The news crews and bloggers, the reporters and the pundits have all descended onto Manchester, New Hampshire over the weekend. For one week every four years Manchester becomes the center of the universe, then when it’s all over all that’s left is the litter and smoke, the empty airwaves and nearly vacant coffee shops.
I went to downtown Manchester this afternoon to get some lunch and check out the action. The first thing I notice is that this year’s primary does not seem nearly as chaotic and busy as the one four years ago. Perhaps that’s because this is a Republican primary and we have a president seeking reelection. Perhaps it’s because people are just sick of politics all together. I don’t know, but I do know that primaries are good for business. Nearly every restaurant and café was packed.
I started off at JD’s Tavern, which is located inside the Radisson Hotel in Manchester. This is the media hotel, and from I sat, most people were from media. A few yards away Dan Rather was reporting. I didn’t see Rather, but his set looked impressive for a man who was all but disgraced during the last presidential election. As I tried to eat my lunch the man next to me asked if I was a reader (I was reading a book at the bar, working my way to the bottom of a pint of Blue Moon and trying to people watch at the same time.) I told him that I taught literature at a local university and we began to talk. His name was John Wolfe and he informed me that he was also running for President on the Democratic ticket. Mr. Wolfe is from Chattanooga, Tennessee and twice ran an unsuccessful bid for Senate. As a Democrat in perhaps the reddest state of the union, I could see why he was unsuccessful and told him so. He laughed and I was immediately put at ease by his personality. We spoke about the current political climate and he asked me if I thought that there was any real difference between Obama and Romney. When I replied that I didn’t think there was, he agreed and went into an explanation of why he was the best candidate for President. We talked for nearly twenty minutes and it was a pleasure to just sit back and listen to him without having to argue or interject.
When he left his seat at a Ron Paul supporter and two of his friends, also supporters of Dr. Paul sat at the bar. At first I enjoyed listening to them explain to me why Ron Paul was the only candidate qualified to beat Obama. When I brought up Paul’s lack of foreign policy they quickly, but politely, corrected me. Ron Paul, they said, was not an isolationist, but would put America first. I did not ask them to differentiate between North and South America. For the next ten minutes one of their group told me about an organization called State Freedom. It seems that State Freedom is an organization that is looking to all but secede from the Union. They are currently 11,000 strong, with over 1,000 members living in New Hampshire. And which state have they picked to be the post-government utopia? You guessed it, New Hampshire. This would give new meaning to our “Live Free or Die” motto. These people were clearly nuts, so I tried to make my escape. It took some time, but I was finally able to break free.
I then walked across the street to the Occupy New Hampshire area. Although there were several tents and people about, I thought to myself that I really didn’t believe in anything strongly enough to stand out in this cold. Nevertheless, the Occupy movement is a real presence here and they are mostly very smart, highly educated individuals who would like to see less corporate favors and more funds funneled back to the people. I can’t say I disagree.
It was bitter cold, so I stopped at a tavern called JW Hills. Walking through the door I spotted a well-dressed man whom I mistook for Derek Jeter. I became excited only to realize that the man in question was actually Harold Ford, ex-senator from Tennessee. Seated next to him was Joe Scarborough from the Morning Joe show. JW’s was full of media and I sat at the bar and ordered a Sam Winter. Scarborough got up and spoke with the person sitting two stools down from me. What did they talk about? Politics? Media? The chances of Iran developing a bomb? No. They talked about the Patriots. Football. Harold Ford got up and walked to the bathroom, and soon their party left.
The primary is tomorrow and I’ll be back on the streets to see how it all goes. Since I am an Independent, I can vote. The voting in New Hampshire is intense as people line up with signs all along entrances to voting stations here. Being in New Hampshire at this time of year is incredibly interesting. One just has to sit back and listen to the craziness and the half-baked ideas of how to become the next President of the United States to get a sense of what “political engagement” means in this fiercely independent-minded state.