Postman on Politics
Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.
February 4, 2008 2:12 PM
Posted by David Postman
VANCOUVER -- In talking with voters recently I’ve been struck by how few feel passionately about any candidate, save for this year’s passion candidate, Barack Obama. Fans of other candidates sound practical or strategic or just resigned to some fate out of their control. With candidates dropping out, more voters are going with their second choice, which obviously is not very exciting.
But on my last stop before heading home yesterday I had coffee with four committed and passionate supporters of Hillary Clinton. Their support came with no qualification, no apology. Sure they’ll back Obama if he wins the nomination. But Val Ogden, Norman Bank and Morris Foutch all argue that Clinton is better qualified and would be a better president. And Foutch’s wife, Jean, says she’s strongly leaning that way, too.
This was not a random meeting. Morris Foutch e-mailed me while I was on my Eastern Washington trip to comment about the story about a family of wheat farmers who had grown disillusioned with President Bush and the political system at large as they faced some tough financial times.
He found that tale interesting, but, he wrote me:
"I do, however, believe their straits are grossly overstated. Yes, we do need farmers to produce the foodstuffs and fibers that we all consume but these people appear to me to complain too much."
I thought he sounded like a guy who puts a lot of thought into his politics. I suggested we meet when I came through Clark County. When we met here, Foutch had thoroughly researched commodity prices and was talking about what crop failures in China and the plains of Russia had done to the international wheat market.
But we didn’t get together to rehash that story or talk about wheat. He brought his wife and his two friends to talk about the presidential campaign. I know Ogden, 83, from her years as a state legislator from Clark County. She retired after the 2002 session and now fills her day with a lot of volunteer work, including pushing for affordable housing. She and her husband also remain involved in Democratic politics.
Foutch, 71, is excited about the campaign. Everyone around the table was clearly liberal, and Foutch said he expects a major political shift come November.
“The public in general will move to the left. This election will be a very, very, hard hit on the conservative movement.”
Foutch has three college degrees and has had two careers; first as a biochemist and then working in the semiconductor and super computer industries. He grew up in Longview, was drafted and spent his Army years in Germany guarding the border between East and West Germany. He called that experience, “being in the lead regiment for World War III.
Jean Foutch had a career at Nordstrom, where she worked in sales, management, as a buyer and a logistics expert.
Banks, 67, is a retired volcanologist who helped create a rapid response volcano program and worked around the Pacific Rim. He is the Clark County committeeman to the state Democratic Party.
The four are friends and represent well, I think, the Clinton demographic. These are old-school Democrats, not among the many who have been brought to the party by excitement over Obama or any other candidate.
Ogden, the only one among the four with elected political experience, said she has no doubt there is a generational split between backers of Clinton and Obama. She said Obama is bringing new people into the party.
“That’s what Dean did. He really reached out to the young people and got them involved. Frankly, we didn’t do a very good job keeping those people involved.”
She said the party needs to do a better job this year. And she thinks it will. The state party is asking all county organizations to hold parties the week after the caucuses -- they’re calling them The Raucous Caucus -- to keep people engaged, even if their candidate lost the week before.
Banks said Obama is a “sweet talker.”
“Obama is a wonderful guy. He just does not have the experience in Washington and he hasn’t governed. He will not have the breadth of experience she would. He’s a great talker. But I don’t know how he’ll do getting things done.”
This brought nods around the table. Said Ogden:
“That’s what I hear: Great speech, but not a lot of specifics.”I wondered what they thought about the theory I hear from many Democrats that Clinton is too polarizing a figure to win in November. Banks jumped at the chance to respond. He said that is just Republican spin to scare people away from Clinton. But, I said, I hear it from Democrats.
“I know,” he said. “I think Democrats are buying Karl Rove’s story.”
Morris Foutch took a more research-based approach to disprove the theory that Clinton has too many negatives. (This clearly is a guy who likes data and doesn’t feel comfortable spouting political opinions - whether about wheat prices, immigration, the national debt or a candidate’s character - without first putting in a fair amount of computer time.) He said he Googled “Clinton negatives” and found plenty to read. He printed out a list of issues which he said he printed at home and put in front of his computer.
“There’s not a single one that’s a serious thing.”
Again, nods all around. On the question of experience, though, I asked if they considered Clinton’s time as First Lady experience in governing.
“It’s not just that,” Banks said. “They have been a team since the beginning.”
And team is more than Bill and Hillary, he said.
“There’s a whole Clinton team that has done a very good job running this country. I think this country is in such serious shape we need someone who can start on day one. She knows how to move the system around.”
Clark County Democrats are expecting a large turnout for Saturday’s caucus. Banks said that in 2000, only 300 Clark County Democrats went to the presidential caucus. In 2004, that was up to 3,200. He said that Saturday the party is expecting at least 6,000.
That’s clearly a reflection of people’s interest in the presidential race. But Banks hopes it translates to wider victories for Democrats. He said more than taking back the White House needs to happen for Democrats to make the changes they want.
“We need 10 more seats in the Senate. We can’t have a fight for the next eight years. We have to be able to govern.”
There was less than complete agreement around the table about the specifics of that governing.
On government spending, Foutch said he’s very concerned about the fast growing size of the budget and the national debt. “And here’s the kicker,” he told his friends, “it doesn’t include future war expenses.”
He said that problem needs to be taken care of immediately under a Democratic president. But Banks cautioned:
“The problem is, how do you pay that off without a huge tax increase?”
“Well then, raise taxes.”
All four Clark County Democrats strongly oppose the war in Iraq would like to see a troop withdrawal as soon as possible. Banks said:
“I refuse to call it a war. We are using military assets to destroy a county. You would call it terrorism in any other situation.”
“We are really protecting that black asset that resides under the sand there.”
But they differ a bit on some of the political realities of the war. Foutch remains angry at Congressman Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, for his support for the U.S. military surge in Iraq.
“He lost my vote,” Foutch said. “I object to what he did.” He sent Baird a three-page letter telling him that. Foutch said that he won’t vote for Baird either in the primary or general election.
That worried Banks.
“I would hate to lose that seat.”
“So would I, Norman. But he won’t get my vote.”
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