Last week Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards held a Town Hall Meeting at the University of New Hampshire, located in the quaint New Englad college town of Durham. Running a distant third to Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama in the polls in New Hampshire, Edwards sought to use the event to differentiate himself from the rest of the candidates in the minds of the voters in attendance. He touched upon a number of key issues and took questions from the crowd.
At the start of the event Edwards was introduced by a twenty-something UNH alumni, who was also a veteran of the Iraq war. The veteran recalled his own experiences in Iraq, calling the conflict there a civil war and praising Edward’s plan to withdraw American troops. He also appealed to voters to consider the bigger picture for the Democratic Party, which is will face a defining general election in 2008. He called Edwards the candidate with the most appeal outside of New England and asked the audience to consider electability as a factor in their vote. He also noted the importance of nominating a candidate who could campaign effectively for Democratic candidates running for other offices across the country. “We have an obligation to vote for a candidate who can deliver senate seats outside of New England,” he concluded.
Edwards took hold of the microphone and stood before the crowd dressed in his trademark blue jeans and button up dress shirt, sans neck tie, sleeves rolled up. He began his speech by focusing on the issue of corruption in Washington. “Money and power have now been concentrated in the hands of the few,” he told the crowd. Edwards told the audience that, once upon a time, lobbyists to lobby members of Congress in order to influence legislation. Today, he noted, lobbyists simply write laws themselves and Congress passes them.
“I don’t think we can change the way things are now by replacing a bunch of corporate Republicans with a bunch of corporate Democrats,” said Edwards. “There is no difference between what they are trying to accomplish.” Edwards went on to the paint a verbal picture that portrayed leading rival Hillary Clinton as the perfect example of a corporate Democrat. He noted that Clinton was leading the presidential candidates in contributions from the healthcare industry and the defense industry.
Turning to the issue of healthcare Edwards summarized his position by saying, “Every American deserves healthcare. Period.” Once in the Whitehouse Edwards promised to tell lawmakers they would either have to provide universal healthcare coverage to all Americans or he would do his best to take away their own publicly funded healthcare benefits.
On Iraq, Edwards told the audience to ask each of the presidential candidates several questions about the war and then proceeded to provide his own answers to the questions.
“Do they have a specific plan to end the war in Iraq? I do.”
“Will they pull all combat troops out? I will.”
“Will they keep combat mission in Iraq?” I won’t.”
“Will they keep permanent military bases in Iraq? I won’t.”
He went on to say how Clinton might answer the same questions. “Senator Clinton has said that she would keep combat forces in Iraq and keep combat missions in Iraq,” he claimed. Edwards has criticized Clinton for not providing a specific plan to withdraw American forces from Iraq. His campaign has issued a statement on its website saying that, “Senator Clinton has repeatedly said she will 'end the war.' Yet she has provided no plan for how she'll do it. She has only said that she will hold a meeting with her advisors within 60 days of taking office. That's not a plan. It's a promise of a planning meeting. On such an important question we need honesty and answers, not double-talk and evasions.”
Edwards told the crowd that he was concerned about the possibility of a war with Iran. He blamed the problem on neo-conservative hawks, saying that, “We need to stand up to these people and stop them.” He then made an interesting remark that seemed hint at regrets over his own decision to vote in favor of military action against Iraq as a member of the Senate back in 2002. “What is going to happen if Bush invades Iran six months from now? Are we going to hear again, ‘If I’d only known then what I’d known now.’?” he asked.
The floor was then opened to questions from the audience. A man asked Edwards what he would do to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one source of the instability and violence currently rocking the Middle East. “What we want is a two state solution,” Edwards responded. He also said that, “I believe that America and her allies should continue to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians.” The former senator said that he knows there are officials on both sides that want peace because he has been there and met with them. But he was quick to point out there was no easy solution to the conflict, and that peace would only come after a long, sustained process of negotiations and diplomacy.
Another audience member asked Edwards to explain his position on Guantanamo Bay. “I will close Guantanamo Bay,” said Edwards. He went on to promise to end what he called illegal spying on the American people. Edwards also told the crowd that America should not be having a debate over when the use torture acceptable. “No torture is tolerable,” he said.
Asked what he would do about the genocide taking place in Darfur, Edwards said that it was an embarrassment to see the U.S. sitting by idly on this issue. In order to stop the Sudanese government from providing air support to the Janjaweed militia responsible for the massacres, Edwards proposes to enforce a strict no fly zone in the Darfur region. But it would take more than that to stop the violence according to Edwards. “We’ve got to get a security force on the ground,” he explained. Specifically, Edwards believes that only a U.N. led international security force could get the job done.
Another audience member asked Edwards to elaborate on his position on the environment. In reference to global warming, Edwards told the crowd, “I believe it is a crisis.” He talked about his plan to reducing carbon emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050 using a cap and trade system. But he also called upon listeners to change their own lifestyles in order to live more sustainably, saying that sacrifices would have to be made if real progress was to be made in the fight against global warming. He drew applause from the crowd when he told the crowd that he does not support the construction of new nuclear power plants.
A middle aged woman expressed her concern that the government was inefficient and could not be trusted to manage a new national level healthcare system. Edwards said that he realized many Americans had similar concerns. Many Americans and are satisfied with the coverage they receive now but are dissatisfied with the amount they have to pay for it, he explained. He also noted that a lot of people want universal healthcare coverage to be provided by the government. Edwards said his plan would provide a happy medium by allowing people to choose between private and public coverage options. “If you like the coverage you have now you can keep it,” he said. Edwards also promised that his plan would place restrictions on the amount insurance companies can charge to cover overhead costs and increase profit margins.
Finally Edwards was asked to explain how he would stop lobbyists from writing the law. Instead, he told the crowd what they could to do stop it. He said that if between now and the election enough voters said they would refuse to vote for any candidate who takes money from lobbyists the candidates would have listen. In terms of what he would do as president, Edwards stated that, “I believe we should publicly finance all of our campaigns." He also said that the government belongs to the people, not the president, and that he supports increasing government transparency.
In closing Edwards told the audience why he was running for president. Recalling the poverty of his youth, he said that, “I am running for president for my father who worked in a mill and never had the opportunities I’ve had.” He also said he was running for all of those who had worked in that mill, and many others like it, and whose lives were devastated when it closed. Edwards recalled a number women who have approached him during the campaign and told him that, like his wife, they were suffering from breast cancer. He said he was running for them because, unlike his wife, many of these women did not have health insurance coverage.
This article was written by David Anderson. David was selected to provide weekly coverage of the New Hampshire Presidential Primary as part of Gather's People's Press Corp. He is also a political correspondent for Gather and a graduate student studying political science at the University of New Hampshire. You can find his weekly election coverage in the Election 2008 group.