Living in New England in the fall has its advantages to be sure. There are county fairs, the changing of the leaves, the occasional indian summer, and in the year preceding an election, politics. This week saw the confluence of three of these events. Unseasonably warm weather, peak foliage, and a Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire. As this happened to be my vacation week I decided to return home to New Hampshire for a few days and see if I could track down Jon Huntsman. It turned out that I didn’t have to go very far.
For some reason getting hold of a candidate’s speaking arrangements schedule is harder than it looks. The events are not secret, but it took a few tries before I could find out where Governor Huntsman was going to be. And to my dismay I quickly learned that I had missed an event he had hosted which was a short drive away from the town in which I was staying (in New Hampshire a town 45 minutes away is still considered “a few towns over”). I did see, however, that the Governor would be speaking at a Retirement Community in Hanover on Tuesday, the 11th before heading over to the Bloomberg TV/WaPo debate. After a pleasant drive through some of the best fall foliage I’ve ever seen (and I grew up here) I was there.
The hall quickly filled up to standing room only capacity, as seniors in New Hampshire take politics very seriously. That is not to say that they don’t do this everywhere, but New Hampshire takes its primary very seriously. New Hampshirites are not easy folk to win over, as several failed smooth talking politicians from years past can tell you. I could tell that even though many of the attendees were not fans of Governor Huntsman, they attended anyway to get the measure of the man. I found some space in the back amongst the bloggers and photographers and waited. As Jon arrived and started to speak he did not disappoint.
Governor Huntsman began his remarks by acknowledging that he understood that he was
not going to win the vote of every person there. And that some may have already made up their minds about him due to his acceptance of the ambassadorship to China under President Obama. But he explained his decision and did not run from it. He promised that his solutions for America were honest and from the heart, and that he would not pander. His first topic of discussion was foreign policy.
Coming only 24 hours after the announcement of his foreign policy platform at Southern New Hampshire University he had a lot to say about the topic (which is understandable as the one Republican candidate with actual hands-on foreign policy experience). He stressed the need for passage of free trade agreements with Panama, South Korea and Colombia as he had done in his plan (the House of Representatives passed these three agreements the next day). He explained how our relationship with India and China would shape the economy of the next 100 years. He outlined his vision for bringing our soldiers home and phasing out nation-building conflicts in favor of better counterterrorism methods. And he stated that our ability to be a key player on the world stage is being jeopardized by our debt, which he calls a national security issue.
This allowed for an easy transition into a discussion about the economy. He mentioned his many successes in Utah including historic tax reform and the unsurpassed job growth there while he was Governor. As a longstanding Huntsman fan I knew all of this, though it never hurts to hear it again and again. But what impressed me most was the next part of his discussion which involved the role of capital in the world economy. It was informative, it was effortless and it was impressive.
Following the Q&A session I stayed behind for a few minutes and listened as the residents of the community were leaving the hall. Over and over again I heard people ask their friends “So what did you think?”. The overwhelming response was “He’s very, very smart.” And my favorite, from a smiling elderly woman, “Oh he’s a smoooothie alright!”. Governor Huntsman spoke to some of the residents (it seems people like to test him on his fluency in Chinese) and had to go. On my way out I was able to nod a quick “hello” to the incredibly friendly Mary Kaye Huntsman as well as two of his daughters, Mary Anne and Abby (rising Twitter celebrities in their own right). The next question for me was, what to do next?
I headed over to Dartmouth College to view the debate preparation. Bloomberg TV had
set up a stage for pre-debate broadcasting and a few small groups of supporters for various candidates were milling about. Rumor had it that a “sit in” by groups sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street was being organized. This was quickly confirmed by fliers attached to lamp posts and garbage cans. I thought it was cute that they read “Join Students and Staff” which meant only one thing…course credit for participation! Off to the side I could see that a large section of land had been cordoned off by metal barriers into what was called the “Visibility Area.” I decided to call it the protest pen. Not wanting to miss the antisocial event of the season I took a seat and waited for the circus to begin.
Now, I’m not going to assume that the college had higher hopes for the turnout given the amount of space they allocated for the protest pen. But when the magic hour of 4PM struck and a group of 20-30 students wearing retina-burning yellow t-shirts marched into the entrance or the pen and began to graze, I slowly began to realize that was all there was to this “protest.” Some of the students had signs reading “Fund Aids” (I assume they meant research) so I thought “good on ’em.” One had a sign reading “Wealth is a human right” which had to have been for comedic value, right….right? After about five minutes of chanting, some of them started to leave. Well I mean if they’re bored… I decided that democracy was decidedly not “in action” that day and left the park. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that thanks to tight camera angles the local news managed to make the small group of 20-30 look like an occupying force. You may not be able to count on protesters to do their jobs, but you can always count on the media.