CONCORD, N.H. -- In a tiny room in Concord, N.H., Barack Obama had just delivered remarks to a roundtable on "reclaiming the American dream."
His words were lifted for the most part from his stump speech.
"Americans everywhere are working harder for less and paying more for health care and college," he said. There are millions of stories of hardship, he said, and "the one thing we should all be able to agree on is that these stories and these hardships are a fundamental violation of the American dream."
Then a white-haired member of the panel told him her story.
"I am Sandra Burt from Concord," she began. "I turned 65 on July 20 and I lost my job on that day from a company where I had worked for 40 years."
What followed was a recitation of down-on-your-luck facts that was reminiscent of the Biblical Job. And yet there, in the flesh, was a human being talking about the problems that Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton address every day in this campaign.
Sandra says she takes medication that costs $2,900 per month. The drug, Enbrel, is something her doctor says she must have to battle rheumatoid arthritis were afflicts her. She takes it, though she has cut the dose in half to make it stretch, without telling her physician.
She and her husband, a cancer survivor who works part time transporting special needs children, subsist on Social Security. So they have a big financial problem.
Yes, Medicare helps, but Sandra said it's like walking through a thicket of vines to find the plan that helps, and then only just. Bottom line, she doesn't have enough income from whatever source to survive.
She was told that if her husband quit his part time job, that would help, though that makes little sense to people who have worked all their lives. She considered unemployment compensation, but the income from it would have pushed her into a different "neediness" category with reduced benefits as a result.
She told government officials, "Geez, we have a bad habit. We like to eat and pay our bills." they keep the thermostat at 64 degrees in the New Hampshire winter and wear extra layers of clothing.
Of necessity she turned to the Internet, checking out one health insurance package after another. She'd find one, she said, only to be told that while her doctor was covered, her husband's was not.
She finally found one insurer who covered both for about $330 a month. Sounds small until you understand that she and her husband are living on $940 a month in Social Security.
She and her husband hardly live lavishly. They've called a double-wide trailer home for years and dreamed of one day having enough money to fix the leaky ceiling.
Sandra broke down when she recounted how her husband had to sell his truck. He'd had it for 15 years and regarded it as a friend, she said. Now they both make do with her 10-year old van that makes a lot of worrisome noises.
"I have worked all my life for this," she cried.
Obama was clearly steeling himself as she continued her tale of woe, offering her a napkin to dry her eyes. Sandra, who said later she's become something of a health insurance advocate at various political gatherings, says she remains undecided about who to support in the state's Jan. 8 primary. She thinks the world of Obama, though.
By contrast, his resolve never cracked once. He hears these stories often and if he responded in kind to the afflicted souls who tell them, every event would turn into a sobfest.
No, he promised Sandra that he would do something to help if elected. That he would fight the drug company lobbyists who block reforms in congress. That he would fight for the American dream.
Sandra stuck around after the event was over to talk with reporters. By then the senator had departed -- his motorcade taking him to another event somewhere for another earful of what afflicts America.