New Hampshire Under Siege

Pal Joey

Lieberman strikes a controversial pose. Plus: Edwards embarks on a Potemkin prowl.

By 1.4.04

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NEW HAMPSHIRE -- Senator Joe Lieberman, on a snowy Friday morning, was about to visit the home of a supporter to have a roundtable discussion on domestic violence in a small living room. As the first reporter to show up, I was treated by the man of the house to a tour. He was quite earnest, beaming with pride that "Joe" had chosen to grace his home with a visit. He happily showed me his fish tanks, explained the color schemes of various rooms, and even his wife's collection of collectible plates, which included a first edition M*A*S*H plate, the surgeons of the 4077 staring out at us.

I told him that I really liked the oil paintings of mountains and lakes that adorned most rooms, and asked if they were all by the same artist.

"They're all painted by unknowns," He explained. "I got them el cheapo at the starving artist market in Manchester."

But his most prized possession was an inherited original photograph of FDR signing the Social Security Act.

"Just wait until Joe sees this," he said. "He'll know what it is. He'll definitely be impressed."

Moments later Lieberman entered, along with his wife, Hadassah, and a gaggle of reporters, photographers, and TV cameramen, all of whom quickly outnumbered the group of battered women, women's shelter staff members, and Planned Parenthood representatives gathered for the discussion. Instinctively, the press got in the way. Reporters lined up in front of the fireplace, eliminating any chance whatsoever of Joe coming face to face with FDR.

WHILE THE OTHER DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES have brought a new fire to their campaigns in the opening week of 2004, Joe is still plodding slowly on, not getting too jazzed up about anything.

Lieberman, the only Democrat to be consistently booed during televised debates, does not shy away from a controversial position, however, and this day was no exception. Joe is very much against domestic violence, and he's not afraid to say it. "I'm 100 percent for solving this problem," he said. Take that Howard Dean.

After Joe made his position on domestic violence clear, Hadassah explained how domestic violence ended up on the Lieberman agenda for America. "I sit here today as the wife of a man who is trying to be the nominee, and I am proud that he listened to me when I went home and said, 'Joey, it [domestic violence] is awful.'" Lieberman then re-seized the reins, and asked everyone taking part in the roundtable (actually, the table was a rectangle bordered on three sides by overstuffed couches and easy chairs) to explain why they had come. The second woman in line immediately burst into tears when her turn came.

"Excuse my tears," she finally sobbed in a heavy Spanish accent. "But this is the first time I knock on big door about domestic violence and it has opened. All other times the door stayed closed. In the '60s when I ask for help, they tell me to cook better, clean, be patient. And now I knock on your door and you open."

Hadassah hugged the woman and wiped away her tears, while Lieberman told her that he remembered her story and tears from a town hall meeting last month. Apparently this was the second time the "big door" had opened, and the second time Lieberman had made this woman cry. I don't want to sound callous here -- and her story of abuse was indeed harrowing -- but did I miss something? Have the other candidates come out in favor of domestic violence? Is Lieberman really the only one who has opened this "big door"?

"Strong men don't beat women," Lieberman sagely explained. "Strong men take care of their women." There was only one rational solution to the problem. "Look, we're all flawed," he said. "The government needs to come in and take care of this problem." Put a bill on President Lieberman's desk outlawing bad men and he'll boldly sign it.

Or perhaps just bad video games. "There's a video game out right now where you get points for having sex with a woman in the back of a car, more points if you beat her, and even more points if you shoot her," Lieberman said of his favorite whipping boy, the entertainment industry. "Now what kind of message is that?"

At the end of the brief meeting, Lieberman asked anyone if they had anything they wanted to say to him before he left. All was quiet, but for the hum of reporter's mini-recorders until Hadassah raised her hand. "I want to say to Joe, thanks for being a candidate who listen to the tears of people." Very touching. Probably would have been more touching had it come from someone who hadn't been married to "Joey" for 20 years. But on the campaign trail, you take what you can get.

John Edwards on the Move

I caught up with John Edwards last week at his campaign office in downtown Nashua, where I heard a preview of the "major speech" he was set make the next day.

"Today under George W. Bush, there are two Americas, not one," Edwards said, while I stood dumbfounded wondering how in the world he could pass this off as something newsworthy when it was essentially the same stump speech he's been giving for the past year. "One America does the work, while another America reaps the reward."

I had come to the Edwards office because the senator was supposedly heading out to canvas door to door. Having done some campaign work in Nashua myself, I thought watching a sitting Senator get cussed out by working class locals and chased by dogs would make pretty good copy. But it was not to be.

"How many houses are you going to hit?" I asked an Edwards staffer.

"Four," he said. In the commotion of the packed office, I thought he said 400. I was impressed. That would be a decent workday for the average no-pay volunteer. Maybe this guy was the candidate of the people, despite his multi-million dollar bank account.

"Wow," I said. "Four hundred houses!"

"Nope," the staffer answered. "Four. They're right around the corner. Don't worry, you won't have to walk far."

"Four?" I repeated, disappointed. "These four houses wouldn't be homes of people who already support your candidate, would they?"

"Probably," he said. "We're not sending him out on cold calls."

Fair enough. But I wasn't going to be the schmuck who followed Edwards around in the freezing rain to watch him confirm that his supporters support him. That was even more boring than his new old speech. Hell, I had been excited enough about the prospect of seeing a major candidate canvas that I would have maced a couple charging dogs for him or even broken out some choice cuts from my collection of obscene phrases to defend him against some, um, "flinty" New Hampshirites.

It's a small disappointment in the scheme of things, much like going to a movie billed as a comedy that turns out to be a drama. Edwards had the chance to impress, but instead he decided to bore. Poor choice for someone behind in the polls.

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