The election was the easy part. So said Tom Salvo, who drove from Exeter Saturday night with his wife, Laurie, to a house on Steamboat Street to gather with two dozen people he'd never met before, but with whom he held at least one treasured thing in common: they had all voted for Barack Obama for president. And in that crowded, but cheery, living room, they were bound by something else: a commitment to help the man they had elected navigate a course for positive change in America.
Novak opened by explaining that she had decided to hold the house meeting, in part, because she was impressed by how much the Obama national team appeared to value feedback from ordinary people. "I started believing, maybe they really do care what I think," she told the assembled group. Then, she guided the conversation around the room, as the visitors introduced themselves, talked about why they were there, why they had voted for Barack Obama, and more.
"I got involved because I was terrified for the country," said Karen Krider of Jamestown. "I was starting to yell at the TV and throw things." She got so incensed, in fact, that she traveled to Missouri to campaign for Obama for the final 10 days prior to the election.
Newport's Hilary Stookey went out of state for Obama as well; beginning in Lebanon, N.H., where, she said, people "had come from all over to work for Obama." Then, she traveled south to campaign in North Carolina, an experience that taught her that "we have a lot of work to do in this country."
Jamestown's Julie Moura explained that she is "a registered independent" with a painful secret: "I voted Republican the last two [Presidential] elections." Regretting her mistake, she voted for Obama this time. "I did it mainly for my grandchildren."
Linda Fain of Newport said she got her introduction to Obama when she visited her daughter in Chicago and noticed an Obama placard in the house. "I hadn't heard of him," Fain said. "But my son-in-law told me, "This guy's going places."
Laurie Salvo said she was impressed by Obama's "ability to mobilize people." But, she added, he can't do it all alone. "Obama has the potential to affect change in this country, and I want to be part of that."
Wakefield resident Enid Flaherty was thrilled simply to report, "This was the first time I voted for someone for president I really wanted to vote for."
When the discussion turned to issues that the guests felt mattered most to them, responses ranged from the straightforward – "Anything green is important to me," said Jamestown’s Kristine Thorson – to a complex economic discourse by Newport tax expert Hassan Naguib, who argued, among other things, that wealthy Republicans have cleverly re-branded the estate tax as "the death tax," disingenuously claiming that its repeal would benefit "the poor farmer."
One issue seemed to prevail over the rest: healthcare. Specifi- cally, the current state of health insurance in America, in which private insurance companies get fat by collecting high premiums on the front end, and then minimizing, to whatever extent they can get away with, how much they dole out in actual coverage and reimbursements to individuals, employers, hospitals, and doctors.
"Health care is the most important thing for me and my wife," said Charlestown resident John Harrington, who noted that he owned a small business for years and found that "the amount of time I spent on health issues for a handful of employees was disproportionate" to all other aspects of running his company.
Robert Malin, a member of Progressive Democrats of America, called for "healthcare, not warfare." He said that Obama once favored a federally-administered, single-payer healthcare system, but was forced by politics into a less ambitious position. "But if it came up, I don't think he would veto a single-payer system."
Whatever the issue, Jamestown's Hal Krider advised Obama's supporters to recognize that "Barack's capacity to govern is based on his ability to maintain our support." For the overall effort to be successful, he said, everyone "should take the first steps in the same direction." Later, I asked Krider if that was his way of telling Obamanians "to just shut up and follow."
"For a while, anyway," he said, smiling. "But, of course, I wouldn't say 'shut up.' That would be impolite."
In the end, I was impressed, and even a little surprised, by how downright earnest, may I say, idealistic, the Obama people were. These weren't wide-eyed children, after all. Not a dreamy college sophomore among them. Maybe nobody under the age of 35, and most far north of that. Too old to be idealists, you'd think, but there they were, teaming up for a few hours to lay out their best hopes for a future that they dared to believe might be different this time around.