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January 2014

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This weekend John Kerry and John Edwards held an event on the campus of my alma mater, NC State University. As I've always lived in NC (not known for being hotly contested political territory), this was the first chance I had to actually witness presidential campaigning in action. I remain undecided as to how I'm going to vote this year, and I figured it would be good to see these candidates in person to find out just what they would bring to the table.

I didn't plan on spending all day at this thing, so I wanted to get an idea of when the candidates would actually start speaking. The official campaign websites provided little help - they only said "gates open at 1 pm." I figured it couldn't be starting too long after that, so I planned to show up about 1:30-2. I later learned that the local print media provided a complete itenerary - fah, why waste trees for that when they could've placed it online!

I printed out the "ticket" - a form generated from the Kerry campaign website. To get a ticket, you have to give an email address, which undoubtedly places you on the official spam list (I was already on the list, so I didn't much care). I wasn't sure that the ticket would be needed, but I decided it was better to be safe than sorry.

Around 1:30 I grabbed my iPod and headed over to campus. I found a parking spot (wow, NC State finally finished that parking deck... too bad they didn't have that back when I was still in school!) and hoofed it on over to the Court of the Carolinas. Having gone to the school for more years than I'd like to admit, I knew the way - but if I hadn't, the line of red, white, and blue-clad living billboards, marching like ants in a meandering line across campus, would have given me a hint on where to go.

I hit the entry to the rally proper around 2. It was interesting to note the multiple tiers of seating - people with "red" or "blue" tickets (presumably financial supporters) got shuffled on up near the stage or on the embankment to the side of the podium. People with "white" tickets printed from the internet, who hadn't given any money, got shuffled to the extreme end of the courtyard, seperated from the more special people by a divider. I couldn't help but wonder if this had something to do with that "two Americas" thing these guys kept talking about.

I should mention at this point that it was hot. Very hot. The campaign folks were kind enough to provide free bottled water, although you had to shell out $5 to get your hands on a campaign button. $5! Wearing one of those makes you a walking political advertisement, so if anything they should be paying me to wear it. Fah!

So, I stood around waiting in the hottest part of a sweltering North Carolina summer day. I was lucky enough to meet up with Marika, whom I'd met on Orkut - she managed to pick me out of the crowd, and without her company I'm sure I wouldn't have lasted through the thing. Hours passed. It got hotter. After a while, some obscure band started playing - the sound system was terrible and the music was unrecognizable. They were replaced by another band that did the same.

About 4:30, the first actual speaker showed up on the stage and started talking, barely audible to those of us in the cheap seats thanks to the lousy audio equipment. A local politician of some sort, he said little about Kerry and much about Bush and Clinton. He referred several times to the "age of prosperity" Clinton magically brought about, and slammed the Bush administration for destroying it.

I thought that was odd, as Clinton wasn't running for any sort of office. Maybe this guy was trying to help move his autobiography.

This man was replaced by other barely audible NC Democrats, until finally - after 30 minutes of garbage - Kerry and Edwards were introduced and strolled onstage through a corridor of American flags, dangling limp in the stagnant NC summer air, with wives in tow. The time was about 5:00.

The crowd started getting excited, but to our disappointment yet another minor player grabbed the mic. A woman, barely audible to us white ticket holders, mumbled some things we couldn't quite make out. After about 15 minutes of this, she handed the mic over to Mrs. Edwards. Finally, we're moving up the ladder of useless speakers!

Mrs. Edwards talked about how good a man her husband was, how good a man Kerry was, how good their families were, and after maybe 5 minutes she tossed the mic to Mrs. Kerry. Mrs. Edwards kept it short and sweet, and she managed to enunciate and project her voice enough that we in the back could hear - hey, not bad!

Mrs. Kerry, on the other hand, was mostly inaudible. We could make out bits and pieces, about how she and Mrs. Edwards would "keep their husbands straight," about how Bush had left children behind, about how women were vitally important to the political process. I thought the last was an odd assertion, as it came from a woman who was not running for and did not currently hold any political office. Ah well, it got some applause.

Finally on to Edwards. Having long since taken off his jacket, looking very friendly and neighborly up on the podium, Edwards immediately appealed to the southern crowd and had them eating from his hands in short order. The primary topics for discussion were vague statements proclaiming that he and Kerry didn't just bandy about terms such as about "values" and "faith" and "patriotism," but that they actually believed in them. And he proved this... by talking about them. Edwards tried to emphasize how he was a man of the people, how he stood up for the little guy, and how he would magically create great jobs for everybody. Then he started talking about his good friend John Kerry, talking about how good a man he was, about his "values" and "faith" and "patriotism." Edwards really hit home with the audience, and people were pretty excited as the mic finally got into the hands of John Kerry.

Kerry himself seemed much more animated and excited than I'd come to expect. I think Edwards has really had an impact on his emotion level, bringing out a degree of enthusiasm I hadn't seen from him in the numerous TV and radio soundbytes. He attacked some administration policies without offering any solutions of his own, criticizing the war that he himself voted for. But this wasn't about policy - it was about platitudes. Kerry would make America safer. Kerry would make America more prosperous. Kerry would give everybody health care. Kerry would protect your values. Kerry would give everybody jobs. The only specific policy point I can recall is that he said he would like to increase the minimum wage, to which I can only reply - well DUH, it's been a hell of a long time since an increase and the cost of living continues to rise.

But the crowd... the crowd consumed every word as if it were mana from heaven. People cheered loudly as Kerry talked about hope and the future, but I sat back thoroughly unimpressed - why were they so excited about nothing? How can anybody be blindly enthusiastic about such vague assurances?

It was clear that this process wasn't for people like me, people who wanted to understand what Kerry would actually do as President, what he actually believed on policy issues. All he and Edwards discussed were generalities, least common denominators that have a universal appeal. Values, they're great! Jobs are good! Health care is excellent! No sane person could disagree with the proclaimed goals, but without any specifics of how Kerry would work to bring about his vision of America, I was just left scratching my head.

I walked out before Kerry finished, as it had become obvious what these rallies really were. They're orgasmic expressions of blind love and blind hatred, community events designed to convince people who have already made up their minds that they're voting for a guy who loves them and wants to make America great, without having any clear plan on how to do so.

I went into the event expecting little, and I came out disappointed. I think I finally understand what the "two Americas" really are - the wealthy politicians with the power and the money, and us poor saps with white tickets who sit back and applaud them. Drink your Kool-Aid and smile... it'll all work out in the end.


Bad Mojo @ Mon Jul 12 14:47:19 -0400 2004

I told you that it was a waste of time.

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