Flag Day banquet in NH

Governor Vilsack was the final speaker of the evening at a Democratic Party Flag Day event in Manchester, NH.  Later I’ll have some details about the speech — but first, the folks in the room were obsessed with the food.

"Anybody for a cheeseburger?" Ray Buckley, the event’s emcee, Bob Baines, the former mayor of Manchester, NH, asked the crowd at one point.  The meal served to the 250 people seated in the room at the Deeryfield Country Club seemed to be a mound of mashed potatoes with asparagus, steamed squash and maybe a few carrotts.  (Thanks to Kathy Sullivan, NH Democratic Party chair for pointing that out in the comments section below.  I was in and out of the room, interviewing people in the entryway while the event spun on and I didn’t see/notice the transfer of microphone duties from one white guy clad in a dark suit to another white guy clad in a dark suit.  She also points out Buckley would never ask for a cheeseburger because he’s a vegetarian.)

Later, as Buckley Baines prepared to introduce Vilsack to the crowd, Buckley Baines noted that he almost ate the wooden egg he had procured at the morning’s "politics and eggs" event, then Buckley Baines related the suppertable conversation he’d had with Vilsack.  Vilsack apparently crowed that Iowa chicken houses "produce" 9 BILLION eggs every year.  The crowd stood and applauded.  Buckley Baines then told them to sit down he wasn’t done with Vilsack’s introduction yet.

Once Vilsack got to the mic, TV had this to say:  "You know, there’s some Iowa media here that are kind of following me and Bob’s (yes, he called Ray Bob) introduction about laying eggs and introducing me, I hope I don’t lay another egg tonight."  Many in the crowd cackled (I used the word cackled — in astory about eggs and chickens!).

"Bob, I’m not sure what your next career is going to be…but I think you have a career in Comedy Central," Vilsack said.

"I’ve learned that at City Hall," Buckley replied.

After the laughter died down, Vilsack wound into his speech by beginning with a tribute to the woman who was honored at the event.  Then, he launched into an anti-Bush Administration cadence that was drawing "uh-hus" and "you’re rights" from some in the crowd.  Then, Vilsack lost ’em.  The table in front of me started talking among themselves; people standing in the back were talking and there was a general murmu throughout the room.  In the course of this part of the 20 minute speech, Vilsack made a statement that contradicted his morning speech.  In the am, Vilsack outlined several steps to health care reform, but NOT universal heath care.  In the pm, Vislack uttered the well-worn phrase that "health care is a right, not a privilege."  Interpret that.

Some New Hampshire residents were none to happy when they learned Vilsack is not "standing" with NH in the effort to keep the DNC from moving some state’s caucuses in that week between the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.  As I was standing outside the hall while the crowd was eating their apparent vegetarian platter, a gentleman waiting for his wife asked me who I was, what I was doing in NH and then he lit into a spirited defense of New Hampshire’s "84 year tradition" — the nation’s first presidentail primary.  His answer to critics who say New Hampshire’s too white?  Our schools in Manchester are now "22 percent non-white."  He had other fascinating stories, such as voting for the first time in the NH primary by absentee ballot — from Vietnam.  When he was a Catholic school boy he reached out and touched John F. Kennedy’s suit jacket when Kennedy campaigned in Manchester.  "He was a political saint to a Catholic boy like me."

Now, back to Vilsack’s speech (it’s late, I’m tired and rambling, sorry).  He closed with a story he’s told often in Iowa, about his conversation with the wife of Natonal Guard helicopter pilot Bruce Smith who was killed on duty in Iraq.  Remember when I said folks were chatting away earlier?  Well, the crowd grew silent, and some cried.  Vilsack then used the story as a springboard for his ending, which seems a sort of call to arms for Democrats — to change the status quo.  I wonder if Bruce Smith and his wife want their inspiring story used to gin up the partisans?

Here’s the way Vilsack told it:  "His helicopter was hit by a missile.  Now I’m told by those who visited with National Guard officials that Bruce had a split second decision to make when that happened.  He could decide to potentially put his own life at risk and the co-pilot’s life at greater risk in the hope of perhaps saving some on board or he could potentially try to save his own life and perhaps put those on board at greater risk.  He chose to do what he was trained to do (at this point, the only thing you hear in the room is the sound of the china the wait staff are collecting).  He chose what you would expect him to do.  He put his own life at rks and he died that day as did his co-pilot.  My job was to call his wife.  Now, what is it that you actually say in a circumstance like that?  Oh, there were words.  You can talk about duty and honor and country.  You can convey sentiments surrounding thoughts and prayrers and sympathies.  But what do you say?  What do you really say?  (By this time, the wait staff had ceased all activity and the room was quiet.)  Now Mrs. Smith understood as I was trying to say something that made a difference to her, she understood I was having trouble and she interrupted me and she said ‘Governor, I have this figured out.’  And I said:  ‘How could you possibly have it figured out?’  And she said ‘I’ve got it figured out that on that day at that time in that split second those 18 men who were saved that day needed Bruce more in that split second than I will need him for the rest of my life."

At this point on my recording, you can hear the audible gasps of a few in the audience.  Vilsack continued: "We finished the conversation and I put the phone down and I realized I had been in the presence of greatness, just as I realized it tonight, Mary (Mary Sysyn, a local elected city official in NH who was honored at the event for her work).  It’s the greatness defined by ordinary people who do extraordinary things.  Odinary people who understand that there is a higher purpose to this country, to living in this coujtry, a higher responsibility that we as citizens have in the service of our country be it in uniform or otherwise and those who understand this are willing to sacrifice for it and some are called to sacrifice a great deal and some are called to sacrifice very little but all are called and all should be called.  It is the greatness that is defined by the life of the woman we honor tonight, raising her family, starting a business, pursuing a dream, providing hope and direction and guidance to the next generation of children and leaders.  That’s what this country is about and the currentadministration and the current philosophy that’s in charge of our government doesn’t understand that, doesn’t appreciate it and pursues policies that help destroy it and that’s what elections are about.  That’s why it’s important for the Demorats to be engaged in this next election because we’re really fighting for something more than a sedat in Congress and seat in the Legislature, a governorship.  We’re fighting for what’s right about this country."

Vilsack then launched into a litany of Democratic platform pieces, like a hike in the minimum wage, civil rights, education, universal health care coverage (again), and such before closing to a round of applause and generally good post-speech reviews from people in the audience who weren’t peeved about the IA/NH "First" divorce.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. Kathy Sullivan says

    Sorry, but I have to correct you. Governor Vilsak did not call Ray, “Bob”. He called Bob, “Bob”. It was Bob Baines, the former mayor of Manchester, who went on about the food, and who intorduced the Governor. Raymond Buckley, the Manchester chair, was the emcee, but he did not do the intro of the Governor. Raymond is a vegetarian, and would never ask for a cheeseburger.
    Kathy Sullivan,
    New Hampshire Democratic Party

  2. Ray Buckley says

    I am also 15 years younger and 100 lbs heavier than the former mayor.

  3. fred bolen says

    Ray Buckley is the new face of the democrats in the country. Although gay, which is no longer a stigma, the videos on youtube will provide republicans with plenty of ammunition to beat on presidential candidates who associate with him. A recent look at the NH democratic web site shows hunderds of pictures of Hillary Clinton with people, not one is with Ray Buckley. Buckley has earned hundreds of enemies in NH, and not all of them are republican. His personal attacks and creepy lifestyle have made him the butt of jokes and attacks from everwhere. The sttae’s largest newspaper called for him to step out of the race. Stay tuned.