with Virginia primaries being tomorrow and with the presidential race being all that anyone is talking about, Rachel bravely set out to see what both Hillary and Barack had to say to the youth of the tri-state area. And also took some great pictures.
As a person who grew up in Arlington, I am all too aware of the District of Columbia’s vast political arena despite having little vested interest in politics myself, besides adequately researching my choice of candidate before any local or national election. Just across the Potomac River lies the vast political miasma, the constant hustle reaching a veritable din of white noise that encompasses every aspect of the city of buildings shorter than the US capitol. Despite these short buildings, there is no shortage of political personages, giving the district its reputation for boring, boxy suits and blaring white tennis shoes inappropriately paired with said suits. One of the more famous politicos graced the gym of Arlington County’s Washington Lee High school on the afternoon of February 7th, 2008 with her very mighty presence (and elegant suit, sans tennis shoes.)
Well, by the time she finished speaking, it had become evening since she was more than 2 hours late to her appointment with 1500 teenagers, most too young to vote, but extremely excited about the electoral process anyway (this I gauged from the expert science of estimating cheer decibel levels and the amount of times the adolescent audience did “the wave.”) Grandly accompanied by the sheriff of Arlington County (also a fine example of a strong female leader, Beth Arthur) and a flank of Secret Service agents, Hillary Clinton entered the school gym welcomed by cheers and screams of rock star proportions. Beth herself remarked that she almost thought she was introducing Bon Jovi judging from the cheering (although I’m sure the allusion was lost to the students.) When Hillary started her address, however, all eyes were riveted to her. Students (and teachers) who had given up their early release day to sit captive in the gym for what turned out to be 3 hours total (everyone had to be seated an hour before she was scheduled to appear) provided the most attentive and responsive audience I’ve seen in quite some time. I was proud to see more than several students and teachers from the neighboring high school where I work my 9-5, who stood in line outside for over an hour before getting in.
Before I get into the contents of her speech, I’d like to say that I was pretty surprised at how adamantly her campaign announcers introduced her. She was not, “Senator Hillary Clinton: candidate for the office of President” but “Senator Hillary Clinton: The next president of the United States!” And yes, she was obviously there to promote herself, but the audience was pretty captive, and there was no mention of a John McCain or Barak Obama address to even things out. I would think that in a public school, there would have been more of an attempt to congratulate the students on participating in the presidential process in general, not just in their support of one candidate. I’ve heard Arlington be referred to as “The People’s Republic of Arlington” (to poke fun at its stereotypical and systematic liberalness, which is of course extremely uncharacteristic of Virginia as a whole). My cautionary thoughts on this matter stem from my role as a high school guidance counselor, since I’ve been taught that it’s very important not to endorse particular beliefs or causes with students, and that the role of the public school employee is to nurture independent thought on such issues, apart from personal opinion on behalf of the adult.
That aside, Hillary’s speech in and of itself was very inspirational, and addressed many of the pressing issues facing Americans today. Some of her proposed changes to our current state of affairs:
Bring the troops home from Iraq within 60 days of her taking office
Strengthen the middle class
Fix the economy which is now approaching recession
End dishonest home mortgage loans and high interest on student loans
Balance the budget
Eliminate No Child Left Behind (which is certainly not very popular in Arlington County from what I could gather from the applause of the teachers and upper level administrators who were sitting near me. NCLB is a federal program supposedly in place to make sure every public school reaches every student, but has ended up placing too much of an emphasis on standardized testing, and has not following through with promised fiscal support the schools with lower test scores.)
Make college affordable again
Provide health care for everyone by extending the Congressional health plan to uninsured Americans
Ensure mental health care coverage, and preventative health care
End tax cuts for the wealthy
End tax cuts for companies that outsource jobs
End dependence on foreign oil
Cut into extreme profits held by oil companies
I did end up finding myself excited and even put down my camera to clap at several points, but also found myself wondering, how will this all be paid for? I understand that ending tax cuts for the wealthy would add some money to the budget, and America is spending quite a lot on the war in Iraq so if the war was ended, that would add some money as well, but is that enough? While I agree with the fact that every American should be insured, this universal coverage has to be expensive. When Hillary becomes president, will even more of my already substantially taxed paycheck become more so? I suppose that the nature of the speech which clocked in around a half hour, limited the amount of explanations she could give. I would say with the exception of her position on gay marriage which was not discussed, she did touch on most of the pressing issues of this election. She refrained from mentioning anything about fellow democrat Barak Obama, other than to say that she was a candidate with “experience” which seemed like a hint towards less experienced Barak. She did say several negative things about the current administration, mentioning how inefficient George W Bush has managed the budget, from entering into office with a balanced budget plus surplus, to now being greatly in debt. She also associated the current administration with oil tycoons. She also expounded on several ways in which her presidential bid differs from that of John McCain.
Overall, Hillary’s address was a proven success. Her audience enjoyed themselves (especially after their patience for waiting 1.5 hours was restored by a charismatic campaign worker who threw free t-shirts into the crowd). Although I think that having a more balanced event featuring a candidate from both the democrats and republicans would have been more appropriate for the public school venue, none of the students present will ever forget Hillary’s speech. She was encouraging and inspirational, and all of the students I spoke with during the event were super excited to be there, not only to support Hillary herself, but to participate in the political process. Despite my general non-interest in the nitty-gritty of politics, I was thankful to have shared in the event, and felt newly energized for the upcoming election.
The Maryland, Virginia and DC primaries are this Tuesday, February 12th. I’m still not sure who I’ll vote for, but at least I have a portrait of Hillary outside of the media’s collection of sound bites and contrived photo ops.