Yesterday was my first full day in Manchester, New Hampshire. Within the first few hours I attended a lunch hosted by the organization No Labels, an organization dedicated to working across party lines to fix America’s problems. I arrived at the noon event 45 minutes early, and already the hotel lobby was packed full of people. It took a good five minutes just for me to wade through the crowd in order to get a nametag. The crowd was full of people from all walks of life, ranging from military veterans to political authors to pageant winners and everywhere in between. I ended up talking with a charming elderly gentleman who had served in the United States Marines for twenty years before quitting to become a law enforcement officer.
When the doors finally opened to the salon where the event was being held, there was a rush of excitement as everyone raced towards the doors. Conversations were cut off as people strove to get the best seat possible for the upcoming event. As we all entered the room, No Labels had their new theme song playing, a rather catchy tune entitled Promises with a refrain, which proclaimed “you’ve got promises to keep, we’ve got things to do/ all sides must meet so we can break through”. The refrain concisely captured the main message of No Labels, although as the song continued to repeat for well over ten minutes I began to feel as though I was in the episode of Parks and Recreations where Leslie Knope is desperately trying to get to her podium as her campaign song repeats over and over.
The tables were set beautifully but with too many forks for the number of courses offered. My table had a stark white tablecloth, which was nicely offset by bright red napkins; the table to my right had a deep blue tablecloth setting the American theme very tastefully. Once the event began those on stage quickly captured my attention, and the irritatingly catchy tune and analysis of the tablecloths faded from my mind.
The event began with a welcome by John Broderick, one of the Co-Chairs of No Labels New Hampshire. His opening remarks were customary for such an event as he thanked everyone for coming to support this event. After speaking rather briefly, he introduced the Goffstown Area High School Choir. The group of no more than twenty students took the stage dressed in maroon polo’s and khakis – a very high school uniform. The choir first sang America the Beautiful, which while not amazingly well done, managed to pull the heartstrings of a rather impressive baritone to the right of the room who began to proudly sing along. After the first song, the choir sang the organizations theme song – Promises. Just when I had begun to think that the song would no longer haunt me, it came back in the form of two high school girls’ solos.
Once the choir was finished, the event began in earnest. Sergeant Major Paul Chevalier took the stage donning his military hat. He introduced Ambassador Richard Swett who then immediately turned around and introduced Jon Huntsman and Joe Lieberman. Huntsman and Lieberman reiterated No Labels’ goal of bipartisanship and released the names of the six presidential candidates who had joined the No Labels pledge: Governor Chris Christie, Governor Martin O’Malley, Dr. Ben Carson, Governor John Kasich, Senator Rand Paul, and Donald Trump. After listing those who had taken the pledge Huntsman and Lieberman made sure to highlight the fact that giving these six candidates the No Labels award, was in no way an endorsement, a fact that seemed lost on a few people and candidates who gave the organization some grief for giving the award to Trump.
Governor Christie was the first of the six to be given the award; he was not at the lunch but talked with us through video conferencing. I had not heard Gov. Christie speak very often and he surprised me with how well spoken and sometimes witty he was. His explanation of why he signed the pledge was well thought out and very convincing. As anticipated he then went on to explain exactly why the people of America should vote for him, talking about his history of working across party lines as governor. He brought up his plan to create new jobs for Americans during his presidency, which is one of the four No Labels promises. After he finished his speech Gov. Christie was more than happy to take questions from the audience.
The first question came from a man who was curious about Gov. Christie’s stance on the other three promises of No Labels. Christie immediately launched into a well rehearsed response and reiterated his dedication to the other three promises: social security and Medicare for another 75 years, balancing the federal budget by 2030, and making America energy secure by 2024. He didn’t flesh out his plans in great detail but seemed very confident in his ability to implement all four, were he elected president. Gov. Christie was then asked how he intended to limit the power of lobbyists. It seemed as though he had been waiting for this questions and quickly launched into an eloquent speech which boiled down to one point: Congressional term limits. Gov. Christie insisted that Congressmen should serve no more than 12 years total, 6 terms for the House and 2 terms for the Senate. Gov. Christie made a witty remark saying that if a Congressman hasn’t accomplished what he set out to accomplish in 36 years, then it was obvious that he never would and the people should kick him out of office. The third and final question was asked by an elderly woman named Kathy, who wanted to know how Gov. Christie intended to fund Social Security, citing worried over previous comments he had made about limiting the recipients of the system. Gov. Christie’s eyes lit up and he smiled at the camera before mentioning that this must be the third time he and Kathy had had this conversation. Nevertheless he launched into his spiel saying that the system had failed the American people and we should limit how much money we put in. To illustrate his point of view he used the analogy of a bank that went under and lost your money, and then three days later the owner of the bank came knocking on your door asking you to invest in his new bank, promising that he had learned his lesson. “I promise you Kathy, that he would leave your doorstep with none of your money.” Gov. Christie promised. Huntsman and Lieberman thanked Christie for his time and turned back to the audience.
Governor O’Malley was the next to appear on screen and he came out fighting. Gov. O’Malley started similar to Gov. Christie citing his pledge to the four promises of No Labels but then immediately began throwing shade at his fellow democrat candidates, highlighting that he was the only democrat, thus far, to have signed the No Labels pledge. Gov. O’Malley talked about how important working across party lines was, and stressed the importance of working together. He then accused No Labels of diluting what they stood for by giving this award to someone like Trump. O’Malley, never a man to pull a punch, insisted that Trump was the opposite of what No Labels stood for, and that his proposition to issue IDs to Muslim Americans was fascist and went against everything America stood for. He finished his speech by stating how honored he was to accept the award and that we as Americans needed to work together to keep a Republican from becoming the next president. Unfortunately, Gov. O’Malley took no questions.
After O’Malley said goodbye, Cathie Chevalier took the stage to the song “Shut up and Dance” by Walk the Moon. Chevalier was representing Dr. Ben Carson. From the moment she stepped on stage Chevalier seemed flustered and nervous. Her notes were out of order and she had to take a moment to awkwardly shuffle them around. As she began her speech she didn’t get much better. The speech was full of awkward phrases, poor examples, and unconvicting sentiment. Chevalier’s voice was thin and strained as she attempted to muddle her way through the speech. While trying to explain that Ben Carson was the man for the job because he wasn’t a politician, she managed to convince me of the opposite. I confess I was so uncomfortable during her speech that I turned to my roommate next to me and struck up a conversation just to make the time pass more quickly. I was not the only person who felt this way. I saw a number of people turn their attention from the stage and back to their food – a delightful Salmon dish with mango chutney and brown rice. When Chevalier finished her speech there was a collective sigh of relief and a polite smattering of applause.
The Honorable Tom Rath was the next to take the stage, representing Governor John Kasich. Perhaps it was just in comparison to Chevalier, but I found Rath’s speech to be very straight forward and concise. He was on stage no more than three minutes, but managed to get across the main points of Gov. Kasich’s campaign. Like the others before him, Rath spoke of Gov. Kasich’s ability to work with the opposing party in order to fix America. Rath didn’t elaborate on any of Gov. Kasich’s plans for implementing the No Labels promise.
Senator Andy Sanborn represented Senator Ran Paul who was also unable to join us. His speech was strikingly similar to Rath’s and I found my concentration waning as I stood in the back of the room, having given my seat up to a group of late arrivals. Senator Sanborn said a few catchy remarks about fixing America, which earned him a few moments of riotous applause and a single standing ovation. Glancing down at my program I found it difficult to concentrate, as I was interested in what Mr. Trump’s representative was going to say. Finally, Senator Sanborn left the stage and Representative Steve Stepanek stepped onto the stage.
Rep. Stepanek began by saying that he was a long time friend and supporter of Mr. Trump, and that he was honored to be here in his stead. A number of people left the room and didn’t return. Either Rep. Stepanek didn’t notice, or he didn’t let this fact faze him. Rep. Stepanek insisted that Trump was the right candidate for president because he was one of the people. Rep. Stepanek cited the different friends Trump has on both sides of the party line and attempted to use this as proof of Trump’s willingness to work alongside others. Rep. Stepanek relied upon Trump’s campaign slogan make American great again numerous times during his speech in an attempt to rouse the waning audience. He finished his speech and roughly 1/3 of the room applauded half-heartedly.
Huntsman and Lieberman took the stage once again and gave a rousing call to action. They insisted that having a president who had taken the No Labels pledge was the only way to fix America. They thanked all the representatives for coming out today and thanked the audience for their continued support. The message lacked some oomph as people had already started trickling out as soon as Rep. Stepanek had finished his speech. As we all began to exit the room, the theme song Promises began to play.