It’s a miserable night in a way only New Hampshire can provide. Water is falling out of the air not as snow or ice but in actual lumps of slush. I can hear it going *splat* all around me as we slip and slither up to the door of the VFW hall where Tulsi is scheduled to speak. We’ve tried for her and missed twice now; as I understand it her defense committee needed her on the Hill — but of course the campaign doesn’t talk about that sort of thing; I had to winkle it out of a reporter.
Most outsiders know the VFW as basically a private drinking club. Guaranteed, while we’re upstairs in the assembly hall, there’s going to be a room full of dedicated, truly committed drinkers downstairs. Some have already made up their minds and don’t need another candidate; many are there to forget things I can’t imagine. That’s something that sticks in my mind when Tulsi Gabbard starts her speech by thanking the VFW for giving her a refuge in any town she ever visits for the rest of her life.
As she starts to speak, I have three realizations:
- Tulsi Gabbard has enough force of personality to draw every eye. It’s not just personal beauty; it’s an aura of tightly contained power. This is her room.
- My God, what a beautiful voice! What a powerful tool! Flowing, lovely, reassuring, comfortable… and then a sudden Whip! Crack! out of nowhere.
- Zero innate talent for oratory. She stomps on her applause, never utters a quotable phrase, and lets her personal aura of calm and peace smother the audience’s passion.
There’s a room full of people here who really dearly want to be inspired, impassioned — compelled by their emotions to vote for something. Instead, Tulsi is appealing to reason, to their better natures, to their ability to compromise and come together. It’s an amazing message and delivered so very well… but it’s not what these people want. The feeling in the room is confused, disappointed, and I think a little hurt. I can almost hear the silent crowd mentally screaming Inspire us! Please! — and it’s becoming painfully evident that she can’t. She has absolutely no idea.
But then the power flickers. The lights go out; the microphone cuts off.
This is New Hampshire; everyone’s used to it. But out of the gloom I hear the candidate suddenly invoke her Command Voice: Nobody move, it’ll be OK. We’ll fix this.
And I think, This. This is what we need in the Oval Office.
It’s tomorrow. The weather’s still lousy, and candidates have been canceling events. Today was never a big event day anyway; the DNC has their big debate scheduled. They’ve excluded Rep. Gabbard so she’s in the middle of nowhere holding another Town Hall. And I’m sufficiently curious about her passive charisma that I really want to see her again — certainly more curious about her than about watching the inevitable television bloodletting.
This is a completely different Tulsi.
Yesterday she was championing bipartisanship, telling us about giving macadamia toffee to all the other congressmen and their staffs and getting cooperation on legislation through friendly approachability. Today, she’s furious; there’s been more casualties in Afghanistan, and for what?! She comes on stage with an impassioned speech about the evils of war as seen with a military medic’s eye. This is the fire I was looking for.
And then, inexplicably, she calms down. She returns to her normal even tone; every word melodic.
Suddenly I get it: Tulsi Gabbard isn’t naturally calm and pleasant and cheerful all the time. She’s a walking bundle of passions, a blazing volcano under perfect control. If this were me on stage I’d be losing it; arguably the most qualified candidate on foreign policy and she’s been sidelined from the public debate, the only stage where she can possibly influence the Administration into pulling out of a needless pointless war. Tulsi has wrestled her frustration down enough that she can talk policy, answer inane questions, and stand in a photo line. There’s even a very human moment where she sees someone she recognizes, grins, and waves across the room.
I walked into the room hoping to be impressed, and instead I was blown away: This is what the Spirit of Aloha means! Volcanoes! She’s still got no oratorical skill; frankly, I think it would be good for her to take in a good Sunday service at a couple of churches I know. Some examples of how to work a crowd might be useful. But that almost doesn’t matter.
Tonight I heard position statements that I normally would have dismissed as just another hollow stump speech. But they were expressed with such vibrancy and richness of detail, I’m forced to consider that she’s actually for real. Her opinion on abortion is that it should be legal, safe, and rare. We need to get our troops out of needless foreign wars but pursue terrorists without respite or pity. Corporations and billionaire oligarchs have no place in American politics. Above all we need to work together for the good of the country, forgetting our petty squabbles to do what needs to be done.
Whatever happens in the elections, we need Tulsi Gabbard to keep working for us in any capacity at all. It would be very nice if she could take some delegates in with her to the Convention in July; even though there’s a vanishingly small chance she’ll win, even a couple of delegates will give her some invaluable leverage when the time comes to write the ticket for 2020.
That’s the thing people forget about the primaries: We actually do have the power to change things. It comes early; November is usually too late.