Sunday, January 20
PITTSFIELD- Few counties are as blue as this one.Even though just over half of the Berkshires' 85,000 registered voters are unenrolled independents, most of them tilt Democratic in national contests. Registered Democrats include 37 percent of the voters, while only 11 percent identify themselves as Republicans.
Berkshire Brigades, the countywide organization of progressive-activist Democrats, held an emotionally charged pep rally Jan. 11 at Spice restaurant. It was fueled by the near-certainty that, even after Feb. 5 (dubbed "Tsunami Tuesday" by some political wonks and "Super Duper Tuesday" by others), the race for the presidential nomination in both parties may remain undecided.
Twenty-two states hold primaries or caucuses on that date and, for a change, Massachusetts will matter with its mother lode of 121 national-convention delegates on the Democratic side and 43 for the Republicans. A robust turnout is expected; only California, Illinois, New York and New Jersey award more delegates on Feb. 5. In this state, unenrolled (independent) voters not registered with either party can ask for either a Democratic or a Republican ballot.
At Spice, keynote speaker Sen. John F. Kerry, the almost-president in 2004, fired up the crowd with an impassioned call to arms. The well-coiffed, aristocratic senator, a Barack Obama supporter, acknowledged that "the choices within the Democratic Party are hard. Each of you will wrestle with those. Great people are running, and no matter what choice each of us makes, we're going to come together and elect a Democratic president!"
Describing the unprecedented logjam on Capitol Hill, Kerry declared: "I'd had enough, you've had enough, the American people have had enough of this kind of obstructionism, ideological excess. ... It's time to bring this country together around the real agenda that makes a difference to the future."
Supporting the unfairly maligned candidacy of Hillary Rodham Clinton, state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley of North Adams, the oracle of the Berkshire delegation, insisted that she would "make an excellent president" from Day One and cited her advocacy of the Children's Health Care program. "She works very hard. ... You know that she's a fighter, and you know she has worked for people for 35 years. This is a woman we could be very proud of as our president ... because we need somebody who cares about us, and not about the special interests" in Washington.
But for many, the evening's highlight was a spectacular, rousing speech by a fired-up state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing of Pittsfield, a self-described "political nerd" who made a powerful case for Obama's "transformational" leadership — "a candidate who makes us proud to believe in what we believe."
He described his first casual encounter with Obama in 2004: "For 45 minutes, I was taken to a different place. I heard things I had never heard before. I was inspired in a way I had heard my parents talk about past leaders. I had never seen in real life, felt what it feels like to be inspired by someone standing up for elected office. At this time, with these challenges that we face, with a nation in peril, a nation at war on two fronts, with poverty here at home and abroad skyrocketing, we don't need the same-old, same-old solutions of yesterday. We need someone who can look at tomorrow and tell us what the solutions are going to be. ... Understanding that our futures are linked together by that type of compassion is the only way we can come together to address the challenges we face."
Downing's speech — probably the most stirring we've heard from a local politician in some time — reflected the youth-driven intensity of the idealistic movement winning the hearts and minds of previously cynical, apathetic young people, as well as a growing number of African-Americans, white Midwesterners and some of us who lived through 1968, the year that began with Bobby Kennedy and Dr. King moving mountains for change, weaving dreams that exploded into the nightmares of assassination.
Clinton would make a fine leader, blazing trails as our first woman president. But, though we would like to hear specifics from Obama, it's hard not to be swept along by the high-surf tide of optimism and good will surging through his campaign and among his supporters.
Bill Clinton has described an Obama candidacy as "rolling the dice." A more apt description would be riding the wave, always risky.
The times call for the boldest leadership. Still, for many of us, a final decision awaits the privacy of the voting booth.
Clarence Fanto is a former managing editor of The Eagle. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com.