NEW HAMPSHIRE — Tuesday night the wind was whistling ferociously through the streets of Concord. The skin beneath my eyes turned to rubber like pudding in a refrigerator and it was hard to blink. I plodded on step by step towards the auditorium where 1960s radio mainstay Carole King was performing a “victory concert” for John Kerry. I had never really had much use for Kerry or King, but after walking a couple blocks in the subzero temperatures, I was warm to the idea of seeing them, together at last.
As I came banging in through the rattling theater door, an usher silently herded me into a room filled with college-aged Kerry volunteers. They stood around a long rectangular table, gabbing away. I walked up to the nearest young woman, who, despite my presence, soldiered on in her discourse with another volunteer.
“I love Brown University,” she declared, eyes wide, hands on her hips. “The library there is super nice, and in one of the restrooms, there is just this amazing feminist art. Have you ever seen it? It is just, literally, awesome.”
One of the other volunteers pointed me out to her, and she flashed the winning smile that no doubt landed her the job on the campaign. I told her I was with The American Spectator and was there for the event.
“Cool,” she said. “Senator Kerry isn’t here yet. The press have their own awesome little space. I’ll find someone to bring you down there.”
The girl skipped off to chat with another staffer, who returned in her place.
“Sorry, this is a closed event,” he said.
“But she just said someone would take me …”
“Yeah, well, we have to deal with fire codes like everyone else,” he said, with a bit of an edge.
“Can I buy …”
“Sold out,” he cut me off, and walked away.
I walked out the door just as the Real Deal Express pulled up, so I decided to go above Mr. Nasty Staffer’s head. Kerry, popped out of the bus with his expressionless wife clinging to his side like a barnacle on a ship.
“Senator Kerry,” I said, preparing to make my case. “I came to cover this event…”
Kerry looked at me, looked away, and then said to no one in particular, “I’m freezing my ass off.”
A staffer smirked at me on the way by and a moment later I was alone on the street again.
Not wanting to give up that easy, I made my way to the small house where Kerry was set to watch and respond to the State of the Union address. I strode up the walkway, through the door and into a living room with probably 15 television cameramen and a gaggle of photographers.
A short, erratic young man marched over to me, and demanded to know what I was doing there. I said I was there to cover the event. “No, sir,” he said. “Uh uh. Only television guys, that’s the deal. Wait outside. The Senator will make a statement in an hour or two.”
I thought about protesting, but then decided to just not leave. I listened to the little man explain to the family how to open the door for the Senator, how long to shake his hand, where to invite him to sit, and, after all this nonsense, advised them to just “be yourselves.”
Then he turned and saw me still in the same place. “You must leave,” he pleaded. “You are right now where the Senator is supposed to be any moment. You will block his shot. Go outside and wait.”
I stepped outside just in time to see Kerry get off the bus, this time sans Teresa Heinz. I approached him and once again he acted as if I wasn’t there. A week ago, he was begging for anyone to chat with him, and now, 24 hours after his Iowa win, he was shutting us ink-stained wretches out of his events.
I DID CATCH UP WITH Kerry the next day at a college in Nashua, giving what was inappropriately labeled a “major speech.” The only breaking news is that Kerry is now shamelessly stealing his opponents’ issues and, more importantly, their soundbites.
He stole Dean’s line about fulfilling Truman’s dream of universal health insurance. He recast John Edwards’ promise to end the “politics of cynicism,” claiming he would “close the gap of cynicism.” He stole Wesley Clark’s “We are here to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush presidency” tout court.
In a particularly tasteless moment, he had a woman with cancer introduce him and endorse his healthcare plan as the only one that would give “ordinary people like us peace of mind.” Kerry stood with a solemn face.
His speech was one of a man convinced of his own approaching victory. At every turn of phrase, he romanticized his life and his campaign.
“The last two weeks of the campaign have been very different,” Kerry told the mostly college-aged audience. “I’ve been getting four hours of sleep a night. There have been some all-nighters. There’s been a lot of cold pizza and warm beer. It’s very much how I remember exams week.”
Kerry recited the usual litany of complaints against Bush, each of which, he told the crowd, made his “blood boil.” To wit, Bush is trying to kill the 40-hour work week to help corporations. Bush is poisoning the oceans, lakes, and streams. Bush wants prescription drug companies to make “excessive profits” on the backs of poor, elderly patients.
The junior senator from Massachusetts wanted the students to have an economy that “works for us,” rather than the other way around. He bragged that he had personally stopped not only several Bush administration plots, but also a few of Newt Gingrich’s and Ronald Reagan’s as well.
The naked ambition of his proposals made up for what they lacked in concreteness. He pledged to do vague but grandiose things like “drive the forces of greed and privilege from the precincts of power.”
“Six days from now New Hampshire will speak, and America and the world will listen,” Kerry said, “because you are not just electing a president, but the leader of the free world.” Shortly after his inauguration “on behalf of you and the other 96 percent of the people on this planet, I will go to the UN and begin a proud new chapter in our history.”
On the way to the bus, Kerry looked dour. I greeted him and, for the third time in two days, he blew me off, as if I weren’t one of the people on this planet.
Shawn Macomber is a reporter for The American Spectator. When not on the campaign trail, he runs the website Return of the Primitive.