“Tomorrow Begins Today”

2008 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards stopped in Des Moines this evening for a "town hall" meeting with a crowd one security guard insisted was over 2500 (YouTube video).  There were 500 chairs set up on the main floor (all were occupied), "scads" of people were standing, and some people sitting on the press riser or standing in the press area.  Then, conferring with others who saw the people standing on the two floors above the main floor, the concensus was there were over 1500 there.  That is larger than the crowd Governor Tom Vilsack had in Mt. Pleasant for his announcement.

The Edwards campaign had an interesting music mix to fire up the crowd as it waited for the candidate, including songs from rapper Kanye West and Elvis.  I spotted Ed Fallon, the third-place finisher in the June Democratic gubernatorial primary in the crowd wearing his brand new Edwards campaign button.  Fallon, who told me Edwards was his second choice last time around, is backing Edwards in 2008.

What follows after the jump is my typewritten notes of the speech, then a little about what happened afterwards:

The Foo Fighters’ song "Times Like These" blares over the loudspeaker, but just before the music starts I can hear Edwards turn to someone with him off-stage and say "This feels like a campaign."

The sound person doesn’t fade the music, so Edwards’ opening line of "It’s great to be back in Iowa" isn’t on my tape, but I can hear him say it to the crowd.  Then, Edwards’ next words are in my headphones:  "It’s even better to be back as a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America.  (he thanked people for coming…etc.)  "There are a lot of people packed in here and I can already feel the heat." 

"I also want to welcome…the on-line audience."

….I’ve been to Iowa a time or two.  Caucus-goers in Iowa have a few questions, so I want to make sure I have time to answer your questions…(talked about announcement in New Orleans earlier today)…

"This coat is not going to work," Edwards interjected, taking off his jacket and handing it to a staffer as the crowd applauded and at least one woman in the crowd whooped. 

…I don’t want us to stand by and wait for the next president…We want to begin taking responsibility and taking action now.  We want to start doing things now to make this country better.

I know that many of you are already members of our One Corps organization…helping with so many of the issues that we’re faced with…there’s so many things that we can do, but I want all of you to participate…(Claims over 100 chapters formed today…told crowd to go to www.johnedwards.com or text on phone "hope"

"The whole notion is that we need to bring about the change…I learned a lot from the campaign…because I’ve seen what people can do when they decide to take responsibility and take action…(praised six states for passing minimum wage increase, unions for increasing membership)…Which is an important cause because it strengthens the middle class…(talked about going to Uganda)…We don’t stay at home and just complain…We will have a national day of action next month…This campaign will be a grassroots campaign.  We want people to hear our voice and I want to hear the voices…i want to hear from you…We want you engaged and involved.  That’s what this is about. 

(restore America”s moral leadership in the world — applause.  "It’s an unfortunate fact…it would be an enormous mistake…to escalate this war in Iraq.  (loud applause)  What’ we should do is make it clear we’re not going to stay in Iraq and the best way to do that is to actually start leaving."

We need to tell the truth about what happened in Iraq in the past and what’s happening now.  Many of us, including me, believed there were WMD in Iraq….I voted for this war…I take responsibility for that.  I’m not responsible for the conduct of this war (Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld do)….Where we are now is we have bad and worse choices…no matter what path we take…The American people deserve to hear the truth.

…There’s so many ways for us to show what we care about (Darfur, Sudan)….What have we done?…I was in Uganda where enormous attrocities are being committed…Thousands of children being born in Africa with AIDS…global warming a huge issue…and America walks away from Kioto.  What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world?

…We need our leaders to be willing to ask the American people…to sacrifice about something other than just war.  (applause) We need to say to America we need to move away from our addition to oil….invest in clean, alternative sources of energy (applause)…but it’s not enough.  We’re actually going to have to be willing to conserve.

….One way to pay for it is to put a tax on the excessive profits of oil companies. (loud applause)

…This is not a feel good thing, although I’d like to feel good again…We were the light, the model for the entire world….We need to be in that place again and for that to happen…we’re going to have to show that we’re engaged with the rest of the world and we also need to show not just what we’re willing to do over there but what we’re willing to do to be the model for the rest of the world.

…When are we going to say…we must and we demand universal health care for all Americans. (loud applause)…I’m actually working on a health care plan…a truly universal health care plan not access to health care or affordable health care.

….How can America be the model for the rest of the world…when 37 million of our own people (are poor)?  We’re better than this. 

…There’s so much that we can do for those who claim there’s nothing you can do…some of it’s not complicated:  raising the minimum wage, expanding the earned income tax credit…We have got to make it easier not harder for workers to organized unions in the workplace (as a means of rebuilding the middle class)…If somebody can join the Republican Party by just signing a card, any worker in America should be able to join a union by doing exactly the same thing.

…Giving kids access to college…If you’re willing to work for the first year of college, we’ll pay your tuition and books…so don’t carry around all this debt for a decade or longer. (applause)

…We need to change our national housing policy…We concentrate poor people togther…not healthy, not good for our democracy and it just feeds the cycle of poverty.  (proposes 1 million housing vouchers not for large-scale low-income housing, but housing anywhere to promote mobility and stability, according to Edwards).

…It is not right for us to just throw money at this problem…what we should do is say to people…that we expect them to help themselves.  We expect people who are able to work to work.  We have to address some of these hot issues about responsibility (talked about teen pregnancy).

…We’ve got to make these young men believe again.  All of these things…are things that require action from us. The truth of the matter is I’ve learned a lot…if we want to bring about the change…we cannot stand by and hope somebody else is going to do it for us.  The power in America is not in Washington, D.C.  It’s out here…The government alone can’t do it…How long is it going to take us to figure that out? 

…I came here to ask you to join me in that cause…God bless you…(speech ends)

The first question came from a woman who said she was from Boston, MA, and she asked about immigration.  Edwards’ answer:  "only reasonable course" is to secure southern border and to provide way to find way for illegal immigrants who’ve been here for a while and contributing to economy to find a way to become American citizens.  "I think it is important to say…that there are some requirements."  (pay a fine, learn to speak English)

Second question is from Gary Smith from Iowa City.  It’s about the federal deficit and federal debt.  Edwards said the "honest answer" is "there is a tension" between desire to balance budget and the need to ivnest in making America strong in the 21st centry.  "If we’re honest…you cannot have universal health care and invest in energy and make a serious effort to eliminate poverty…and do some of the work…that America needs to do around the world…those things are incompatible with one another." Edwards said there would be "hard judgements" and "those are higher priorities to me than eliminating the deficit.  I don’t want to make the deficit worse…but in the short term, if we don’t take the steps…in my judgement (America won’t remain strong for the rest of the century if certain steps aren’t taken at home and abroad).

Third question from a kid in the crowd:  "I’m going to make my mom and dad vote for you," he told Edwards.  The crowd applauded and laughed.  "That’s my nephew, by the way," Edwards joked in return.

The fourth question was about from a guy from Des Moines who asked about stem cell research.  "I think it’s critical," Edwards said.  Current lImitations are "driven by ideology not science," according to Edwards.  "If you go to our research universities…they will tell you this work is going somewhere else…For America to remain a powerful force economically…we have got to be on the cutting edge of everything."

The fifth question was from a woman from Des Moines who asked why the US still sends aid to Israel.  "I don’t think you’re going to like my answer to that question," Edwards said.  He talked about a recent visit to Israel.  "Israel’s in a very difficult situation," Edwards said, noting surrounding countries, especially Iran, want to wipe Israel off the map.  "It’s just difficult to see how the leaders of a country that are in a hostile environment…surrounded by some who wish their destruction…and don’t even recognize your right to exist…America has to keep its committment to support Israel’s security"  (side by side with a stable Palestinian state).

The sixth question was from a person on-line in Washington state who asked Edwards to explain his vote to go to war for Iraq.  "I don’t blame somebody else for this.  I take full responsibility for it," Edwards started.  "A lot of us were conflicted..but I made a decision…and I should not have voted for this war."  Edwards said he got "direct" information because at the time he was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, buttressed by information from former Clinton Administration officials who "confirmed and said exactly the same thing" that we were hearing in the Intelligence Committee.  "I had real serious conflicts about whether George Bush would do what was right…but at the end of the day I voted yes and I should not have."

The seventh question was from a Des Moines man who asked about energy policy.  "It’s real encouraging that you acknowledge that global warming exists," the man told Edwards, then he asked whether Edwards would back a carbon tax.  Global warming is a "huge threat" to the world according to Edwards. 

The eighth question was from a school teacher from Rockford, IL, and she asked for Edwards’ opinion about No Child Left Behind law.  Edwards said he hosted a conference at his poverty center in North Carolina a few weeks ago where education experts from across the country gathered, and Edwards said the consensus was that the best single answer to the education crisis would be to pay teachers an $85,000 annual salary to attract the best and brightest to the profession.  As for NCLB, Edwards said tests should measure an individual child’s progress through the year.

The ninth question was another teacher who said racism and prejudice still exist in America, but no politician is addressing the problem.  "It’s not something that politicians like to talk about, for some reason," Edward said.  He said "just under the surface" racism still exists.  "We don’t want to make it a bigger problem than it already is.  We don’t want to use it as a wedge…but I think some honesty is required..There are no easy solutions to this…I personally am a strong supporter of affirmative action…But I think we also need to have a national dialogue…to talk about this issue."  The woman followed up by asking if MLK Day could be made a national holiday like Thanksgiving, so everybody would have the day off to think, like Thanksgiving.  "I’m all for it," Edwards replied.

The tenth question was from a man who complained about the advent of gasoline-consuming race tracks and highways filled with semis rather than reliance on a rail system as a less-energy-consuming alternative.  Edwards expanded on his previous answer, but added that raising a "carbon tax" would hit the poor hardest because it would add dramatically to the cost of filling the tank wtih gas.  "It’s regressive in nature," Edwards said.  "It hits people hardest who are the poorest."

The eleventh question was from a man who said "First of all, I’d like to compliment you on your presence.  You look very presidential."  The crowd applauded.  "Well, thanks," said Edwards, who was wearing a blue shirt and khakis with a brown belt.  His sleeves, by this time, were rolled up.  "And I’m probably the only one in the building but I did vote for George Bush and have been a lifetime Republican.  I liked him when he was in Texas…but he’s gone way beyond anything that’s reasonable as president." 

Edwards interrupts at this point:  "Does that mean we’re bringing you around?"  The crowd applauds. 

"I keep going back to my father.  He said:  ‘Vote for the man, not for the party,’" the audience member replied. 

"Good for you. Good for you," Edwards murmured. 

"As president you’re going to inherit Iraq," the man continued, asking Edwards what specifically he’d do regarding helping returning and injured veterans of the war, how to build up the military, and how he’d conduct foreign relations with Iran in particular.

"It’s a good question," Edwards said.  Edwards said there is an "enormous strain" on the individual men and women serving in the military, going back to Iraq on their third deployment, who are in the Sunni triangle or in Baghdad.  "They live every single minute, 24 hours a day, in danger," Edwards said.  "…The mental and stressful effects on our men and women…are extraordinary…Our military’s being stretched to the absolute limits."  Edwards said he would not reinstate the draft, but would try to "enlarge the size" of the military in order to "have the capacity" to deal with what may crop up in the world in the future.  Edwards said Afghanistan was slipping, with the Taliban resurging and the poppy trade starting up again.  "As to Iran and diplomacy, it is in my judgement sheer stupidity to say we will not deal with our enemies," Edwards said.  "We’re not required to give up anything and in the case of Iran we should be directly negotiating with the Iranian government."  Edwards, though, said he can understand why President Bush does not want to negotiate directly with Iran’s president.

"How ’bout this gentleman right here with the Iowa (Hawkeyes) shirt on?" Edwards said as he pointed to the next man in the crowd who held his hand up to ask a question.  "I’ve got to tell you somebody gave me a Hawkeye shirt for Christmas," Edwards continued.

The Carlisle man wearing the shirt then asked how Edwards might advise congress how to conduct hearings to find out the truth behind how the Bush Administration led the country into Iraq.

"I think the solution to this is to have a Democratic president so we don’t have to deal with this issue," Edwards began.  The crowd applauded.  Edwards then said he was confident "Nancy and Harry" could conduct hearings in a responsible way "making it clear" they’re not interested in impeachment or a "partisan fight." 

As Edwards answered this final question, he made a quip about his "outsider" status.  "I’m not in Washington anymore.  Not too upset about that at this moment," Edwards said, then lowered his voice to add:  "Maybe I’ll go back." Somebody in the crowd said "Woo hoo, and the applause started. 

Edwards closed his answer, and the event, with this:  "You know, I love the Democratic Party. I love my country more and I want to see us do what we need to do that’s good for America.  Thank you all very much.  It’s great to be back here in Iowa. It’s wonderful to be with all of you.  Thank you for coming."

The sound man then started the exit music, John Mellencamp’s "This Is Our Country."  As Edwards made his way through the crowd, the Christina Aquilera song "Aint’ No Other Man" was the background music chosen by the Edwards folks (or the sound guy himself).

It’s getting late.  Tomorrow I’ll write up the Q&A between Edwards & reporters that happened afterwards.

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About O.Kay Henderson

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