My first official event Thursday was a visit at noon to the World Affairs Council’s ‘conversation with Amy Klobuchar.’ The Council is based at Southern New Hampshire University, located next door to Manchester in the town of Hookset. Google’s driving instructions took me to the first parking lot on campus, which naturally was full, so I parked in one closer to an athletic field. The event however was a quarter mile away and if I hadn’t asked a guy in a campus security van where the right building was, I could have wandered indefinitely: there was no stream of would-be voters marching from those parking lots to the venue. When I got there, noon on the dot, I saw that the building possessed its very own parking lot. Note to campaign advance staff: do not assume folks are familiar with the SNHU campus; put up some signs.
Inside, however, things were cheery – I was greeted, asked to sign my name, offered a cup of coffee, and given a nice green “Amy” button. (Both Senator Klobuchar and Mayor Buttigieg run on their first names, as people can pronounce Amy and Pete.)
The room held a couple of hundred and all the seats were taken. Behind the last row of chairs, the back of the room was filled with media pros and all their equipment. I skirted around and through them and ended up standing against the side wall, pretty close to the front. There was a single row of chairs against the side wall, all filled, and I stood next to the last of these. It was occupied by a blonde woman, in her late 30’s. After a couple minutes operating her cellphone, she looked up at me — appraisingly, of course; I often dazzle women in this way. I gave her a modest smile. Then she said, “Would you like to have my seat?” Ah. Once again I had been mistaken for some elderly person. I replied with as much dignity as possible that I was fine standing and mentioned casually that I played tennis three times a week. I think she even apologized.
Being now redeemed in each other’s eyes, we talked a bit while waiting for the senator. (At these events you can count on the candidate to show up at least half an hour after the stated time, and usually an hour later.) Her name was Sigrid Rasmussen; she is from Denmark. She didn’t mind my writing it down and using it, and she was impressed I spelled it right without her spelling it for me. (She said she’d stopped telling people here her first name, because they thought she was telling them it was a “secret.”) She is here with about 25 fellow Danes, looking up close at American politics. I learned they are not a university group or a business group, but I never quite determined how the group had coalesced, as at this point our speakers were entering.
The World Affairs Council, as one might wildly guess, focuses on world affairs, so this would be a talk on foreign policy and defense. (Although I should note the Council is nonpartisan and doesn’t endorse candidates.) I was glad because I like that stuff and you don’t get much of it, especially from Democratic candidates, in the usual stump speech.
After preliminaries, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia under Obama, Jim Smith, warmed us up. Then Sen. Klobuchar was introduced by retired Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, a West Pointer who’d specialized in air defense, is an expert on Russia and nuclear non-proliferation, and is now think-tanking at a Harvard school. I admit this spells credibility in my eyes. The general had harsh words for the current commander in chief but is pals with Amy.
Amy started off with some history, to say that New Hampshire has had an international role: the Treaty of Portsmouth ended the Russo-Japanese War courtesy of Teddy Roosevelt, and the Bretton Woods conference in 1944 set up the modern international finance system. I thought this a nice touch, not only stoking some local pride but inserting the implication that the current president likely does not know of either of these events.
She noted that we need foreign trade, and that isolation breeds security risks. She asked rhetorically how walking away from the Kurds made America greater, and more broadly said the president has been taking the US out of promises we had made; we need a strong NATO and to be supportive of it, but also we need to bring our troops back from Afghanistan. She recounted trips she had made with late Sen. John McCain to Middle East spots, to the Baltic states, to Ukraine. She supports the Mexico-US-Canada trade agreement, and wants us to join the international accord on climate change.
Amy took five questions from the audience. The first concerned working with a potentially Republican-controlled Senate. Her answer was too long, but included her own record of success in the ‘reddest districts’ including Michelle Bachman’s, her own appeal to independents, and her good relationship (despite policy differences) with McCain and Sen. Lindsay Graham. (Two favorites of your faithful Neocon reporter.)
The second question was, I felt, the highlight of her talk. She was asked – by a person who belonged to some organization seeking nuclear rollback – to affirm that she favored a policy of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, which according to the questioner some of her competitors have espoused. Amy declined. She said that the top priority of a president is to keep America safe, and she does not want to limit our ability to respond to a wide array of potential situations, including cyber attacks and attacks on the power grid; accordingly she does not support a currently proposed bill that would bar our ability to first use such weapons.
This answer went against the expected grain; it was unequivocal, was obviously the result of serious thought on the issue, and was delivered without hesitation. And showed the recognition that in certain vital areas, the president’s words matter beyond politics and cannot be subject to denial, reversal on a whim, or self-contradiction. (Many of Trump’s remarks and behaviors are exasperating, upsetting or even outrageous, depending on your politics, but his mercurial foreign policy is dangerous.)
The other questions concerned Venezuela, Native Americans, and African refugees, respectively, and the element of ‘humanitarian aid’ was part of each answer.
For this hour the senator was sensible, sincere and prepared. She hesitated in her speech sometimes as she searched for the right word. (Not to try to remember a word – see Joe Biden – but to choose the right one.) She was not, in this setting, transcendent or inspiring, fiery or especially humorous. She is Midwestern. She probably will have to up her game to compete with the field, but I’d bet she is smart enough to do that, although she’ll never be a stemwinder. She did pick up on the Danish visitors in the crowd – lots of Scandinavians in Minnesota, after all – and made a joke to them about a visit she’d made to a farm there (lots of pigs, only one horse; don’t ask). But she seemed the kind of person you would grow to like and admire more and more, the longer you knew her. In that respect, the opposite of the man she seeks to replace.
The campaign trail here is not too big a world: I told Sigrid I expected to see her around. She was naturally delighted.