Last evening's U.S. Senate debate-like-object with two candidates was a splendid chance to chat with, then hear two of them, Tom Conroy and Herb Robinson. Rhetorically, physically and in policy, contrasts between them were wonderfully stark. In a time and place of sameness, I think the couple dozen of us left with clear senses of what they are about, more than we have seen before.
This one was at Pine Manor College and driven by public policy consultant Pamela Julian. She's also a League of Women Voters member and wants that group to help sponsor more of these for this race.
Neither candidate as been a guest on Left Ahead. Several others, including folk who have dropped out have been, including Elizabeth Warren. I was not disappointed by meeting and listening to two of what Robinson used to refer to himself as low man on the totem pole. "I am in the lowest candidate in this race," he said. "We all know that."
He noted in his remarks that he doesn't have a lot of money, campaigns part time as a full-time engineer, and isn't given much of a shot. In contrast, while he managed to stifle it for much of his time at the podium, Conroy called out the "pundits and prognosticators" who had already given the Democratic nomination to Warren.
The two were as different in presentation as physically. Both were good company, although Robinson likely would make a better dinner or bar companion, with good stories and amiability. In profile, Conroy is a raptor, all edges and sinew. He was alert, loud and emphatic. The rotund, furry cheeked Robinson was clearly bright and terribly sincere. He was soft-spoken, even sleepy, but had specific goals and several innovative proposals. He also was not afraid to preach some doom about the economy and nuclear power.
Conroy started with matches to Warren's about-me routines and even captured a bit of the POTUS' calling out of prototypical Americans. On the up-from-tough-roots bio, he included such anecdotes as his parents with no spare money. "My mother at one point didn't even have a quarter to buy a subway token to take me to the hospital when I was so sick I couldn't eat," he said. He got to run a business and become a state rep through education and his parents' example of "hard word, dedication, with discipline and some smarts and some prayer and some help from people in the community, and a sense of service to others in need." Then we went to Terry, Jen and Michael whom he met as he walked 650-plus miles around the commonwealth. Each was a prototypical resident struggling.
Whew, there's a full basket.
In contrast, Robinson spoke of three goals — fixing the economy first, making "America a better place for all of us," and "do it safely." He had specific proposals, such as tying capital gains taxes to unemployment. For example, if the jobless rate is 6.5% or above, the tax rises and rich folk would get a break if it falls to 2.5% or below. He wants capital gains taxes as regular income, adjusted for inflation.
He didn't present any sob or inspirational stories. He's been an engineer for 30 years and thinks things through in detail, depth and width.
He noted that incumbent Sen. Scott Brown had no real proposals to fix the economy even after a year and one half in office. "I have two," he said, "and I'm doing this part-time." He said he can make better decisions than Brown and do it safely. He added that unlike the incumbent he "knows the difference between hairspray and nuclear fallout."
Both candidates answered moderator Julian's questions about education saying they were for more fully funding schools and loan programs. Robinson added that with Prop. 2½ limiting municipalities' tax growth rates, "over the long term, every city in Massachusetts is going to be in the same situation as Lawrence." He also noted that the nation spends far too much on the military and that he opposed the Iraq war well before it started.
For a sample of part of Conroy's polished stumped speech, click below for two and a half minutes of him on his game.