stickers and buttons were plastered on hundreds of Amherst parade watchers this past Wednesday (as Hillary and Rudy stickers often found homes next to each other on shirts and jackets), it's that a lot of people were exclusively showing off Romney. New Hampshire voters are moving towards Team Mitt.

Sadly, I'm not terribly surprised:

1) He's been working early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa as hard as the rest of the field. It's this kind of retail politics that pleases Granite Staters and Iowans more than large rallies and the like; he's polling at 27% in the latest American Research Group poll of New Hampshire voters (McCain and Giuliani are at 21 and 19% respectively).

2) Romney's personal life (aside from many people's fear of his Mormon beliefs) and seemingly-perfect marriage and family are comforting to a number of conservative voters.

3) Mitt's aptitude in pulling together the 2002 Olympic Games thrust his name into the public spotlight, and his managerial skill from his time at Bain Capitol certainly establishes him as a qualified business leader.

4) He's got the financial backing of some of America's richest individuals and can afford to launch massive television advertising runs from now until the election, as well as hire hundreds of staffers and open offices around the country.

5) Finally, Mitt Romney's stances on key issues are consistent and the interests of the greater good are always above his own ambition and...


It seems like Romney's ''presidential appearance," which has been responsible for some of Romney's supposed victories at the Republican debates so far (although I highly disagree), will help to push another manufactured candidate ever closer to the White House. Shame.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Back to the Real Issue

UPDATED 10:23 PM: After receiving quite a deal of confirmation that the vehicle some of you had heard about from yesterday was NOT a part of the official Bill Richardson campaign caravan I've taken down the photos that were up here earlier.

Back to the real issue at stake: the environment--

Here's a great alternative to that Hummer....that still packs some serious punch.

One Reason New Hampshire Should Be (Stay) First

There's no better 'Polution Control Division' in any of the Super Tuesday states...at least not one like this. Even better, these guys are picking up the leftovers of the 'Keep NH First' horse-pulled wagon.

What could be better?

Reflecting on the Fourth

I saw Michael Moore's 'SiCKO' and was (pardon the pun) sick just thinking about the deficiencies in American health care. I've watched the Bush administration turn Presidential codes of conduct, and often times actual law, into mockery. I've read and seen a lot in the media and in our culture that's so much more repulsive to me (Paris Hilton, anyone?) than the cold reality of tough and true news and awareness.

I woke up this morning hoping, praying that this particular Fourth of July would provide me a sign of our great country's strength and charm; I couldn't have found a better place than Amherst, NH.

Even honest political campaigning can seem outwardly annoying at times, especially in an early primary state like New Hampshire. Imagine thousands of politically-charged twenty-somethings (mostly) descending on usually-quiet and inconspicuous Granite State towns for nearly two years and turing the peaceful countryside into a battlefield of competing signs, stickers, cheers, and parade positions. You'd think all these New Hampshire voters would just shut themselves inside and watch TV as hundreds of volunteers from practically every presidential campaign processed through the historic town center of Amherst. Instead, marchers such as myself had our waves and enthusiasm reciprocated by spectators young and old, Dodd, Obama, Rudy, and Romney supporters alike.

Sure, fireworks displays are about as good here as they are anywhere else around the world, but there's something to be said for a country (judged by the class and character of one of its greatest states) where marching bands and veterans take their place among countless rows of presidential politicos--with a smile.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

RE: Yesterday's Post

...connecting with (not deporting) America's Latino community is also a skill of increased importance and benefit in the American political world:

There's got to be a better video out there, but none showed up on YouTube:


'A Mighty Heart' and America

The real world is very different from the world some of us imagine. 'A Mighty Heart," the film adaptation of the events surrounding the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl, shows us how very dangerous and fragile a large part of our seemingly insular world really is. From a film standpoint, 'A Mighty Heart' hardly ranks among even the best movies in theaters this month, but its true strength comes in the movie's presentation of Karachi, Pakistan, and the Arabic world.

I don't think I could endorse Ron Paul for President, but his view about blowback and hatred from the Arabic world represent one of the lone rays of truth and awareness in the Republican party right now. The United States can't afford to be governed by a leader whose short-sighted actions can and will set off decades of anger, only increasing the likelihood of terror cells breeding in a discontented Middle East. It's unfortunate that Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and nearly the entire Republican party's candidates see America as the only decider on the world's stage.

As we begin to acknowledge the rising power of China and Russia it's important that we recognize the people of the Middle East not as Jihadists and murderers, but rather as fellow men in the human quest for happiness, safety, and prosperity.