Saturday, June 30, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards in Lexington

Here’s a tip for faithful readers: You know something matters to Lou when she hops in the ol’ (check engine light’s been on for months) jalopy and drives a significant distance to be there. Mama don’t like to drive.

But this morning, jalopy (still proudly emblazoned with the Kerry/Edwards ’04 bumper sticker) and I chugged our way down Highway 64 all the way to Lexington to see Elizabeth Edwards at a Small Change for Big Change fundraiser. I’d started to think that there wouldn’t be many people there. The Edwards campaign had been emailing me daily for weeks and had called me twice within the past few days. Lexington seemed an unlikely venue—a much redder city than Louisville in this red state.

Yeah, I was a little wrong about that one. I got to the Downtown Arts Center fifteen minutes early, secured a second-row seat in the black box theater, and looked sympathetically at the campaign workers, desperately trying to fill the seats behind the stage so that, on camera, it would look like there was a significant crowd.

And then people just kept coming and coming, and pretty soon all the seats were filled and people were sitting on stairs, standing in the corners, getting a little cranky as time ticked by, 5pm came and went, and still no Mrs. Edwards.

Then the head of the Young Democrats of Kentucky took the stage, apologized for the wait and explained that Mrs. Edwards was on CNN as he spoke, talking to Wolf Blitzer. The crowd let forth a harmonious, “Oooooohhhh!”

Jonathan Miller, Chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party and State Treasurer, introduced Mrs. Edwards. Handsome and eloquent, Miller seemed genuinely behind the Edwards campaign and cited Mrs. Edwards’s recent spat with Ann “I sold my soul to the devil for pretty blonde hair” Coulter as evidence that with Mrs. Edwards we would be sure to have a First Lady of genuine grace and civility. This came up often during the evening, people congratulating Mrs. Edwards on her strength and courage.

She’s shorter than she looks on TV and in pictures. And older, too. She took the stage with confidence, spoke eloquently about every single issue that the audience threw at her, and genuinely knew her stuff.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been married once, and never at any point during my marriage—even the salad days, though there were admittedly few— would I have ever, ever trusted my husband to speak for me and represent my beliefs to anyone, anywhere. That’s probably a shit example because, clearly, we were not on the same page (any page, ever). Heck, I’ve dated some amazing men, men whom I felt deeply understood me and my beliefs, and still, I never in a million years would have been comfortable with them going out and yammering on about what I think to anyone, anywhere.

But Mrs. Edwards seemed “on message” 100% of the time. And her husband’s policies seem to be her own as well. This is an amazing thing. She didn’t just buy in; it was apparent that she had co-authored or co-imagined these ideas. And that’s what impressed me most. John and Elizabeth Edwards have a vision for America. And it’s a good one.

In her opening remarks (which were brief, she said, so she could get to questions), she mentioned that her 30th wedding anniversary was coming up next month, and as they were moving, she’d come across her wedding album with a copy of their wedding vows. In their wedding vows, John and Elizabeth pledged to not only love and protect, but also to work together to help those who were less fortunate. She said that back then it seemed like the optimistic vision of two na├»ve 20-somethings, but that in retrospect, “it’s been the map for our lives.”

Lord, if you can’t love that then…

I had the privilege of being able to ask a question. I told her that tomorrow—today, now—marks my one-year anniversary of living in Louisville after having moved here from New Orleans. I thanked her and her husband for the attention that they have paid to my home city. And I asked her what John would do, specifically, to help rebuild the levees in New Orleans. She didn’t really directly get to the heart of my question except to say that she knew that John wanted to assemble the “best minds” of engineering from all around the world to address that issue. But what impressed me most is that she said that as soon as he was in office, he would appoint “one person” who would be the liaison to the city that would report to him “daily.” Someone who—every day—he would ask, “What did you do for New Orleans yesterday?” Wholly accountable to him.

Not bad. It’s a start.

She answered questions about outsourcing (we pay taxes and companies who send business overseas are subsidized? That’s bullshit.), healthcare (100% universal, citizens paying no more than 4% of their wages), immigration (use unmanned drones to detect border crossers, penalize people who hire unlawful immigrants, give immigrants and their families a clear path—with penalty involved— to citizenship), cancer (if cancer were a nation, we’d wage war, better fund the NIH), the loss of her son (it’s like having your leg cut off, no one asks you if you’re over the loss of your leg, you just learn to walk on one leg), Veterans’ benefits (each Vet should be assigned one case worker who is also a Vet), and the war in Iraq (John is really, really sorry he voted for it), all with integrity and good humor.

When talking about immigration, she said that even though there’s no “ding” on the door, when you walk into Blockbuster, even if you can’t see a worker, some worker somewhere, says, “Welcome to Blockbuster!” If they have the technology to know that someone has entered Blockbuster, why can’t we use that same technology to detect when an immigrant has crossed the border? (And what IS that technology anyway?)

When talking about her battle with cancer, she said that when people say that they pray for her health, she tells them to, instead, pray for the health of Supreme Court Justice Stevens.

A woman, a cancer survivor, gave her a necklace that she has worn every day for the past ten years. Mrs. Edwards remarked on the sisterhood of cancer patients and apologized for not being able to put it on because chemo had caused neuropathy in her hands and she can no longer button the clothes of her children or grasp the clasp of jewelry. It made me cry. A terrible reminder that this is a woman who could be dying. It was the first question (comment) of the evening, and no matter how jazzed up you could be from that point on, it just felt so horrid and wrong that this voice was springing from a woman in deep, mortal pain.

One of the last comments of the evening came from a man who self-identified as a registered Republican, but whose son had died of cancer in March. He’d written a book about it and gave it to her, asking if she would read it and consider giving him a blurb. For those of you who don’t know (and bless the Edwardses for not putting this more center-stage), Wade Edwards, their 16 year old son, was killed in a car crash in 1996. Wade, by all accounts, was a remarkable kid. And as a response to his death, the Edwardses founded the Wade Edwards Foundation which funds an after-school program for students in North Carolina, and he is an inspiration for the Edwards campaign policy to make the first year of college free for every American.

When in the presence of Elizabeth Edwards, it’s so easy to imagine her at the helm of this country in one way or another. It’s a keen reminder of how disappointing the wife of the Current Occupant has been. Seems like Laura Bush’s only achievement has been convincing her husband to read “some Shakespeares” from time to time. And that’s a sight better than her mother-in-law, who seemed like a pretty nice lady, but who upon visiting Katrina evacuees in the Astrodome said that “so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this--this (she chuckles slightly) is working very well for them."

Unlike these ladies-who-lunch, Mrs. Edwards calls to mind another strong and strong-headed First Lady. Dare I say it, but there’s a whiff of Hilary Rodham Clinton to her.

I came to the event 95% sure that Edwards was my man. I left and immediately affixed the bumper sticker to the jalopy. It’s official, folks, the Loueyville website heretofor endorses John Edwards for the Democratic Nominee in 2008, and without question endorses Edwards for president.

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Rodrigo said...
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