Banner over Main Street, 2016

Each Presidential Election year, I take photos of events starting with the primaries and ending with an all day series on election day. Last year was no different and to mark a full year since the Trump victory, I looked through my Politics photo file and decided to share some of the moments I’ve captured over the years. It kind of evolved into something more.

John King, Hollis NH, 2008

My first foray into primary politics was at a small pharmacy in Hollis New Hampshire (owned by a loyal GOP donor) the day after the 2008 Iowa Caucuses, where Barack Obama officially became a front runner in that race. That morning, both Hillary Clinton and John McCain were in New Hampshire, and I went to this little store to wait for the Straight Talk Express bus to pull up. There I found CNN’s John King deep in thought. (Off topic: I just noticed the framed Corona beer sign on the right. Interesting counterpoint to the stenciling on the left. That’s New Hampshire for you.)

As the pharmacy began to fill up with media and the very few voters who could squeeze in, King would chat with people between writing emails and taking calls on his blackberry – at the time juggling devices like this was still rather extraordinary. A native of Dorchester, MA, the bitterly cold morning was not bothering him even though he admitted that most days he wasn’t even sure where he was as long as he was on the heels of a candidate.

John McCain, Hollis, NH, 2008

Senator McCain arrived with former Senator Warren Rudman (not pictured here) whose endorsement was announced at this event. He shook hands with the few citizens who were within reach  – most had been pushed back into the aisles of band aids and shaving cream behind him. The tiny pharmacy was so jammed that Cindy McCain chose to stay on the bus, and the chaos was intense enough that McCain never again scheduled a campaign appearance at a private business. At the time I thought he looked old and tired, but compared with the man today, he looks positively chipper.

Press Pool at the Nashua Airport, January 2008

Meanwhile, Senator Hillary Clinton was flying in to speak in a hangar at the Nashua Airport, where there was plenty of room for the media.

Hillary Clinton buttons and tee shirts for sale, 2008

And, unlike McCain, lots of merch.

Hillary Clinton unveils her new campaign bus, January 2008

Clinton’s airport event included the unveiling of her new campaign bus, intended to be a counter punch to the straight talk express. Alas, Obama’s victory was all anyone could talk about.

Bill and Chelsea Clinton watch Hillary speak the morning after her defeat by Barack Obama in the Iowa caucuses, 2008

As she got up to speak, the the expressions of former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea pretty much said it all.

Hillary Clinton speaks at the Nashua, NH Airport, January 2008

Like the pharmacy, the hangar had more media in it than voters but the campaign was sure to create good optics for the event.

Bill Clinton works the crowd at the Nashua Airport on behalf of Hillary, January 2008

What they didn’t show was Bill working the crowd like he was still the candidate.

Braving the elements for Obama on Super Tuesday in Groton, MA 2008
Super Tuesday voter and friend, March 2008

Super Tuesday, 2008.

I didn’t take my camera to the polls in November, 2008. I was preoccupied with other things and also didn’t want to jinx it. I wish I’d thought of that in 2016.

 

Barack Obama campaigns in Manchester, NH, October 2012

In October 2012, President Obama campaigned in New Hampshire. The group of voters on the bleachers in front of us brought giant pieces of foam core cut to spell OBAMA.

A homemade Obama sign, 2012

I thought of this home made sign a lot in the fall of 2016, when the side of this house and whole lot of yards were empty.

In 2008, the slogan was “Hope.” In 2012, Obama perhaps understood that his path forward would be blocked at every turn by an obstinate and xenophobic Congress.

Mitt Romney was undone by a comment about the 57%. How quaint.

Screen shot of the Five Thirty Eight election analysis, November 6, 2012

Nate Silver and his Five Thirty Eight statistical analysis first emerged in 2008 and changed the face of political prognosticating for good.

 

Screen shot of a Facebook post of the NYT front page, November 7, 2012

Foreshadowing: For a lot of people, this was as close as they got to the front page of a New York Times – by 2012 more people were getting their news online than ever before, and the influence of Facebook on the electorate in 2016 is a story that is still unfolding.

Elizabeth Warren’s victory over Scott Brown proved that, at long last, a woman could win a state-wide election in Massachusetts. Niki Tsongas is giving up her seat in 2018, leaving Veterans without one of their strongest advocates in Congress. It’s a race to watch.

 

Pro-Trump yard signs in Westford, MA, Fall 2016

2016 was an ugly campaign in so many ways, illustrated by this display I drove by several times each week. The house (unseen here) looks like Boo Radley might live there. The center side says “Jail Hillary.”

Anti-Hillary yard sign in Ayer, MA, Fall 2016

Someone actually had these signs printed up – and we live in a blue state.

Clinton-Kaine sign across from a dinosaur mailbox, Fall 2016

By the time I took this photo I was starting to get the hint. There weren’t nearly as many signs up as in 2008 or 2012.

Three Trump sign displays in MA and NH, November 8, 2016

Hillary ultimately won the states in which these signs appeared, but the strength of Trump’s message and how it was delivered could not be denied. A year later, there are still some Trump signs posted, despite local ordinances saying political signs must be removed after an election.

This New Hampshire sign, backlit by the early morning sun on Election day, marks the moment where I first felt that Trump might win. I had been driving down a road dotted with Trump sings and no Hillary signs and I had to pull over to get this shot.

Democrats at a MA polling place, November 8, 2016

And then, at a local polling place, all of my shots of this group had this line through them. All of them.

Republicans at a MA polling place, November 8, 2016

Over in the shade, at the same polling place, these steadfast women held their ground.

Republican supporters at the entrance to a polling place, November 8, 2016

Out on the main road, Trump supporters dominated the entrance to the polling place. Again, Hillary won the town and the state, but you’d never know it from the signs.

The beginning and end of our day – we started with cake and ended with booze. At one point while watching the returns – everyone else had gone to bed – I needed to stress eat so much I took Christmas cookies from 2015 out of the freezer and ate them. They were delicious, but needless to say they didn’t help.

I watched all of the debates, read the news, and sat in disbelief that people could be diverted by Benghazi and email servers. I was befuddled by references to Russia, annoyed by anything having to do with the Clinton Foundation, and furious with all the free media time given – without rebuttal or correction to the endless lies – to the Trump rallies. Bannon and Conway were admired for their Machiavellian brilliance with absolutely no understanding of what that might mean for America.

iPad screen shot, November 9, 2016

We woke up to this.

Even though it has taken me a year to process the results of the 2016 election, I am no longer mystified by the reality of President Trump. There is no single reason for a success even he did not anticipate. If he really thought he would win, he and his associates would have hidden their ties to Russia better. I underestimated the antipathy of voters toward the Clintons (yes, plural) and the tone-deafness and sheer incompetence of the Democratic party. One need only look at the pitiful minimum wages and job losses in key states like Michigan to see that the Democrats lost touch with their base and did not take care of working class people at the state or federal levels. Whether Bernie Sanders could have solved that problem is a question that will be long debated but never answered, because he was never tested by the fires of a general election.

The Weinstein scandal came too late to help Hillary, but there is no guarantee that wouldn’t have backfired, too. Bill Clinton’s harassment, perjury, hypocrisy, draft-dodging and perpetual obfuscation paved the way for Donald Trump to do the same things, only exponentially worse because he has surrounded himself by people who, like him, are morally bankrupt, scientifically illiterate and clueless about governing. Add to that the unanticipated mendacity of Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence and John Kelly – the “cooler heads” we kept telling ourselves would prevail in a Trump administration – and we are left with the too little too late types embodied in Jeff Flake and John McCain, whose political careers are effectively, almost tragically, over anyway.

And so we are left with a leadership – and in some ways moral – vacuum in the Democratic party.  Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer had worn out their welcomes with the larger electorate by 2014, but their fundraising prowess obscured their lack of appeal to the next generation of voters, who were looking for a champion like Bernie and the only thing the democrats had to offer was…Bernie. Debbie Wasserman Schultz proved herself to be the Democratic versin or Reince Priebus – and somehow she got re-elected. Now, as in 2014, Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken are doing all of the heavy lifting. I haven’t read Donna Brazile’s book yet, but it appears she is owning the failures of her own party, and taking a terrible hit for telling it like it is – or was.

Even if the Trump presidency does not last, the GOP line of succession still guarantees that moneyed interests will prevail over the common good. The Democrats still have not figured out who is a worthy successor to Barack Obama. The solution is maddeningly simple in theory: authenticity. It’s what Obama has down to his very fingertips, and what every major Democrat with a wide audience beyond but Franken and Warren lacks. Franken and Warren are the first to admit they are not the saviors of the party, but they do set an example for what a competent Congress looks like. It’s a start.

As for what happens next, Robert Draper wrote a must-read piece on this topic in the November 1 New York Times Magazine. The money quote comes from an Army veteran named Bill Hyers, who helped create a brilliant ad for a challenger to Paul Ryan’s House seat. Referring to Pelosi and company, he says:

“What’s terrible about Democrats like [former congressman, democratic strategist, White House chief of staff and current Mayor of Chicago] Rahm Emanuel,” Hyers said, “is that it matters more to them if you’re a candidate who can raise money from very wealthy people than if you have an argument to make. They look at everything through the old Clinton triangulation strategy. Put out very carefully prepared statements. Don’t let anyone get to your right. Deny and ignore. Never have an honest dialogue. It was a bad strategy back in the ’90s. But it’s even worse today, because we can now have 24-7 access to candidates, and people can see when they’re not being authentic. Everything Hillary Clinton did was carefully scripted — they could see that.”

We need a Bernie Sanders for the 21st Century or we could very likely end up reliving in the 19th century.

President Obama, driving away from a campaign rally, October 2012

Hoping that the Present Generation of Veterans Gets the Same Kind of Respect We Give the Greatest Generation

Dad in WW2

Right now that hope is a little dim, given that the wars we have now are coming to a close (if we can call it that) with more of a whimper than a VE Day/VJ Day bang.

NPR ran a touching story on Honor Flight New England, an organization that offers free trips to DC for WW II vets so they can visit the monuments to their service. One surviving vet said, though long-held tears, that in all the years since he came home he thought of his service as a waste – he buried those memories and never spoke about it. On this trip, however, he said he finally understood that his service meant something and, knowing how grateful people are for his service,  he would do it again ten times over. A number of people said that the veterans in their family never spoke of the war or showed any interest in war movies or documentaries. That came as somewhat of a relief to me because my father only spoke of his service in the Pacific the war in small details, although he watched every episode of The World at War and read every book it though the years. He was so pleased when his war buddy came to town – a towering man named Jim who, in uniform as I recall, would delight us with his strength by tearing a phone book in half.

Dad would pull out the atlas and show me the places with exotic names in the Philipines where he was a harbor pilot. I was very young when we did this together – we made a game out of my mispronunciation of Catbalogan – and it seemed to me then that he felt kind of lucky to be an Iowa boy navigating the ocean on big ships. I once asked him why he didn’t drink coffee and he said “I had a lifetime’s worth of coffee in the war.” That’s as much as I ever recall hearing about life on a Navy ship. After he died in 1992, I read his letters home to his mother and they seemed to chronicle the times in ways that were unremarkable. In the few photos I have of him, he is smiling. Some people interpret this as him blocking out the mean experiences of war – that there were stories too terrible to be told. I really don’t know.

What strikes me now is that in the age of instant global communication, we are not under any illusion about what our soldiers are facing overseas. They do not have the luxury, if you can a call it that, of burying the atrocities of war when they come home. It’s on TV, the internet and at the movies. The Greatest Generation had On the Town, South Pacific and From Here to Eternity – our guys have PlatoonThe Hurt Locker, and Jarhead. I suspect there won’t be a musical about Afghanistan any time soon.

We are losing more soldiers to suicide at home than we are  on deployment. It’s hard to know what to do to help, although we should make sure vets get the mental health services they need and their benefits on time, neither of which is happening now. In the meantime, I hope that, unlike some of the men in the NPR story, today’s servicemen and women don’t have to wait 60 years to hear their fellow citizens say “thank you.”

DSC01780 - Version 2

Thank you.

Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?

The last photo I took before I whacked my head on the ice
The last photo I took before I whacked my head on the ice

Four years ago today I went out to play with the kids and take photos in the snow. Two minutes into it I slipped on smooth ice under the snow and landed on my head and watched the Presidential Inauguration through the fog of a mild concussion (Hillary Clinton, I feel your pain). Sometimes it still hurts on that spot at the back of my head, and it hurts, too, to know that not everything has gone as well as we had hoped over the last four years. We feel more divided and less safe and we are still at war, but we seem to be making progress in a lot of important areas even as we fall behind in others.

It's not as easy to believe as it once was, but I still do
It’s not as easy to believe as it once was, but I still do

In 2009, we were elated at the historical significance of Barack Obama’s election and also in survival mode from the Great Recession. Then, we were looking at some huge milestones for our kids and wondering how we would survive those. Now, we are satisfied from having accomplished so much, proud of our children, but weary and a little worried about the world we are handing to them. It is a new kind of uncertainty, informed by the realization that talking about peace and compromise are so much easier than accomplishing them – and we really thought we knew that. Sometimes it’s like the 1970s all over again, just with better clothes and more cynicism (which I didn’t think was possible).

I still have high hopes for our President, still feel the same thrill at seeing the monuments and marble corridors in Washington that we have visited a few times in recent years, still look ahead optimistically to the next milestones for our family. And I still walk very gingerly in the snow.

Mr. President, on the inside, looking out
Mr. President, on the inside, looking out – God Speed, sir

Texting While Driving is Illegal In Massachusetts, Senator Brown. So What’s With the Signs?

Hasn’t anyone else noticed these signs? They’ve been bothering me for a while so over the past couple of days I took my camera with me as I went about my business to see if I could find Senator Scott Brown signs I could photograph without risking my life. It wasn’t easy. Of the dozens of signs I saw only one was near a pedestrian walkway (and I wasn’t able to photograph that because there was no convenient place to park near it). Which means that Senator Brown’s advice to “text Brown to 68398” explicitly directs you to text to his campaign while you are on the road and thus most likely driving. This is Massachusetts – almost everyone drives alone, and when was the last time you asked a passenger to text your local candidate with a pledge for support as you were driving down the road? Whose brilliant idea was this? The law is pretty clear:

5. Sending/Reading Text Messages
Civil Offense-No insurance surcharge (Operators cannot use any mobile telephone or handheld device capable of accessing the Internet to write, send, or read an electronic message including text messages, emails, and instant messages or to access the Internet while operating a vehicle. Law applies even if the vehicle is stopped in traffic.)

  • 1st offense-$100
  • 2nd offense-$250
  • 3rd or subs offense-$500

So even if you’re stopped at an intersection near a campaign sign and have this incredible urge to communicate your undying loyalty to Senator Brown, you are still breaking the law. And what happens if you do text him? Is it an automatic contribution if you do, like giving to relief efforts in Haiti? Permission to solicit contributions from you using your cell phone number? Maybe he wants to text you back (uh-oh) a pic of him in his barn jacket, or more appropriately in his pickup truck, or to assure he understands women’s issues because he is – gasp – married to one. (I’m married to a lovely man; still, I make no claims about understanding anything about men.)  I doubt he wants to send you his voting record.

Oh, but now I sound partisan. I was raised a Republican, but it meant something different then. Actually, after Brown won against Martha Coakley (which is an entirely different post) I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, but then I watched him for a couple of years and last summer Elizabeth Warren stepped into the race, presenting us with the opportunity to break the glass ceiling in not-as-liberal-as-the-rest-of-America-thinks Massachusetts. A law professor who understands the banking system who also happens to be female – she’s certainly worth considering. I don’t want her to blindly vote the party line any more that I did Brown; I hope she understands that. And if she had put up signs like these I’d have taken her to task, too.

But really, anyone who plasters Massachusetts byways with signs that prompt people to break the law – on his behalf, no less – might not want to be the one making laws in Congress. Just a thought.

Oh, and – hmm –  WBUR is having an irksome pledge drive this week. What do you think would happen if NPR had a pledge drive that you could contribute to via text? I’m pretty sure someone would have Nina Totenberg up on charges in no time.

Hubba Bubba: Bill Clinton Redeems Himself

Regardless of what anyone thinks about this election cycle, there is no arguing that Bill Clinton gave a master class in politics at the Democratic National Convention last night. He has never given a better speech at a more important moment. It should be required viewing (along with the written version so his brilliant improvisation comes through) for anyone interested in any kind of political career. The Republican strategists on MSNBC openly envied him, saying that their party did not offer anyone close to Clinton’s performance in terms of political mastery. I haven’t had that much fun watching a speech since Reagan.

I used to cringe when I heard Clinton speak as President, and when I stood at a rope line near him in January 2008 in Nashua, New Hampshire, he was charismatic but in a creepy and pandering kind of way. He was clearly worried, angry and exhausted after witnessing Hillary’s defeat to Barack Obama in the Iowa Caucuses the night before. His angsty presence was so distracting while Hillary spoke that he and Chelsea eventually moved behind the campaign bus halfway through her rally. Later, when he emerged to work the crowd, along that rope line he scanned the crowd for the (few) people of color and, reaching beyond me more than once, pulled them toward him to take pictures, as if he needed to prove he hadn’t lost his influence with them.

After being such a skunk during the 2008 primaries, he owed this performance to Obama, and delivered spectacularly. The President has a tough act to follow.

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