Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sticking Around

My audio recording from Joe Biden's event at Plymouth State University this past Saturday is the longest in my collection—2:35:17 is how long it lasts.

I expected to stick around to hear Biden speak for around an hour before heading back down south for a Romney event in the evening--what would Biden have to say anyways?

Turns out Senator Biden kept me enraptured just listening to him, and I ended up clearing my planned events for the rest of the day.

The event took place in a small hall at Plymouth state that could probably hold ten times the number of people who showed up, and Biden began talking by pulling out a line he picked up in his years as a politician "there are crowds too small to give a speech to, and too large to have a conversation with." Erring on the side of intimacy, Biden said he'd enjoy conversing with those assembled, and he certainly didn't hide behind a podium.

Throughout the hour and a half Biden spent speaking and answering questions from the audience, he would repeatedly take a seat next to the person asking him a question, hold someone by the shoulder and speak directly to them, or put the weight of his leg up on an empty chair. Even Biden's idea of a conversation was more affectionate than most of the event's attendees could have anticipated, and the relaxed atmosphere allowed both Biden and the audience to loosen up and answer and ask questions in a more straightforward fashion.

Hillary Clinton take note—your "conversations" with voters ain't nothing like this.

Biden is known as the "foreign policy expert" of the field of presidential candidates, and is often mentioned as the ideal Secretary of State for the more "viable" candidates, but his knowledge of America's foreign policy wasn't the only bit of intelligence that stood out. The questions posed by professors and students of Plymouth State, as well as some local residents, were by far the most articulate, detailed, and sincere questions I have seen asked of any candidate since the presidential campaign season kicked off early this year. And unlike the candidates who stumble when the zingers are thrown at them, Biden shined the most when the details of his federal proposal for Iraq were asked about in detail, or another example when he was asked to explain the intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and how it could be remedied.

Yes, after only two questions that brought out passionate and well-crafted answers from Biden's amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, one member of the audience expressed enough confidence in Biden's way of thinking that he was curious to see what the Senator thought about one of the most difficult and nuanced conflicts in the world. For a moment it seemed as if the audience of professors and parents were asking questions of some visiting professor themselves; Biden's course would certainly be an enlightening one.

"Professor, how do you fix the conflict between two hostile nations?"

Biden tackled the question by first asking if anyone else had questions that had to do with Israel and Palestine, obviously preparing for a long string of remarks that could be adapted to address whatever anyone wanted to know about.

Nobody else had anything to add, and Biden took about twenty minutes to give his explanation. For every minute, however, both the political science professor and the first-year undergraduate nodded in approval. Biden's words fit in perfectly with the educated and historical perspectives the teachers and students were familiar with from their studies. Unfortunately, in presidential politics it is often the professors and students that watch in disbelief as our leaders repeat every mistake of history and see the world through naive eyes and make imprudent decisions.

Biden is often labeled as "long-winded" and "rambling," but those words seem better fit on someone who doesn't know what they're talking about and ends up tracking all around an issue before finding the answer they want. Biden instead is intelligent and well-versed in the things he talks about, and his mastery of public speaking enables him to adjust his volume and passion whenever he becomes involved in explaining an issue.

I thought Biden would hop in a campaign vehicle and speed off after he finished answering questions, but he did nothing of the sort. True to his thorough tendencies, he not only signed his campaign posters and took photos with students, but he answered questions one-on-one for over an hour. As time passed, Biden grabbed a bottle of water, took off his suit jacket, and took a seat in the first row of seats. Around him a small group of reporters, students, and supporters filled in the chairs around, and I even felt so comfortable to take a seat on the floor in front of him.

A true conversation began--those who stuck around, myself included, would throw in words in the middle of Biden's sentences, seeking more specific explanations or suggesting possible ideas to him. Many candidates can't afford to take the time to engage in such a personal interaction with voters, but if I'd never seen the true "New Hampshire campaign way" before, this was it.

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

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