Amid a flurry of stickers, signs, and cheers, while standing in front of a large backdrop reading "Tomorrow Begins Today," presidential candidate John Edwards drew a large crowd to Holloway Commons' Piscataqua room Tuesday evening. The town hall style event was hosted by the student-group UNH for Edwards.
Encircled by a 400-strong attentive crowd of students and locals, supporters and fence-sitters, skeptics and true-believers, former senator Edwards' third visit to the University of New Hampshire this year came in the form of a speech dominated by universal health care, the war in Iraq, lobbyists and the Bush administration.
After an introduction by UNH alum and Iraq war veteran Josh Denton, Edwards cut right to the chase and declared that there is a "disconnect between the strength, courage and vitality of the American people today and a government that doesn't do its job."
"There is a great deal of incompetence with this administration," he said, referring specifically to the current administration's plans for rebuilding of New Orleans and Ground Zero, but also implying their handling of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has been sloppy.
In a particularly blunt manner, Edwards sternly addressed the crowd and shared his belief that "corruption has crept into our government. It didn't happen overnight, but got a lot worse under [the Bush administration]. I don't think we can fix these problems unless we identify and be honest about them."
The reason much of this happens, according to Edwards, is partly due to the role that lobbyists play in lawmaking, notably when it comes to universal healthcare.
"Most of America believes we need universal healthcare; I believe it to my soul," he said. "Why do we have this mess of a prescription drug law under Medicare? [Because] the lobbyists for the drug companies literally wrote the law. The drug companies got everything they wanted."
Edwards' plans for universal healthcare would mandate coverage for everybody, try to outlaw "pre-existing conditions" for getting insurance and imposing a cap on how much insurance companies can charge for profit and overhead at 15 percent compared to the 40 percent that they do now, he said.
"You can keep the plan you have if you want it; I want to allow private plans to compete with government plans," he said. "Over time it'll be clear what the American people want."
Continuing his recent streak of criticizing Hilary Clinton and emphasizing where the two differ, Edwards knocked her acceptance of campaign funds from representatives of the health and defense industry during the speech while noting that he, himself, does not accept money from lobbyists.
"She will say that she is a candidate that can bring about change in Washington, and that there's nothing wrong with taking this money from lobbyists," he said. "Well, I don't believe that. I don't believe that you can do that and bring about change."
The latter half of his speech was dominated by the Iraq war and his plans to end it.
"You've got a bunch of Democratic presidential candidates rolling through New Hampshire saying 'I'm gonna end the war.' That rhetoric is not enough."
While sidestepping the finer details, he said that he had a "specific plan" to end the war, remove combat troops, cease combat missions and keep no permanent bases.
Further criticizing and separating himself from the New York senator, Edwards mentioned that Clinton would keep combat troops and continue combat missions in Iraq.
Wary of current and potential future foreign policy regarding Iran, Edwards urged the crowd to not let America go down another warpath in the region.
"Bush, Cheney and the whole Neo-Co community are all rattling their saber about Iran," he said. "We can not let them continue to march forward on Iran. We've seen this movie, we know how it turns out and we've got to stop them."
After his half-hour speech, the meeting took on an open-forum format and audience members quizzed the presidential hopeful on issues ranging from global warming to Darfur and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Regarding the situation in Darfur, Edwards believed that "it's an embarrassment that America has stood by for years and let this genocide continue."Edwards wanted to seek a "two-state resolution" to help solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.
Answering a question about global warming, Edwards said that he is the first candidate to have laid out "an aggressive strategy to fight [it]." His plan included capping carbon emissions and having that cap come down annually, a minimum of 80 percent by 2050, and charge those that go over the cap.
"It's really important that we have a president that says that we're in this together and are going to have to make sacrifices. We ought to be able to be patriotic about something other than war," he said.
Jessica Cavalieri, 26, wore a baby blue t-shirt that said, "John Edwards is goooood." She had seen him 10 times before and supports him because she believes he "has policy ideas that'll help us get back on the right track," including a "safe and responsible [plan] to withdraw troops from Iraq," she said.
Brian Giardina, junior, was skeptical about Edwards' plans for universal healthcare due to the audience not being told the specifics, but supported his stance on global warming and troop withdrawal from Iraq.
"We can't leave the mess that we made," he said.
Lisa Mulvey and Adam Knoll, seniors, were undecided going in and true believers coming out.
Mulvey was inspired by his confrontation of issues and Knoll felt he was "convinced that [Edwards] was going to stand by his beliefs."
"He seemed down to earth and honest," said Knoll.
Closing out his speech, Edwards exclaimed that "these challenges present themselves and America rises up and meets them, and we will meet them this time," he said. "When we meet them, we'll meet our obligation, which I think is the great moral test of our generation, which is to actually ensure that our children have a better life than we had."
© 2007 The New Hampshire via U-WIRE