Right down the street from the Straight Talk Express and C-SPAN but light years away in the political consciousness, Dennis Kucinich is speaking to whoever’s willing to listen at Harlow’s Pub.
There’s nothing about the setting that gives any indication that the short gentleman with a microphone is running for president of the United States. There’s no lighting to speak of, and for his backdrop, Dennis Kucinich has chosen: Two hallucinogenic streetlamps, two knights in not-so-shiny armor, one moderately confusing mural depicting what might be the White Mountains and Queen Elizabeth, an accordion hanging from the ceiling, and a portrait of the late Jerry Garcia, staring down at the congressman like a dazed and confused Josef Stalin.
At the bar, a woman is distributing a copy of “Common Sense for IMPEACHMENT,” printed by the Northeast Impeachment Coalition. It feels as if we’ve stumbled into a Sons of Liberty meeting circa 1774, except with slightly more lewd postcards taped to the beams. There’s even a man with a ponytail and a tri-corner hat, doing his best Thomas Paine impression.
For Kucinich, the show must go on. As he answers questions from the audience, he quotes Keats (“truth is beauty”) and espouses the virtues of traditional healing practices for his health care plan (“nothing worked until I tried Chinese medicine”). The only candidate promising a cabinet level Department of Peace tells us that he has been in contact with Iranian diplomats over the past year and worked to create a dialogue, and that significant progress will be made immediately upon him being sworn in next January. Not only does he have the vision thing, but he’s got a plan to boot. Your move, Obama.
He ends with a flourish, building up to his campaign slogan “You give me your vote, and I’ll give you back your country” with a series of frantic fist pumps, his smile growing all the wider as the 20 or so supporters in the front of the cramped bar area pick up the pace with a steady applause, punctuated here or there by a “mmmhmmm” or a “that’s right! He’s right!.” Between the tri-corner hats, the old cars plastered in bumper stickers, and the pamphlets, there may be no more distinctive swath of the liberal electorate more identifiable by their appearance and their actions than the Kucinistas.
Although we hear a rumor of Bill Clinton speaking in nearby Amherst (which turns out to be true), that’s it for the day, and we head off to the locally renown Peterborough Diner a bock away. Just as the town itself fits the model of small town New England, the Peterborough Diner is everything you’d want, wish, and pray for a diner to be. It’s shaped like a box car, the waitress gives you coffee when you sit down, and the placemat doubles as an advertisement for the local businesses, including a wicker furniture maker . When we sit, we pass a table full of young McCain volunteers in their “Team McCain” hats—stylish as far as campaign head-ware goes—and in another room, a couple of tables full of assorted members of the media. It turns out we weren’t alone in getting shut out of the Town Hall. The Los Angeles Times and a number of other media outlets were forced to view democracy from behind closed doors as well. But if that meant they were then transported into the psychedelic time warp that was the Kucinich rally, well, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.