I spoke with a woman named Penny Arsenault prior to the Edwards’ arrival. She is a secretary at a middle school and was very concerned about NCLB and education in general. She said that she’d gone for a walk and delivered hand written letters to 64 neighbors inviting them to the event. I asked how long she’d been volunteering with the campaign. She told me that she’d done this on her own and that she had only met people from the campaign that night. She spoke about the dire straits the country was in and said that while education was her first priority, the next president had to be someone who could deal with a great many serious problems. She was convinced that John Edwards was that man. She said she didn’t need a campaign to ask her to help out. She wrote the letters as a concerned citizen of this country in order to help make the world a better place for children.
*Penny (on the left in red and white) with John Edwards*
I’m not thrilled with the coverage from the local paper, which had its good points but seemed biased. The reporter gave the crowd count as 100. Well we arrived at 6:52 and it was 100 degrees outside. We went inside and joined the crown in an auditorium without air conditioning. My mother did a count when we got there and she counted over 300. People continued to arrive for the next half hour and no one left. They had to keep adding rows of chairs and I honestly think the final head count was close to 400.
*The first 10th of the room*
Elizabeth opened by thanking people for coming out to hear John and question him on his policies. She spoke of seeing a young man with a video camera at every event early on in the 04 race. She was happy that he seemed so excited about John that he followed him to every event. It turned out that he was a tracker for the RNC but the campaign continued to make sure he had decent seating and was comfortable at each event. She said that by hearing John answer questions over and over again Steve became more and more impressed by John’s vision and consistency. She said she wasn’t sure but from conversations she had a suspicion that he ended up voting for her husband.
*Elizabeth and John*
Senator Edwards commented on the stifling heat and said he was basically just there to answer questions. The first question was on universal health care so he explained his vision, the expected price tag, and where he expected the money to come from.
*John Edwards at a wonky moment*
The next man to pose a question actually went on a bit of a rant. He had just gotten out of the hospital and was still ill. He ranted a bit about politicians in DC who really don’t understand the two Americas that John Edwards discusses. He talked about struggling to live on social security with only a 4% raise. He talked about people without AC in the south and basically told Senator Edwards that he had no idea of the two Americas.
John Edwards didn’t get huffy. He did say that he didn’t live in DC and he was no longer a senator so he wasn’t getting any raises. He said, “You’re making a mistake by lumping me in with people living in Washington. Any time we lump groups of people together we make mistakes by missing out on individual experiences.” He said that he understood that most people are struggling to get by. “Most working people are having a tough time paying their bills.” And then something funny happened.
Someone in the stifling high school cafeteria believed she hadn?t heard enough from John Edwards. So she rose, walked behind the Democratic presidential candidate and tapped him on the back.
Edwards stopped talking. His wife, Elizabeth Edwards, had surprised him.
Elizabeth Edwards wanted to expound on her husband?s response to a man?s comment that all politicians are Washington insiders who understand little about the common American.
So she detailed her husband?s life story: son of a mill worker who put himself through college.
When John Edwards has a proposal about helping people pay for college, for instance, he doesn?t glean his idea from the pages of The New York Times, his wife said. It comes from personal experience and something inside him, she said.
“It’s not an abstraction,” Elizabeth Edwards said. He understands real lives.
That’s a very abbreviated version of what took place. In fact Elizabeth talked about John’s father’s career at the mill, losing out on a promotion to a younger man with a college degree, and the mill eventually closing. She told a story about John’s parents that really affected my son, enough to make him write about it. She explained that his positions on college for all, NAFTA, and universal health care all come from life experiences.
“This is about neighbors, and friends, and family,” Elizabeth said.
Someone asked a question about NCLB. John Edwards began by saying, “Kids don’t learn by filling in bubbles on a test.” Huge applause on that line. He said that a southern saying applies to this. “My friend said to me, ‘you don’t fatten a pig by weighing it more often.'” He talked about how NCLB evaluates only one aspect of a child. He spoke of how it actually interferes with teaching and mentioned that Emma Claire’s class spent half of the year getting ready for the state test in North Carolina. “Here’s an idea. How about we let teachers evaluate the students?” Huge applause again. He said it was better to evaluate each child’s individual progress over the year rather than pitting one child against another, one class against another, one school against another. He discussed the ridiculousness of penalizing schools that are already struggling.
A man asked about “Islamic terrorists.” John Edwards talked about getting out of Iraq and utilizing political and diplomatic solutions. He talked about building schools and hospitals as a way to undo some of the damage that has been done not just by this administration but by madrassas that have been operating for decades. He said that we needed to change our approach to the world from being selfish to interacting maturely.
The last question generated the second most interesting part of the evening from my perspective. A woman asked, “Who advises you? Who is your Karl Rove?” His response was immediate, “I don’t have a Karl Rove and I don’t want one.” Then he said that people had a right to understand how he makes his decisions. From his perspective he’s looking for something very different in a Vice President than in Cabinet members. “For a Vice President I want someone who shares my vision. Someone who agrees with me on the universal health coverage, on education, on Iraq, on taxes, the environment, and working people. I want someone who agrees with me. In the event that anything was to happen to me I want the Vice President to carry out the vision that the American people voted f
“With Cabinet members, I’m not like Bush. I don’t want to be surrounded by yes people. I want the smartest most qualified people for those positions. I want strong, independent minded people who are capable of leading and not afraid to stand up and say they disagree.”
While I was taking pictures my son got up and wandered away. I found him about 2/3rds of the way through the event up toward the front. When I went to send him back to his grandparents he said, “No. I want to be able to see him. I like what he’s saying and I want to see him say it.”
*Speaking of strong, independent minded people who are capable of disagreeing*
Even though the handlers were trying to rush John Edwards from the room, he did stay to shake hands, sign autographs, and listen to people. He was incredibly generous with his time. soberboy went up to him 3 different times. Once to shake hands, the next for an autograph, and the final for a picture.
*Not rushing out of the room*
My mother actually preferred the interview on Face the Nation this morning because Edwards didn’t get into policy specifics much last night and she got a better sense of the details today. But she was thrilled that they had water at the event and said she didn’t think other campaigns would be as thoughtful. She thinks of them as friendly and kind because she was personally called and they thought of her comfort in the brutally hot auditorium. That personal touch makes a difference.
My father spoke of Edwards’ sincerity and how obvious it is from everything he says and how he approaches people and issues. He was frustrated by the event. He liked that Edwards wasn’t afraid to have an almost entirely open meeting. But then my father complained that you can’t really control things once it’s opened up. He wished people were more focused in their questions and more on topic. He said he thought the suggestions a few months back that John Edwards was tired and going through the motions were clearly untrue.
While my mother wished for more details and my father wished for more focus, I thought John Edwards hit the right notes. It was well over 100 degrees in the room and I don’t think many people wanted serious wonk at 8:00 on a Saturday night in that heat. And while the man who had a bit of a rant was unfocused, I thought it said a lot about the campaign. The man mentioned he’d never been to a political event before. He said he’d voted for Bush last time, “and it was the biggest mistake of my life.” I thought about other campaigns where that man might have shared himself and thought that only John Edwards and Barak Obama were likely to inspire that kind of sharing. I certainly couldn’t imagine him being allowed to rant at a Republican event or feeling welcome to with many of the other Democrats. My son wrote his own take on the evening.
*About John Edwards
Have many of you people at DailyKos wanted to know about John Edwards? Well, I went to see him and his wife, Elizabeth in New Hampshire. What did he say? He said he would stop the war in Iraq, help the jobs that were closed, help the poor people, and many other things to help make the United States a better place.
John has traveled all around New Hampshire soon other states around the country making speeches. Elizabeth said that John’s mother owned a small shop near a highway. John’s father worked in a mill. But then John’s father had heart problems, but even worse, he lost his health insurance. So John’s mother had to leave her shop and get a job that had health insurance. He needed health insurance so he could go to a doctor and get his heart fixed.
John Edwards is a Democrat running for the President of the United States. I got his autograph and a picture taken with him! I am voting for him, even though I can’t vote. I hope you’ll vote for him too!