By Ben Suazo, Assistant News Editor
Concorde, NH – In a televised speech, you can't hear the same flutter of camera shutters that must hover like a buzzing fly in the back of a candidate's mind. You see glimpses of the audience, but only in reaction to some of the questions. It can be easy to forget that the speaker has a living audience he is speaking to, and that the make up of that audience will influence the candidate's words and attitude.
Newt Gingrich made that point obvious Sunday in a Hudson, New Hampshire high school, where he began his discussion with a direct appeal to New Hampshire primary votes on the regional Northern Pass issue. Québec and Boston want to share electric power, he said, and to do that they will have to string power lines through beautiful, northern-New Hampshire tourism-country. But he would push for an alternative, underground connection and save the business-driving beauty of the affected land, according to Gingrich.
The issue is unlikely to come up in any other state (besides maybe Massachusetts) except in the context of environmental protection or job growth. What the issue does reveal is that each corner of the nation has its unique needs: just as Massachusetts and New Hampshire will be raising debates about energy and the natural landscape, the border states may highlight immigration and security, and so on with other regional concerns across the wide nation. The coming months will prove which localized issues will be heard the loudest in the upcoming, national presidential debates, and now is the best time to witness what concerns constituents are going to emphasize—the economy being an all-time favorite—or how the GOP candidates will distinguish their answers. As for the Democratic perspective, we'll worry about their contributions once it's more certain who they'll be up against.
Besides drawing my attention to the unique traits of New Hampshire, however, this weekend has also left me feeling nauseously aware of the calculated routes we have laid out for candidates to win their party's nomination. We've seen Rick Santorum and Ron Paul reach across intimate, "town hall" settings for a deliberate atmosphere of closeness and equality, much like sitting in an Occupy Wall Street meeting. Romney and Gingrich went the way of a more musical, pep rally introduction this weekend, preferring the prestige of a stage or a podium. The result is the warmth of a family gathering for the former style, a powerhouse of enthusiasm for the latter, and an incredible weight of hope and expectation from the audience, directed at anyone with the guts or the gall to command the center of each particular debate.
I'll admit, when you experience an isolated rally—Romney's speech in an opera house, for instance, where you get warm introductions to three of his sons and their extended family—it can be easy to forget how much preparation went into that presentation. Compare Romney's meeting to Ron Paul's armchair conference directly afterwards in a rural-area hotel, and you begin to think about exactly how much of a candidate's speech was calculated for a specific reaction. Throw in the repetitions between the candidates—the name "Ronald Reagan" was uttered so many times it could have been a drinking game—and you begin to question how much of his platform a candidate actually believes, and how much of his platform was programmed by the GOP and campaign contributors.
And does it even matter? Surely if you like the way people present themselves and their ideas, then you will like however they may use their office as the president. But then, consider that there's a huge difference between, say, liking John Mayer's music and looking up to him as a role model. I'm not going to take a stance on whether or not Mayer should run for president; my point is simply that this weekend has left me even more unsure whether a person's talent in public will ever translate to an admirable and trustworthy character in private.
Hofstra enjoys the limelight
Besides witnessing political celebrities and debating contentious issues among ourselves, Hofstra goes to New Hampshire has also supplied some students with the chance to speak to prominent candidates and express their opinions to a national audience.
Ashlyn Grisetti, Elisa Tang and Samantha Mulz could be seen speaking to reporters in front of a camera at nearly every event they attended on Sunday afternoon. In Rochester, they sat on stage behind Mitt Romney; at both Romney's rally and in Meredith with Ron Paul, they were interviewed with bright lights and cameras held to their faces.
"In a way, it just happened—but you have to take the opportunity to be aggressive and take advantage of the experience," said Tang, who, like both of her friends, is a first-year. "It's nice to meet their supporters and hear different sides to make your own decision."
At the Romney rally, the three found themselves subjected to another special treat. When they were first pulled aside and asked if they would like to sit on stage, they did not anticipate that their neighbor would be personally tied to the Romney campaign.
"We met someone who was close with the family," said Grisetti. "She introduced us to Ann [Mitt Romney's wife]."
The woman also introduced them to journalists for the Washington Post, Tang added.
"It's surreal to be on the same stage as someone [as famous as Romney]," said Mulz, and her friends nodded their agreement.
A stop in Manchester, NH exposes students to political protests
When we stopped Sunday evening for dinner in Manchester, Professor David Green hoped we might be able to witness some of the town's eccentric street theater. We were disappointed by relatively quiet streets, but one area that drew everyone's eyes was that of the colorful signs and tents of an Occupy New Hampshire settlement in Veterans Memorial Park. One particularly large sign declared the protest as "Occupy New Hampshire Primary," a reminder that the protesters were well aware of the nearby millionaire candidates and obvious targets of their protest.
Immediately, much of our group moved towards the camp to take in the protesters' signs, chalk art and costumes. I joined a conversation with a young journalist who seemed to be especially interested in the way Occupy Wall Street was being perceived in its early stages. He reminded us that the gap between Rosa Parks' protest and the Civil Rights Act was nearly a full decade, whereas the Occupy Wall Street movement remains less than four months young.
His points were interesting and encouraging for anyone who supports the principles behind the movement, especially its advocacy for separating money and politics. Kayla Rivara added some of her thoughts on the power and visibility of the Occupy movement, in one of the many, many debates brought onto the bus.
"I [have heard] complaints that Occupy Wall Street disrupts a city's aesthetics, that it catered to the homeless and so-called lazy Americans," Rivara said. She pointed out that the "shantytown" appearance of the movement, however, is a tangible mirror of those same high unemployment rates that we now often cite and fear.
"What I admire [about OWS] is that it honestly caters to...reality, where you actually have people getting kicked out of their homes," Rivara said. "One third of Americans are below or near the poverty line…it's powerful to have the visual."
Bringing politics home to Hofstra
After following this first primary of the year and eyeing the national debates, perhaps you wonder how you can get an academic foothold on the many discussions that are sure to come before we host a presidential debate.
"I would recommend Comparative Politics and International Politics, and Politics of the Middle East," offered senior Etana Jacobi. "I would also highly recommend Global Studies 001…or 002…as a way of understanding the complexities of globalization and how they manifest themselves."
Students may also be interested in courses offered by the Political Science professors who hosted Hofstra goes to New Hampshire: we owe considerable thanks to David Green, Rosanna Perotti, Richard Himelfarb and Paul Van Wie for organizing a nonstop and highly engaging tour of the primary and its figures.
Full footage from all of the New Hampshire primary events is available on C-SPAN's website: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/topic/54
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*This article was revised January 11, 2011 to read "One third of Americans are below or near the poverty line..."