Watching the New Hampshire Debate with Iowa Tea Party Voters, and Gary Johnson

Tuesday, June 14, 2011 - 01:07 PM

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson standing in the back of the room at a Tea Party Express event in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Solomon Kleinsmith)

While Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain were in Manchester, New Hampshire, sharing the national stage from St. Anselm College and debating on CNN, another candidate, who had polled as high as some of those on that stage, was in a much less glamorous location.

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson was in Council Bluffs, Iowa. And so was I.

Unlike most campaign events you go to, where you can be on the opposite end of the room and know the moment the big candidate walks in the door by just the feeling in the air, I'm not quite sure how long Johnson had been in the room before I realized it. He stood there in the back and exchanged short pleasantries with a few of the people who recognized him as they walked through the doorway into the Elk's Lodge.

His was one of the more strange stump speeches I've seen. I will say though, there is a charm to what seems like a somewhat regular guy, not the average spit-and-polish of someone who's been speaking for a living for years, getting up in front of people and making a Mr. Smith goes to Washington-esque run for the presidency.

Among other fringe ideas, Mr. Johnson supports getting rid of both the personal and corporate income taxes and replacing it with a national sales tax and abolishing the Department of Education. This along with more mainstream ideas like not being the world's police, means testing Social Security and a commonsensical guest worker program (although this last part wasn't something the crowd was particularly happy with). He also flew his libertarian flag by spending a few minutes on the legalization of marijuana. This also did not get him any applause.

He book-ended his comments by talking about being excluded from the CNN debates that came on a bit after he spoke:

After listening to a man talk about the abolition of the Department of Education for a few minutes, I walked outside to snap some pics of the bus. The candidate was outside, talking to a reporter from an agricultural publication, who was grilling him a bit on his support for slashing farm subsidies.

Mort, a colorful guy who I've seen at every single noteworthy political event in the Council Bluffs area in the last five years, was there ranting and raving about how the federal government needs to get a roommate so it can cut the budget. Chuckling about that, I snapped a few pictures, then went inside to have some pizza, and watch the debate with the Tea Party folks.

If you take the crowd's reaction as any indicator, Michelle Bachmann did very well. She threw out a bunch of red meat they liked, as did others, but the reactions to the rest didn't stick out.

Most of the people there did not think that the debate really got to what the Tea Party wants to hear. This wasn't surprising, given that some of the biggest applause lines of the speakers at the event came after fringe ideas like dissolving the Department of Education, getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency and replacing our currency with gold. Perhaps they'll get more of what they want out of the event specifically geared towards them, when CNN hosts a debate with the Tea Party Express later this year.

Solomon Kleinsmith is a nonprofit worker, serial social entrepreneur and strident centrist independent blogger from Omaha, Nebraska. His website, Rise of the Center, is the fastest growing blog targeting centrist independents and moderates.


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Comments [3]

Solomon Kleinsmith from Omaha, NE

Doing away with the Dept of Ed is not "considered" fringe, it IS fringe. All fringe means is that very few people agree with it, in this case only people on the far right wing.

Public opinion is turning on the Irag and Afghan wars. Those who want to speed up our pullout are currently in the majority, although those who disagree aren't yet small enough to be fringe... I'd suspect that they will be in not too long.

And public opinion is starting to move on marijuana decriminalization as well. It used to be a fringe view to be against that aspect of the drug war, but now it's just a minority view.

Who cares what year the Dept of Ed came into existence? What difference does that make?

Neither getting rid of the Dept of Ed, or keeping it, will necessarily make education better in our country. The Dept of Ed is doing some good things right now, race to the top among them, promoting experimentation with ways to improve struggling schools, but all in all, the blame is to be rested squarely on congress and the last several presidents.

All we have to do is look overseas for how countries spend less on education, and get better outcomes, and we even have all sorts of educational systems in the U.S. with proven track records of far outperforming public schools, like Waldorf, Montessori, KIPP, etc. The government could be using the Dept of Ed to push those things, but as of yet it has barely put it's toe in the pool.

Jun. 15 2011 12:33 PM
rick from Magnolia, TX

It appears Gary Johnson is the only candidate with a track record. He was elected in a 2 to 1 Dem State as a Rep (he can build consensus), he shrunk government by 11%, he reduced taxes, balanced the budget, left NM with over a Billion dollar surplus, and vetoed more bills than all of the other 49 Governors combined. Romney - failed Med policy, Bachman - untested, Palin - quit Alaska, Pawlenty - not even close, Santorum & Paul - never ran a State. I'll take Johnson everyday over that field.

Jun. 15 2011 08:22 AM

Solomon... The current Department of Education only came into existence in 1979 and many would argue that the education system in the US has gone downhill ever since. State and local agencies managed to run schools in the past and could do so again - without having a massive amount of costly bureaucracy in Washington.

It's sad that doing away with a failed bureaucracy is considered "fringe", while continuing endless wars and jailing minorities for decades for having a small amount of marijuana is considered "normal".

Jun. 14 2011 10:40 PM

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