Country Club Republican

I’m up Friday about 8 o’clock to travel to Atkinson, about 27 miles southeast of Manchester, for a John Kasich town hall that starts at 10; the doors open at 9.  Although my sumptuous pied-a-terre here in Manchester is on a grimy but quiet street, this morning sounds quieter than usual.  Snow!  It’s coming down quite heavily and there are a couple of inches on the ground already.

My loving wife had made sure I had a car brush in the car, along with a scraper, a shovel, and a container of salt.  Readiness is all.

The snow is wet and heavy, but the morning is not cold and there is no ice on the windshield.  Driving, however, is tricky, especially the first several blocks until I reach more-traveled roads, which make all the difference.  (Robert Frost was walking; good for him.)   The Kasich town hall is at the Atkinson Country Club.  ( Later I’ll chat with a guy who likewise wonders why the candidate or his staff picked such a relatively out of the way venue.)  Once I’m off the highway, still eight miles from my goal, I have slowed to under 20 mph and the roads seem to have been ‘plowed’ only by earlier drivers.  A trip that normally should take maybe 35 minutes looks like it will take an hour.  As I get closer the roads get more narrow and hilly and I’m not sure I am going to make it.  I’m glad to turn finally into the long path into the club’s grounds, which has been plowed.

Although it’s 10 o’clock the candidate has not appeared yet.  He’s soon introduced by fomer U.S. Senator John E. Sununu, son of New Hampshire Governor John Sununu.

Kasich, rhymes with basic, is tallish but slouched, folksy, weatherbeaten, comfortable.  There are about 100 of us in chairs on four sides of a small platform with the obligatory setup.  He thanks us for getting here, and jokes that when he heard it was a country club, he’d expected to play golf.  He introduces a lady in the audience, Ruth Alpert, as the great-great etc. granddaughter of Josiah Bartlett, early governor of New Hampshire and signer of the Declaration.  (No relation to Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing.)

Kasich describes himself as neither “establishment” nor “anti-establishment” and briefly recounts his achievements as head of the Budget Committee in Congress when it balanced the budget (under Bill Clinton) and now as Governor of Ohio.   He gets right into questions, but starts by saying hello to a young girl of 6, Catherine, asking her if she wants to be here (no) or would rather be out in the snow (yes), promising not to be too long.  She is shy and he has to pull the answers out of her, but does so with great gentleness.

First question is from a young woman who’s with the Global Zero group and whom Kasich recognizes from past town halls he’s done.  She asks wouldn’t he be willing to make a deal  with Putin to reduce our respective nukes from 7,000 to 1,000 which ‘experts’ have said is sufficient for defense.  When Kasich asks which experts have said that, she is ready with one: General James Cartwright.  He’s definitely a heavy hitter even a neocon like me could love, but now, in his retirement from the Marines, he’s a Global Zero advocate, who also has endorsed Obama’s Iran agreement.  Kasich accepts the expertise but says Putin would have to take some other steps before he, Kasich, would be willing to sign a nuclear-reduction treaty with him; did the questioner know that the Russians are bombing Syrian rebels and withholding food from starving Syrian families?  No deals without talks on that first.

Question about healthcare.  Kasich says it’s too opaque, consumers can’t compare.  It’s “easier to interpret the Dead Sea scrolls than a hospital bill.”  No incentives for hospitals to change.   In Ohio he got hospitals and insurers to meet and work out sharing the savings where services could be improved.  He didn’t force them to; says “I’m a convener.”

Question on fixing social security.  Kasich goes into how the level of partisanship in DC has risen; when he was there we had an impeachment and government shutdowns, but we still balanced the budget.   His parable: sheep herders and cattle ranchers used to have range wars, because sheep eat the grass so close that cattle can’t graze there.  But the herders and ranchers, while they fought, never poisoned the watering holes, because then they’d both lose.  Too many watering holes in DC have been poisoned.  (I take this as an endorsement of my drinking view of politics: if Dems and Repubs in Congress are still willing to go out and get drunk together, things will get done; if they’re not, things won’t.)

He wants a constitutional amendment to require Congress to balance the budget.  He thinks we can get enough states to adopt this; says we’re close.  Wisconsin and West Virginia are the next ones he expects.

Question on foreign policy: questioner faults Obama for ‘leading from behind’ and calls the present world a tinderbox.  Surprisingly to me, Kasich reins in the characterization.  He says when he was a kid in 1962 we were hiding in school cloakrooms because the Soviets were going to bomb us; at that time, they had 15,000 warheads aimed at us.  (I was a kid in 1962, and he’s right.)  Says it’s a matter of perspective.  Now, he says, much of the world feels in common about terrorism; see France, Belgium, Egypt, Gulf states, Germany.  Only candidate of either party I’ve heard to say current problems are not worse than ever; Wednesday night Ted Cruz used the phrase ‘brink of the abyss.’

Other questions on jobs, right to work, taxes.  Before a final question he turns back to Catherine to tell her in stage whisper: “Good news — it’s almost over.”  But he’s surprised to learn the kids are not in school today, as it’s a snow day.  “Snow day? but this is New Hampshire, this ain’t Maryland.”  Kasich has definitely won the heart of this audience, he’s not being scolding as often portrayed, and he’s funny and smart and highly normal, but I don’t know if he’s won any votes.

Leaving the meeting I get interviewed by a reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  He’s daunted by the prospect of travel: ‘We don’t do snow.’

He’s right to be worried. My drive up to Exeter for a Bernie Sanders rally there is mostly on back roads and is a bit harrowing.  I want to get there on time but I’m scared to speed up.  The snow is still coming down heavily.  And I’m a reporter on a mission!

But despite the worries of missing the event or of sliding into an oncoming car or truck, I’m forced to notice how beautiful the fields and forests and houses look.  And how quiet it is, with only the steady swoosh of tires on snow.  You can see where the Frost guy got his inspiration.  It’s downright peaceful – and ready to pounce on you at any moment.  Eyes on the road, please.  Promises to keep.

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