The crowd filed into the Pease Public Library lower meeting room on a cool night, the anniversary of 9/11. Mostly elderly people, aside from a small group of Plymouth State University Republicans. Veterans took reserved seats in the front rows, alongside small business owners and close friends.
Minutes ticked by as excitement ran through the crowd, old friends greeting each other. Around 6:40 whispers of uncertainty scattered the room, the speakers were scheduled to arrive ten minutes earlier. Late comers crowded the cramped room, tucking themselves into corners. By 6:48 everybody stopped moving, and the noise was silenced. “Sorry we’re late,” a voice in the back called. It was Senator John McCain.
Veteran and host Pete Kerry introduced Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. John McCain of Arizona as “national security policy experts” with a reminder of the day’s importance, and apologies for being eighteen minutes late.
McCain spoke first. Confidently calm, direct and to the point.
“I’m here today because I am deeply concerned with where our nation is,” he said. Nods and murmurs in the crowd of mixed parties showed support. It was a night where humble people spoke about what mattered to them. McCain then introduced presidential candidate Lindsey Graham as the “best candidate since Ronald Reagan,” stressing his military experience.
Graham, who is a drop in the bucket at one percent in the polls, was a lawyer for the military from 1982 until retiring in the summer of 2015. The military was Sen. Graham’s biggest talking point. He was worried the country has gone soft in relation to terrorism.
“Radical Islam is coming here if we don’t stop them there,” he said. “They’re crazy. They’re religious Nazis.” Then Graham made a point that “radical Islam is not all of Islam,” and that dropping a bomb wasn’t going to solve the problem. He wants to hit them where it hurts, he said, by educating young women and reestablishing stability in the Middle East.
“I am ready to be Commander in Chief on day one,” Graham said. “We don’t need on-the-job training.” He added that he would start by rebuilding the military, and increasing troop presence overseas. This meant going back to Iraq.
“We’re going to destroy ISIL and not just talk about it,” he said. One of Graham’s deepest regrets under the Obama Administration is that the military was pulled out of Afghanistan too early. “We never should have left,” he said.
In addition to building the home army, Graham also stated he wants to arm and train smaller forces – such as the Middle Eastern ethnic group known as the Kurds – to fight back against terrorism. This was also linked to the senator’s disapproval of Vladimir Putin’s control over Russia.
“I would do two things as president,” Graham said. “I would destroy ISIL, and I would tell Russia we’re going to give weapons to the Ukrainians so they can fight back.”
Sen. Graham also mentioned his frustration with the economy, promising that as president, “we won’t become Greece.” The audience stirred at the possibility. The problem, he said, comes from overspending in foreign countries. “Don’t invest in other countries until you help your own first,” he said.
Before fielding questions Sen. Lindsey Graham left with one of his own, “tell me how you win without both parties working together?”
The night closed out with veterans and other senior citizens asking questions about Graham’s stance on Obamacare, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and Social Security. McCain offered assistance on a few as well, such as when the question regarded small business tax rates.
“We have the highest cooperate tax rate than any country in the world,” he said, adding that cuts are needed, and have been agreed upon by both parties in the past. Graham recalled a game of golf in which President Obama and Sen. McCain were both present, talking taxes and agreeing on packages. Graham’s question still rang through the air. How do you win without working together?
Both speakers had shared their opinions on taxes and spending that evening, but the focus was on senior citizens while students were never mentioned. Afterwards I caught up with the senators for an interview.
Both Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have proposed debt-free college tuition programs (dubbed the College for All Act and New College Compact, respectively) for the country’s younger voters. Graham stated this would be a disaster for the American economy.
“We reduced student loan interest rates,” Graham said. “But I’m not for the federal government taking over and making college free. The best thing I would do for a college student I think is create an economy where you can get a job, so I’m not for what [Hillary] is saying.”
Graham said the government needs to be less involved as it is spending too much already. “I worked when I went to college, I know indebtedness is great. The main thing is making it worth your time and money, and if the government gets involved the cost will just go up. Every time the government interjects itself into the college market tuition goes up,” he said.
Students may have a rough future ahead of them, but that future often pales in comparison to the concerns over conservation issues and water usage. When asked if the military’s growth mentioned earlier was the most important issue for the country, Sen. McCain spoke about home.
“In the case of water conservation, if you come from the Southwest it is the dominant issue, it’s the most important issue,” he said. “Our lakes and reservoirs have gone dry in a fourteen year drought. It is the most important issue in my part of the country. We view it as the great challenge in the lives of our children and grandchildren.”
That remains the ongoing problem of the United States. Problems continue to be regionalized, while the rest of the country distances themselves to focus on more personal issues. I hear Graham’s question again, how do you win without working together?
“I believe climate change is real,” Graham added. “I believe that CO2 emissions are heating up the planet, and I’m looking for a business-friendly solution. In terms of conservation, I alone with Richard Berman are the lead sponsors of the Conservation Easement Program.” Conservation easement incentivizes private property owners to hand land over to conservation organizations for sustainability purposes.
Promises are often made on the trail, but when the job finally comes, priorities tend to steal the focus, with smaller issues being brushed aside.
“I’ll put my environmental record up against any republican running,” said Sen. Graham, smiling and shaking hands as he walked out.
Sen. McCain said that Lindsey Graham still has a chance to win, mentioning that he was also losing at this time during his presidential race. There may be a more sentimental reason for the Arizona senator to endorse him then, but the future will only be determined by Graham’s own voice.