Sleepless Saturday

I find it’s not a good idea to see the dawn. Whether it approaches stealthily at the end of a late night, or it meets me head-on as I rise early from slumber, dawn is a confrontation I rarely win. Far better that I let it slip by unnoticed, and greet the new day at, say, 10:30 or so.

But circumstances rule us all, and late Friday night I was writing. If you pay attention to such details, you may have observed that the piece about Amy Klobuchar et al. was posted at almost 5 a.m. Saturday and the subsequent one, on Pete Buttigieg, at 8:15 a.m. In other words, my plan to finish them and then get some sleep didn’t work, and immediately after finishing the Pete item I had to head out the door for the first event of Saturday. (I’d showered, shaved and dressed before starting the writing, knowing all too well that otherwise I’d probably be forced to skip the ablutions.)

The day’s first event in fact was scheduled to start at 8 o’clock Saturday morning, an ungodly time for any political presentation. Some gruesome sponsors, including the Center for Reproductive Rights, NARAL, and Demand Justice, had put together a forum titled “Our Rights, Our Courts,” at the New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, about 25 minutes away. Leaving my abode just after 8:15, I resigned myself to missing the opening speaker, whoever that might be, but it seemed that several candidates were on the agenda.

Thankfully NHTI has about as much parking as JFK airport, and I found a spot and headed into the campus, following people to the correct building. I had pre-registered and got past the welcome desk quickly, but the auditorium itself was at the end of a security gantlet like I’d never seen here: full airport-style metal detectors, a pat-down and the presence of more than a dozen very alert police and state troopers, plus private event security personnel. The candidates themselves didn’t merit such precautions; the topic did. Or at least the organizers were apprehensive enough to take them.

The auditorium was large and it was packed. I was standing on the fringe of the crowd and gradually eased my way to a spot where I could see. The speaker list reflected the importance to the Democratic Party of the abortion lobby (or if you prefer, the pro-choice or women’s reproductive rights movement). In order of appearance, eight candidates would speak: Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang, Tom Steyer, Bernie Sanders, Michael Bennet, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, and Deval Patrick. All would swear total fealty to a woman’s right to choose to undergo an abortion, and promise to protect, defend, and in some cases extend, Roe v. Wade.

The photo captures only the inner reaches of the crowd, but gives an idea of the place:

Crowd at the “Our Rights, Our Courts” Law Forum

I had missed only some introductory remarks, so I got to see Messrs. Buttigieg, Yang, Steyer, and Sanders speak, before leaving at 11 to reach my next event.

Each candidate in his or her separate turn would make a short opening address, have a ‘conversation’ with the host, Stephanie Ruhle of MSNBC, field one question from HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery, and then give a short finishing speech.

Given the focus on a single issue I feared the program would be repetitive, but the scope broadened out to the courts in general, and the different styles of the candidates kept it lively.

Pete Buttigieg (in a suit and tie as ever) proposed to increase the size of the Supreme Court. Evidently progressives are fearful that they are (always) just one more Republican appointment away from oblivion. Pete said a structural change to the Court would help. He proposed that some (new) justices could be appointed by unanimous vote of the existing justices. Pete noted we have had different numbers at stages of US history. (And I’d really been thinking rather highly of Pete up to this point; maybe I should just put this somewhat bizarre idea, lifted from FDR’s playbook, down to pandering to a particular audience. But there were about five million reporters and cameras present, so it’s disappointing.)

Andrew Yang (jacket, no tie), whom I’d not seen before, has a wonderfully casual style and a self-deprecating wit. But he too pushed this idea of more justices, noting correctly but irrelevantly that the Constitution does not specify there be nine. Yang said we could have 15, 17 or more! But wait, it gets better: he also proposed that justices serve an 18-year term. (Now we’re talking Constitutional amendment.) On the other hand, he said he’d received a letter from a voter who said she is pro-life and disagrees with his reproductive rights policy, but will vote for him because Yang’s signature proposal – to give $1,000 per month to every American – is the most pro-life program she’d ever heard of, as it would lead to many more women having kids. (Who said this morning would be boring?)

Tom Steyer (no jacket, sleeves rolled up) came next. He’s the toughest candidate I’ve heard, he’s loud, and he’s laser-focused on the political bottom line. “The only question,” he said, “is how to beat Trump and who can beat Trump.” And he’s not aiming at independents or persuadable Republicans. “We need turnout.” The Democrats must “convince people [to vote] who believe the system doesn’t work.”

Bernie Sanders (suit and tie) spoke forcefully as always but used a knife more than a sledgehammer. He pointed out the “hypocrisy” of conservative Republicans who say they want to get government off of people’s backs, but will not keep government out of women’s reproductive rights. In answer to Ms. Ruhle’s question, he acknowledged that the justices’ appointments are for life, although observing that ‘some scholars’ say that only means appointment as a judge; arguably they could be moved off the Supreme Court onto the lower courts. (At least foisting this theory off on ‘some scholars’ seems like a legitimate political dodge.) And he batted away the idea of enlarging the Court: ‘then the next administration would do it too, and the next, and you’d end up with 87 Supreme Court justices.’ This seems an obvious and correct rebuttal.

I had to, shall we say, move on, and left during the interval after Bernie finished, but of course could not get through the exit lobby without being buttonholed by the fourth estate. This one was straight from 1940’s central casting as world-wise but good-natured newsman, lacking only a hat with a press card in the brim. He was Kevin Landrigan, of the Union-Leader, and he told me this was his tenth New Hampshire primary as a reporter. He was actually a nice guy with a sense of humor. I was happy to be able to give him some answers with “goofy” in them.

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