Transcript

151:

Primary
Transcript

Originally aired 01.28.2000

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life.

New Hampshire Primary Emcee

Good morning, everyone. I feel like a school teacher. Good morning, teacher. It's very overwhelming to see such a great turnout this morning. I'm just so excited because I know it was very hard to get out of bed on this very, very cold New England morning. I've just been given the overwhelming task of introducing this amazing man. And I'm totally speechless right now. And I am just extremely excited.

[MUSIC - "IT STARTED ALL OVER AGAIN" BY FRANK SINATRA]

Ira Glass

All of our stories today, brought to you from New Hampshire, where it has started again. Voters looking to fall for a candidate-- candidates, according to voters.

John Mccain

I'm very happy to be here this morning. This is the 70-something town hall meeting I've had in the state of New Hampshire. I had a guy come the other day, just before Christmas. He said, Senator McCain, this is the fifth town hall meeting you've had that I've attended. And I said, that's ample testimony to my inability to close the deal. Right.

I want to talk about just a couple of issues of the day with you, because the thing I know about the people of New Hampshire, they're not particularly interested in long speeches. In fact, they're not even interested in short speeches. They're interested in making comments, asking questions, and an occasional insult.

Ira Glass

Today on our program, people looking for something to believe in, and many of them finding it, and what they know about the candidates that you don't know. Take, for example, Kahari Mosley and Garcia Suzinko. Three days into the beginning of the new millennium, they left home to do something they had never done before. They hopped on a bus in Pennsylvania and headed up to New Hampshire to volunteer for a presidential campaign. Kahari had never been to New England before. He looked out the bus window, he says, and saw trees all close together, boxy houses 100 years old.

Kahari Mosley

I was blown away. Because I was tapping him on the bus. We were about 10 minutes from Manchester. I'm tapping him on the bus like, yo, man. I started getting scared, because-- I mean there's country in Pennsylvania, but it's a different type of country. It's more kind of like NASCAR, WWF-type country. I mean, this is like American Gothic, like scary movie country.

Ira Glass

In rural New Hampshire, wherever Kahari and Garcia went, they could pretty much count on being the only African-Americans for miles. Knocking on doors for their candidate, they found a surprising number of people who wanted to tell them how great Colin Powell is. They tried to steer the conversation toward their candidate, Bill Bradley. They also did lit drops, put together canvassing kits, painted signs for a Bradley event down in Boston.

Kahari Mosley

Like since he was a basketball player, like Boston Celtics Fans for Bradley. Like, go Bradley, you held Havlicek. Then we came up with the one, like welcome to a new Bill-ennium. Because like Will Smith had the Will-ennium, then I was like, flip it-- like, the Bill-ennium. You know what I mean?

Ira Glass

And what motivated these two college students to hop on a bus at their own expense and head north to work for free? It was one television appearance. One of those Sunday morning talk shows where, as Kahari remembers it, Bill Bradley said the two biggest social problems facing America are racism and materialism. Materialism. Kahari could not believe it. It was like running against the very idea of America.

Kahari Mosley

That's really one of the main things that's wrong with America on a day to day basis. I grew up in a low-income community. When you're impoverished and your life is defined by material things and you don't have it, you have a lack of self esteem. I grew up, I went to middle school, high school. If you have a certain pair of sneakers, people made fun of you. And that affects how you-- I know kids that didn't want to go to school. They didn't graduate from high school because they didn't have the right pair of sneakers on or the right jeans.

I used to make fun of people. I'm guilty of it. You know what I mean? And knowing that, for someone to address that-- and I just saw it. And I was like, yo, I cannot believe he just said this on TV. And I remember, I started telling people. I was like, yo, man, this dude, look, this is what he said. I kept telling everybody I know what he said. And they're like, I can't believe he said that. He's never going to win. He's never going to win. And I was like, he's not going to win unless people support him.

Ira Glass

And so he bought his bus ticket for Manchester. Today on our program, the politicians are looking for a way to connect with voters. The voters want candidates who inspire them. So how come so few of us are like Kahari? How come so few of us have a candidate we love? Today, we bring you stories that explain how come and stories of voters who have found inspiration.

Act One of today's show, Eliminate the Middleman. Sarah Vowell visits a high school class in Concord that decided to take on the national press. Act Two, The Mask Behind the Mask, in which an intrepid reporter tries to get beyond the sound bites with Governor George W. Bush and succeeds-- as well as anyone, anyway. Act Three, Pay No Attention to the Candidate Behind the Mosh Pit, in which we answer the question what is a presidential campaign good for anyway? Stay with us.

Act One. Eliminate The Middleman.

Ira Glass

Act One. Eliminate the Middleman. Here in America, here is how we interact with our political candidates. We dispatch middlemen to the scene. They tell us what the candidates say, they research the candidates' backgrounds, and they tell us what they think is most important. These middlemen, of course, are journalists. Sarah Vowell has this fable about the difference between the way the middlemen see the world and the way non-journalists see it.

Sarah Vowell

It all started when Joanne McGlynn's media literacy class at Concord High School invited all the presidential candidates to speak. Known to loiter in New Hampshire ceaselessly before the state's primary elections, a whopping 50% of the eight major candidates accepted. Alan Keyes, Orrin Hatch, Gary Bauer, and Al Gore. They were asked to speak on the subject of school violence, not just because of the killings at Columbine but also because a Concord High School student was killed at school a couple of years ago.

Gore spoke to the student body on November 30, 1999, and contrary to conventional wisdom regarding his charisma deficiency, he was a hit. Students Lucas Gallo, Ashley Pettingill, and Alyssa Spellman recalled the event.

Lucas Gallo

He wasn't as stiff as people say he was. He comes out, takes his jacket off or whatever. He walks around, he asks for audience participation, he talks to the audience.

Ashley Pettingill

There's a question that said, what do you like to do for fun? And he mentioned that he liked The Simpsons.

Alyssa Spellman

He kind of understood that we are people, we are kids, but we're not dumb. We understand what's going on. And he respected that.

Lucas Gallo

I mean, he was still Gore. But he wasn't quite as stiff as like-- he didn't just get up and talk like the other candidates did. He's kind of a neat speaker to see.

Sarah Vowell

While the students were impressed by Gore's easygoing manner, his form, Joanne McGlynn was pleased with his content, the way he talked about school violence.

Joanne Mcglynn

He was very careful, I think, to describe the complicated nature of what might have caused what happened at Columbine. He didn't say, it is just because those two boys played video games. He used a little analogy about when you catch a cold or when you don't. And he said that some kids in this auditorium had the insulation of a loving family, of teachers that cared about them, of a supportive school system, and said they perhaps were insulated from some of these outside forces and therefore were immune from committing those kinds of acts.

Sarah Vowell

Then during the question and answer period, something happened that seemed unremarkable at the time.

Shane Fletcher

Hello, my name is Shane Fletcher, and I want to ask you a question. How do you get students to get involved in more politics?

Al Gore

Hm.

Joanne Mcglynn

He answered in a very lengthy response. He thought for a moment, paused, and said, I know there's a lot of cynicism in the country right now. And he said, especially among young people. He said, I think that it's caused by a number of things. He said, one of them may be that we need campaign finance reform. And he went on and talked about how he supported McCain-Feingold. He then said, but I think you kids should look in the mirror.

Al Gore

And I think that leaders can make a difference, but I think you also have to examine your own hearts. We are so privileged to live in this country. If that sounds corny to you, you should examine that attitude. Seriously.

Think about South Africa. They just recently became a democracy. When they had their first election, you know what the percentage turnout was? It was like 95%. People waited in lines to vote that were seven miles long. Here we have a constantly declining voter turnout. I think it's because a lot of people feel like they cannot make an individual difference. But you can.

Joanne Mcglynn

So he challenged them to get involved. And then he said, let me tell you a little story.

Sarah Vowell

Now I'm going to play you that little story. In the days that followed Gore's appearance, this story was twisted, distorted, and ultimately more fought over than a piece of Jerusalem real estate, which is why I am going to play what he said in its entirety.

Al Gore

Let me tell you a quick story. Twenty years ago, I got a letter from a high school student in West Tennessee about how the water-- her family was drinking from a well-- tasted funny. She wrote me how her grandfather had a mysterious ailment that paralyzed part of his body that she was convinced was related to the water. Then her father also became mysteriously ill. People thought she was imagining things.

We investigated. And what we found was that one mile from her home, a chemical company had dug a big trench, and they were dumping millions of gallons of hazardous chemical waste into the ground. It had seeped down into the water table and contaminated her family's well and the wells of other families in that rural area.

I called for a congressional investigation and a hearing. I looked around the country for other sites like that. I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. Had the first hearing on that issue in Toone-Teague, Tennessee. That was the one you didn't hear of. But that was the one that started it all. We passed a major national law to clean up hazardous dump sites. And we had new efforts to stop the practices that ended up poisoning water around the country. We've still got work to do. But we've made a huge difference. And it all happened because one high school student got involved.

Sarah Vowell

The night after the speech, Joanne McGlynn was at home and a friend called her, asking if she'd seen The New York Times.

Joanne Mcglynn

He said, did you notice the Love Canal comment? And I said, well, I remember he told a story about Love Canal. He said, well, it kind of is The Times says that Gore's taking credit for finding Love Canal. And I thought, uh-oh. I got a bit nervous. I thought, is that the way this story is going to be covered?

Sarah Vowell

Let me read from Katharine Seelye's article in The New York Times on December 1. In a 17-paragraph piece about one day in the Gore campaign, four paragraphs are devoted to the Concord High appearance. Seelye quoted Gore, "'I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I had the first hearing on that issue in Toone, Tennessee,' he said, 'but I was the one that started it all.'" Curiously The Washington Post made the exact same mistake. Also on December 1, Post staff writer Ceci Connolly quoted, "I was the one that started it all."

Alyssa Spellman

We came in once class, and Miss McGlynn was like, you guys are not going to believe this. And she wrote up the quote on the board, and she said, did he say this? And we were like, what, what? Did he say this-- I was the one that started it all? And then we were like, no, he was talking about the girl. That event started it all. And then we looked at all the newspapers, and we were like, wow.

Ashley Pettingill

She then played us back the tape that our TV production class had made. And the actual quote was, "that was the one that started it all," referring to the city in Tennessee.

Alyssa Spellman

We definitely said, we have to do something about this. And we were definitely, I think, shocked that wow, that one little word, one little word totally changed the context and totally changed what everyone thought about it.

Sarah Vowell

After The Times and The Post, the Love Canal mistake snowballed. US News & World Report listed "I was the one that started it all" as one of its quotes of the week. And then there was the following little round table on This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts. Among the two hosts, George Stephanopoulos and Bill Kristol.

Love Canal.

Yeah, Gore again revealed his Pinocchio problem.

Pinocchio problem.

Says he was the model for Love Story, created the internet, and this time he discovered Love Canal. It was kind of an exaggeration.

I was going to say that he discovered Love Canal when he had hearings on it after people had been evacuated.

Two months.

Yeah. "I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal. I was the one that started it all." Two months after--

Sarah Vowell

The Late Show with David Letterman dreamed up a list of the Top 10 other achievements also claimed by Al Gore.

Number five, pulled US out of early '90s recession by personally buying 6,000 T-shirts. Number four, starred in CBS situation comedy with Juan Valdez entitled Juan for Al, Al for Juan. Number three, was inspiration for Ozzy Osbourne's song "Crazy Train." Number two, came up with popular catchphrase, "don't go there, girlfriend." And the number one other achievement claimed by Al Gore, gave mankind fire.

Sarah Vowell

Initially, the students were upset about the misquote. But the more they thought about it and the more they watched the misquote evolve, they were really flabbergasted by the misrepresentation of Gore's appearance at their school.

Joanne Mcglynn

He was trying to say that kids can make a difference. He was trying to say what so many high school kids in this country don't believe.

Lucas Gallo

He's running for president, so he has to be a bit selfish and boost himself when he's speaking. But they totally missed the point of the entire story that he told. He was trying to make it a clear point for us that we need to get involved and that we should and that we can do something to help. And the media just didn't even mention the message that he's trying to explain or anything.

Ashley Pettingill

The actual quote itself was, I think, completely innocent. It wasn't a look how great I am, look what I did in Love Canal. It was a look how great you can be. That's what his message was, and that's what the papers overlooked.

Sarah Vowell

But what if I was this reporter and I said, I'm sorry, miss. Yes, you're right. I did misquote that. But so what? I still got the gist of what he was doing right. Maybe he was trying to inspire you. That's one part of what he was saying. But the second part of what he was saying is I was the one who brought this to fruition. I, Al Gore. Look at me.

Ashley Pettingill

I would say you're wrong. You're focusing on one little itty-bitty microscopic thing that, when misquoted, can mean something completely different, but when quoted correctly, it means a great thing for democracy and things like that.

Sarah Vowell

If I can come clean on whom I identify with the most in this story, it isn't the students or their teacher. I identify with the New York Times reporter Katharine Seelye, who misheard a word. She was the one that started it all. I am convinced that this woman, whose job it is to follow around a man with two jobs, running for president and being vice president, is beyond overworked. I know this partly because the first chance she got to return my phone call about all of this was at 1:15 in the morning. This poor reporter, this gatekeeper of democracy, was getting her first break of the day in the middle of the night. And considering that I am a writer who has publicly misspelled names, confused Sinclair Lewis with Upton Sinclair, and gotten who knows how many things wrong over the years, I am one pot who should not be calling The Grey Lady black.

Both The New York Times and The Washington Post did publish corrections. And this is what Seelye told me. About the students of Concord High, she said, "These kids are well intentioned. They're paying attention. We did get one word wrong. But they're magnifying what happened. Gore did say, 'I found a little town in upstate New York called Love Canal.'" She continued, "He called the AP in Buffalo the next day and apologized for presuming to take credit for that."

The journalists were, in fact, correct when they said that Love Canal was already a front-page story, an official national emergency months before Al Gore ever held hearings. But as you heard yourself, Gore never claimed to have been the one to have first brought Love Canal to national attention. He only claimed to have held the first congressional hearings on it.

Joanne Mcglynn

I think what shocks me, though, is that there seems, on some parts of the media that we've talked to, very little remorse. That surprises me, that it was just a word. I guess I have my own bias or perception as I look at the event.

The week before Al Gore came, our entire school had to practice a lockdown procedure. And a lockdown procedure is something I had never experienced except as a kid in Catholic school in Rhode Island in the early '60s. The nuns had us hiding under our desks or putting our heads down to protect us from nuclear fallout from when the Russians were going to bomb us.

And now in 1999, we are-- or we were in 1999-- being asked to run through an event as though a sniper were out in the hallway. This came down as a recommendation from the state of New Hampshire, their safety planning group. And it just so happened that we had our first practice session the week before Al Gore came to Concord High School.

So our principal came over the intercom and said, teachers, please implement the lockdown procedure. We knew ahead of time this was going to happen sometime during the next two days. I had to take my freshmen and move them away from the door, get them on the floor, turn their desks on their sides so they would be protected as much as they could be in case someone came into the room or attempted to come into the room with a gun. We had to be silent. I had to go out in the hallway and lock the door and grab any kid who might have been returning from the bathroom, hoping this kid was not the person that we needed to worry about, grab that kid, pull them in, and ask my students to be quiet.

I have to tell you, it was very unsettling. The thought that one of our students could be out in the hallway trying to harm us, it's a very complicated emotional response. Many of us were very uncomfortable during the lockdown-- but couldn't show that to the kids, wanted to show the kids that they were safe and not to worry.

So I thought Gore did a good job talking about this issue. I thought this was an issue that should be one of the prime ones in our presidential campaign. And I feared immediately when I heard Love Canal that somehow what had happened at Concord High would become a joke. And in some ways, that is what happened.

Well, let's talk about Al Gore and have some fun. And we've gone into the serious part of the program. Now here's the hilarious part. Al Gore keeps taking a little bit of truth and building it up into this sort of epical role in history he's played. This is Al Gore.

Joanne Mcglynn

It just makes me sad that the wise-guy attitude seems to dominate the press right now. And that's what I pick up on. Not to pick on Chris Matthews, but he spent two nights having a blast with this story about Love Canal, getting a big chuckle out of Dan Quayle may not be able to spell potato, but now Al Gore's going to claim he invented it. Chris Matthews refers to Al Gore as Zelig.

Well, there's Al Gore. What is it, this Zelig guy who keeps saying, I was the main character in Love Story, I invented the internet, I invented Love Canal?

Ed Rollins

I think he has Edmund Morris writing his speeches for him.

Joanne Mcglynn

Well, maybe where Chris works, that seemed like a funny thing to say. But where I work, it didn't seem that funny. Where I work, hiding some day, pretending to be hiding behind desks with kids, afraid that Klebold and Harris are outside my door, it didn't seem that funny. It really didn't seem that funny. And I'm not saying our candidates should be untested, unquestioned, uncriticized. I'm not saying that in the least. But I am saying if that's all we do, and if all we do is make fun of them, then we're losing something too, I think.

Ashley Pettingill

I feel like some reporters are just printing stuff that doesn't promote anybody anymore. They're just saying what they did wrong.

Sarah Vowell

I asked 16-year-old Ashley Pettingill what we lose when the press omits descriptions of how a candidate might actually make a good president.

Ashley Pettingill

I think we miss out on every reason to vote for them.

Sarah Vowell

At Concord High School, a politician actually spoke inspiringly and connected with the audience, which to me is news. But no reporter reported this. And in fact, these kind of moments are routinely overlooked by the press. They're barely part of our national political discourse.

But why? For one thing, so much political speech is lies, spin, and misrepresentation, it's understandable that journalists report these inspiring moments skeptically, if at all. And beyond that, the way most of the press works is pretty much as you suspect. Representatives of the news media carry around storylines of the candidates in their heads, and reporters light up when reality randomly corroborates these pictures.

One of the great mysteries of modern politics is which storylines get told and which get ignored. And in the primary season, that storyline is still up for grabs. John McCain's storyline, hero, threatened to become hypocrite in light of his helping a major donor with the FCC. Not long after George W. Bush flunked a foreign policy pop quiz, it appeared his name tag at the Correspondents Dinner was destined to read, "Hello, my name is Dunderhead."

Gore's storyline, that he's a bore, is spiced up by this secondary storyline, that he's a braggart, that he takes credit for ridiculous things, for inventing the internet, and for being the real life Oliver of Love Story. So of course the Love Canal misunderstanding screamed to reporters because it brought this particular fuzzy snapshot of Gore into sharper focus. It is telling that both the reporter for The Times and the one for The Post heard the exact same word incorrectly, almost as if that was what they wanted to hear. Teacher Joanne McGlynn says that this is a seductive impulse for both reporters and voters.

Joanne Mcglynn

This editor for US News & World Report called and said that-- and this was after he admitted he was sorry that they had published a misquote-- he told me a story about George Bush Sr. running for president in 1992. And I remember the story myself, that George Bush went into a supermarket and was stunned to find a scanner-- I guess he was used to old cash registers-- and made a comment that showed he was surprised to see a scanner.

What this gentleman from US News & World Report told me was, actually the pool reporter got that story wrong, that it was actually some kind of new scanner that Bush remarked on. But that comment then became the symbol or the iconic moment for Bush being out of touch with Middle America. And that was it. I think that might have hurt Bush big time. Now, it turned out-- if this man is right from US News & World Report-- not to be accurate. Now, if it wasn't accurate, was it not true? I mean, was Bush out of touch with Middle America?

It's the same thing going back to Gore. Does Gore take credit? It makes me question. And I have to say, I am going to keep my eyes open in a way I hadn't before, and particularly when things automatically fit my mindset. I'm going to be a little more careful. It' didn't surprise me that maybe President Bush didn't know about a scanner. But if he did, it's too bad that got out there. It's not fair.

Sarah Vowell

I looked at Joanne McGlynn's syllabus for her media literacy course, the one she handed out at the beginning of the year stating the goals of the class. By the end of the year, she hoped her students would be better able to challenge everything from novels to newscasts, that they would come to identify just who is telling a story and how that person's point of view affects the story being told.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this lesson has been learned. In fact, just recently, a student came up to McGlynn and told her something all good teachers dream of hearing. The girl told the teacher that she was listening to the radio, singing along with her favorite song. And halfway through the singalong, she stopped and asked herself, what am I singing? What do these words mean? What are they trying to tell me? And then this young citizen of the republic jokingly complained, I can't even turn on the radio without thinking more.

Ira Glass

Sarah Vowell is a columnist for Salon, the online magazine. She has a new collection of essays coming out called Take the Cannoli. Coming up, the finger-wagging styles of presidential candidates throughout history, and how George W. Bush acts in his own car. That's in a minute from Public Radio International when our program continues.

It's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today's show, Tales from the New Hampshire Primary, stories about why it is so hard for us to feel inspired by and connected to presidential candidates and of people who have managed that trick.

Act Two. The Mask Behind The Mask.

Ira Glass

We have arrived at act two of our program. Act Two, The Mask Behind the Mask. The front-runners always seem more protected. They are always the least spontaneous, the most packaged. They have the most to lose from a gaff, after all. And they have more people gunning for them too. Take George W. Bush. In debates, he'll often repeat the same few answers to several different questions. Sarah Koenig has been covering the Bush campaign for months for the newspaper The Concord Monitor in New Hampshire, trying to get to know the real George W. Bush, the man behind the message.

Sarah Koenig

I am in Austin, sitting in the back of George W. Bush's dusty blue Lincoln Town Car. He's twisting a gum wrapper around and around his finger, and he's grouchy. He's fighting the flu, I find out later. But right now, I think I must be letting him down somehow.

Back in his office at the state house, I had asked him about Texas politics and education reform. He seemed bored. His eyes moved around distractedly and his answers were the same ones I had heard him intone on the stump in New Hampshire about the American dream touching every willing heart. Suddenly he announced the interview was over. Bush must have sensed my disappointment because he said I could ride with him from his office to the Governor's mansion if I wanted.

He sits in the front seat and I sit in back. And after two and a half blocks, we arrive at the mansion. The driver pulls under the portico, but Bush doesn't like where he stops, so he makes him move up a few inches. I consider that a while, those few inches. After covering George Bush for months, this is what I've come to. I'm thinking any move he makes that isn't on a campaign schedule, anything he says that isn't scripted, even something as small as this, might be a clue to figuring out who he really is.

In New Hampshire, Bush had been friendly. He even seemed to like me. After just one meeting, he almost remembered who I was. We were next to each other in this heaving mass of reporters and townspeople, and he squinting at me and pointed. Yale, right? No, Governor, I said, almost. Then I think he asked my name, and after that, he knew who I was.

He would wink at me from the vortex of huge crowds. Once he walked past me on his way to deliver a speech about education policy and he pinched my elbow. When I was on his bus with some other reporters, he patted my knee. This wasn't flirting. It was a kind of affectionate teasing. It's a side of George Bush you don't see on television. You don't see how he leans in so close to people he looks as if he's going to kiss them. You don't hear the nicknames, the wisecracks, the asides.

But off screen, he bestows them liberally, especially to the press. A baby would cry and he'd blame the guy from The Houston Chronicle. He'd make the New York Times reporter giggle by telling him to get a haircut.

So here we are in Austin, parked in front of the mansion, sitting in the Lincoln Town Car, and despite our chummy rapport, the interview is proceeding miserably. Our conversation is petering out, and I think he's going to ditch any second. But he doesn't. Instead, he faces the windshield and his voice gets quiet.

And that's when he mentions his nest. He likes campaigning, he says, but he longs for the comforting feeling of being around his own cats and dog. "One thing about campaigning that I miss is not being in my nest," he says. It occurs to me that this is perhaps the first thing he's ever said to me that he hasn't said to anyone else.

His aides tell me to be at the mansion at 6:00 AM the next day if I want to observe Bush being interviewed by a 10-year-old. I go. In a fatherly tone, he recites for the boy the same platform points that have already saturated the national news, including that kid-friendly one about developing anti-ballistic missile systems. Afterward, we chat in one of the period sitting rooms, and Bush elaborates on his nesting pattern. He's the first up, he walks the dog, he feeds the little cat that sleeps inside, he lets in the yellow cat that sleeps outside, he feeds the little black cat that stays outside all the time, he makes coffee and brings it to the First Lady, they read newspapers in the sack. Then he has a light breakfast and gets dressed and wanders around the house looking for something to do. He's at work by 7:30 or 8:00.

I tell him I'm impressed and that I'm tired. It's now 6:30 in the morning. He asks me how old I am. Thirty, I tell him. See, I was sluggish, too, at 30, he says. He tells me by the time I'm his age, 53, I'll be more energetic. Your biological clock, he says, it's like clockwork.

Maybe I have just glimpsed the real George Bush. Maybe the real George Bush talks about his nest. Weeks later, I ask one of Bush's aides about it.

Sarah Koenig

And I'm asking if he's said that before.

Bush Aide

Yes, he has said that before. He says he likes his routine. He likes getting up in the morning, letting the dog out, playing with the dogs, feeding the cats, picking up the newspapers, going upstairs, making some coffee, reading the newspapers.

Sarah Koenig

Has he used the word nest?

Bush Aide

I believe he's used the word nest before.

Sarah Koenig

In one sense, you want to give Bush and all these politicians a break. They have to talk to scores of people every day, and they're trying to win over every single one. It's like trying to land a date with an entire village. How many charming stories, stories that we'd be willing to broadcast, stories that have to be personal but not too personal, does any of us have? A dozen? A half dozen?

I figured if Bush was not in a position to tell me who he was, maybe people who had been around him in Texas could. I called Harvey Kronberg, a veteran political reporter who describes himself, like many Texans do, as a liberal Republican or a moderate Democrat. Kronberg tells me the Texas press had the same difficulty getting to know Bush when he was first running for governor.

Harvey Kronberg

He had a standard stump speech. And at that time, he was running on four principles, juvenile justice reform, education reform, tort reform, and welfare reform. And you just could not break him off of those four items on his agenda. You would ask about him about the weather and it would ultimately lead back to education reform or tort reform.

It was very frustrating, and you began to suspect, like folks are suspecting now, there might be less there than meets the eye. From the press corps position, we were all pretty doubtful, I think, going into his first legislative session as to whether he had the mental horsepower to pull it off. Of course, we were pleasantly surprised as the session progressed.

Sarah Koenig

Kronberg said once he took office, Bush loosened up and understood the state's business as shrewdly as any of his predecessors. Sadly, for us non-Texans, now that Bush is again running for office, he's back on message in every conversation except when he's either joking around or annoyed. Those are the moments when Bush seems most real to me. In moments of irritation, you can glimpse his vulnerability, his youth, even.

Back in New Hampshire, I make another attempt to slip behind the sound bites. I know he reads the Bible every day, and I decide to ask him about it. I borrow a Gideon Bible from a Holiday Inn and bring it to a press availability in Portsmouth. Is there a particular passage he turns to for strength? I ask him.

George W. Bush

As a matter of fact, I'm reading Matthew right now. And one of the great parts of Matthew is the fifth chapter called the Beatitudes. And I think it's good that people read the Beatitudes, no matter what your religion may be. The interesting thing about religion and politics-- I answer questions about my religion because I'm mindful of what happens in politics. When politicians say vote for me, I'm superior to you. That's not what I'm saying. As a matter of fact, I'm coming from the different perspective. I want people to know that I'm a person who seeks religion because I realize I, too, am a sinner. And I, too, need strength.

Sarah Koenig

Is there a part that you can find?

George W. Bush

You mean to show you where the Beatitudes are?

Sarah Koenig

Yeah, or where you are right now.

George W. Bush

Is this a test?

Sarah Koenig

No, it's not a test. A Bible test. I haven't read it, so I couldn't possibly test you.

George W. Bush

You've never read the Bible?

Sarah Koenig

I admit I have never.

George W. Bush

That's OK. I still like you as a person.

Sarah Koenig

Really?

George W. Bush

Yeah.

Sarah Koenig

Thank you.

George W. Bush

I'm more worried about your stories I'm in than whether you've read the Bible. No, I'm teasing you. Where am I now? I was reading about the house divided upon itself. Let me see here. Hold on a second. I'll run upstairs and get my Bible where it's marked. Sarah, I don't think you think I read the Bible, do you?

Sarah Koenig

No, I think you do.

George W. Bush

OK, good.

Sarah Koenig

Why don't you think that I think you do?

George W. Bush

Well, I'm just curious. This is kind of a very interesting line of questioning for me to show you where I am exactly in the Bible this morning. It's just interesting. It's never happened before in the midst of a presidential campaign. At any rate--

Sarah Koenig

He finds the section he's looking for and holds it up so everyone can see. We all nod. Finally, I ask him outright how close the real George Bush is to the one we see campaigning, if there are parts of himself he withholds from the public.

George W. Bush

This isn't falling into psychobabble, is it?

Sarah Koenig

I don't know. You tell me.

George W. Bush

That's a very interesting question, Sarah. If there were, I don't think I could-- this is a process that pretty much over time exposes all. I think it's very hard to be a private person in the midst of a very public campaign. And if you're watching me very closely, you'll get glimpses into my heart and what makes me tick over time.

Sarah Koenig

His wife, Laura, gently knocks on the door and comes in.

George W. Bush

There I was, just getting-- I was psycho-babbling much more than your ever dreamt. The question was would you care to psycho-babble about yourself? Anyway, there are moments when I like to be alone. I bet you people don't know about me that I am a person of routines around the house. I will give you a routine that I miss a lot, and that's early morning. I love to wake up, particularly if I had some sleep, and the first thing that happens is one of the cats will kind of come up and jump on the bed. This is the indoor-- we have three cats, two that stay outside at night, one that stays inside. And we have one dog that stays inside at night, and outside during the day. Anyway-- and I walk down to the kitchen feeder, I turn on the coffee--

Sarah Koenig

Everyone I talk to about Bush, his friends, his colleagues, his brother Jeb, said the man they know is the same at home as he is at work, the same one we see. After watching him for months, I think that's probably true with one caveat. For now, every story he tells in public has a purpose.

Take the nesting story. Once I've heard it three times, I finally realize Bush's message is this. I do not snort cocaine or dance naked on table tops. I might live in a mansion, but I make my own coffee. I do not think the presidency is my birthright. I am a humble, loving family man, satisfied by simple pleasures such as providing for those meeker than myself, like my pets.

George W. Bush

I love my home. I love my nest. I don't mind sharing that with you, because I understand how public my life is in the course of a campaign.

Ira Glass

Sarah Koenig is a political reporter for The Concord Monitor.

[MUSIC - "NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW" BY HANK WILLIAMS, SR.]

Act Three. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Mosh Pit.

Ira Glass

Act Three. Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Mosh Pit. In this cynical age, we end our show today with a story of citizens who feel perfectly connected to their candidate of choice, who feel inspired by him. This American Life producer Alex Blumberg tells this story.

Alex Blumberg

Let's play a little game. I'll describe a group of people, you guess the candidate they support. Ready? It's a couple of dozen teenagers outside the presidential primary debates in Durham, New Hampshire. They're all wearing bright orange t-shirts, talking about punk rock and skateboarding in the freezing cold. One of the kids is wearing nothing but jeans and a t-shirt. Give up?

Youth For Forbes Leader

It's pretty cold out here, but I'm freezing for a reason. And that reason is Steve Forbes!

[CHEERING]

Youth For Forbes

Freezing for a reason! Freezing for a reason! Freezing for a reason!

Youth For Forbes Leader

Steve Forbes!

Alex Blumberg

Meet Youth for Forbes.

Youth For Forbes

Freezing for a reason!

Youth For Forbes Leader

Steve Forbes!

Alex Blumberg

A group of young people so psyched about their millionaire publisher candidate that they'll burst into spontaneous cheering at the slightest provocation. Witness this exchange.

Alex Blumberg

So where are you guys going now?

Youth For Forbes

To a party for Steve Forbes!

Youth For Forbes Leader

We're going to Huddleston Hall. We're going to party for Steve Forbes.

Alex Blumberg

All right, can I come with you guys?

Youth For Forbes Leader

Absolutely.

[CHEERING]

Alex Blumberg

Maybe there are hard-bitten reporters out there who could resist such an enthusiastic reception, but I am not one of them. As we walk to their van from the debate site, I establish a few facts. They're not paid, they get no school credit, and though they're almost all from Republican families, their parents have absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they're volunteering. Very few of their parents even support Steve Forbes. These kids are here because in their view, nothing could be more fun.

We get to the hall where New Hampshire's Forbes supporters have gathered to watch the debate on a big screen TV. It's striking that of the almost 200 people here, fully half of them aren't old enough to vote. The Forbes campaign claims to have the biggest Republican youth organization in New Hampshire. And when you go to campaign events, this claim seems believable. There are always more young people there for Forbes, which is incredible when you think about it. Steve Forbes, the flat tax candidate? I mean, can there be an issue less likely to inspire the nation's youth than the US tax code? Most teenagers haven't even seen a 1040 form.

Youth For Forbes

It's going to be a mail-in postcard. That's going to be great. That's going to be so much easier than anything else, especially reading through all the laws and then filling out a 10-page report.

Alex Blumberg

Aside from their views on taxes, most of what the Forbes kids say isn't what you'd typically call conservative. When I do pin them down on what issues they care about, they trot out these suspiciously liberal chestnuts-- global warming and education. I ask how Forbes' plan to radically scale back the size of government will help address these issues. An athletic type named John tells me it's simply a matter of resource allocation.

John

For example, in Manchester a lot of money the past couple years has been spent in law enforcement trying to take skateboarding off of the streets.

Youth For Forbes 1

We all skateboard, by the way.

John

Not to be biased or anything. But a lot of wasted money was used to hire more cops to just go downtown and bust people for having a fun time. That money could have been spent on education.

Alex Blumberg

During John's little speech, all the kids were crowding around and making these funny little hand gestures. It went like this. Hold your hand with your fingers extended in a karate chop position. Then fold the bottom two fingers back into your palm. The kids held both hands in this position, two fingers extended, and sort of chopped them up and down as John talked. Fifteen or 20 of them, all doing it at once.

I asked one of them about it. Oh, that's just what Steve does when he talks, Mike says. It's very French, Ryan explains. And then Ted demonstrates how the gesture fits into a timeline of presidential hand postures. He makes a fist, his thumb on top.

Ted

JFK did this with the thumb. See my thumb is at my index. He went do-do-do-do-do.

Alex Blumberg

He tucks the thumb into the fist.

Ted

And then Bill Clinton, his thumb inside, like this. And Steve Forbes is just an open hand like this.

Youth For Forbes 2

The two fingers, and you can tell--

Alex Blumberg

They say you can tell how excited he is by how high in the air his hands get.

Youth For Forbes 2

I've only seen up like eyebrow level. Some people have seen overhead, though.

Ted

Oh, I've seen overhead a few times, actually. I've seen an overhead when we bring a lot of people to the rallies, he sees us, he jumps into the speech about Social Security, just like he said. He jumps up there. He's very into it.

Youth For Forbes Leader

Time to go to work. He's coming in.

Youth For Forbes 3

If you don't have orange, put orange on please. If you don't have orange, put orange on please.

Alex Blumberg

At the far side of the room, the presidential debate on television ended. And at a certain point, the call came that Forbes was on his way.

Youth For Forbes Leader

I mean, millions of people are watching this at home. And they're going to go home tomorrow, go to school tomorrow and say, yeah, I watched it on TV. Well, we didn't watch it. We made it happen.

Youth For Forbes 4

We made it happen.

Youth For Forbes Leader

This is just great.

Youth For Forbes 5

We were there.

Youth For Forbes Leader

We were. We were here.

[CHEERING]

Steve Forbes

You said you want him. Now you've got him.

Alex Blumberg

Forbes finally arrives. And the kids' impersonations of his oratorical style are remarkably accurate. His hands karate chop up and down on every syllable. He looks like a badly operated puppet.

Steve Forbes

With your help, we can make it happen. And before I go, I do want to introduce you again-- most of you have met her-- to the one who is going to make a superb First Lady. She's raised five daughters. And if you can do that, you can handle the politicians of Washington. My wife, Sabina.

Alex Blumberg

At this, kids spontaneously burst into Wayne and Garth we're not worthy bows in the direction of Forbes' wife. She beams at them. They beam back. They've gone through this ritual before. On his way out, after finishing a speech, Forbes walked up to some of the kids, including Ryan and Chris, and shook their hands.

Alex Blumberg

He shook your hand?

Ryan

Yes, he shook my hand.

Alex Blumberg

Did he say anything to you?

Ryan

He said, thank you for the support.

Alex Blumberg

Compare to this to another way you felt at other times in your life.

Chris

It feels like the first time I landed a Misty Flip.

Alex Blumberg

Misty Flip, a snowboarding maneuver in which the rider turns a forward sommersault, while at the same time, rotating his body axially. Let's continue.

Alex Blumberg

I'm sorry, to take your time. Mr. Forbes, I was just at the event tonight.

When I catch up with the candidate himself, he's clearly pleased with his newfound popularity among the cool kids, even if he doesn't completely understand it.

Alex Blumberg

Do you know what a Misty Flip is?

Steve Forbes

Well, I like vanilla stuff, and the Misty Flip--

Alex Blumberg

No, no. Wrong. Wrong.

Steve Forbes

--is chocolate.

Alex Blumberg

He goes on to tell me that his campaign is an idealistic one, and that's part of the appeal to teenagers. But it still doesn't explain the essential question. How did this stiff, socially awkward man corral the passions of New Hampshire's skate punks? Well, meet 21-year-old Mike DelBene.

Mike Delbene

I get that question a lot. I get a lot of, well, how do you get kids out to support a candidate who may not be real smooth or may not be real funny? I wish I could say that all I had to do was wave a picture of Steve Forbes in front of their face and they would come running. You can't do that.

Alex Blumberg

Mike DelBene is a regional youth coordinator for Forbes 2000. He's also the reason all these teenagers love Steve Forbes. How does he do it? One of his main recruiting tricks is simply being Mike DelBene. Chelsea White, one of Mike's recruits, says that when Mike came to her school, he was somehow different than the competition.

Chelsea White

The guy that came for Bush, he was just boring. He had no idea what he was talking about. He had nothing to say. He just talked about himself, and he didn't really say, oh, we get to do this and we get to do that. He just said, vote for Bush, vote for Bush. And we were just like, OK, nope.

Alex Blumberg

So what exactly did Mike say, I ask her, that made volunteering sound so fun, so appealing, that she signed up with Forbes?

Chelsea White

He was just telling us about all the campaigns, and the debates, and lit drops and what everybody does and stuff.

Alex Blumberg

OK. Lit drops?

Mike Delbene

What I always try to do is I always try to take everything that we do and put a fun twist on it. Not only when we actually do it, but when I explain it. Like a literature drop, you take a literature drop that adults are doing. They'll walk up with a piece of literature to a door, they'll knock on the door, the person will come out, they'll introduce themselves, they'll explain, they'll say, this is the literature for Steve Forbes. We would like you to come vote. And they'll take hours and hours to do it. Youth for Forbes, we take literature, we hang it on the door knob, we knock, ring the doorbell, and run away.

Alex Blumberg

Ringing and running for Forbes.

Mike Delbene

Ringing and running for Forbes is exactly what it is. Absolutely. And we have a great time doing it. We have a great time doing it. Yeah. I ask them to just come try it, to just come try it once. And they come out, they can feel the excitement of the campaign, the excitement of the lights, the cameras. And I always give them the opportunity to meet the candidate.

I think if you take a kid who says, I don't care about politics. What do I care, you know? And you put him in a room with a presidential candidate, and the presidential candidate walks over and stops and looks him right in the eye, says hello, and shakes his hand, as tough as that kid tries to be tough and say, ah, that didn't make me-- his eyes are going to light up. All the hair on the back of his neck's going to stand up, and he's going to go away feeling tickled pink. Because young people need and want and appreciate being part of something huge like this. They want to be part of what's going on.

And then once they're hooked to being part of what's going on, now they sit down and they listen to Steve. And now they hear what he's saying. Students actually believe in a flat tax, the students that work with us. They actually believe that Social Security should be privatized. They actually are pro-life. But what gets them out is the excitement.

Punk Singer

[UNINTELLIGIBLE]

Alex Blumberg

Here, this is what Mike DelBene has wrought. At an all-ages punk show at the Sad Cafe in Plaistow, New Hampshire, there are high school seniors who can quote Steve Forbes' best lines in Steve Forbes' voice like their favorite song lyrics. And 17-year-old Ryan tells me this.

Ryan

I'm at the office almost every day just recruiting and making phone calls and doing any other job that they need. I've found something that I actually want to do for the rest of my life-- politics.

Alex Blumberg

Say hypothetically Forbes doesn't get the nomination this go-around. All the hours, all the volunteers, all the cold calls, what does it accomplish to run for president and lose? What does a failed presidential bid create in the world? It's entirely possible that the most lasting achievement of the Forbes campaign will be how it affects the lives of these teenagers, true believers in the flat tax, true believers in the political process. As New Hampshire's finest punk rock blasts through the club's speakers, I watch the kids, future campaign managers, press secretaries, political strategists, fling themselves around the mosh pit like spawning salmon.

Ira Glass

Alex Blumberg.

Credits.

Ira Glass

Well, our program was produced today by Alex Blumberg and myself, with Susan Burton, Blue Chevigny, and Julie Snyder. Contributing editors Paul Tough, Jack Hitt, Margy Rochlin, Alix Spiegel, Nancy Updike, and consigliere Sarah Vowell. Production help from Todd Bachman and Starlee Kine, our producer trainee. This is her last program with us. We will badly, badly miss her.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

To buy a cassette of this program, call us here at WBEZ in Chicago, 312-832-3380. But you know, you can listen to most of our programs for free on the internet at our website www.thisamericanlife.org This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

[FUNDING CREDITS]

WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who told us this at our last staff meeting--

Al Gore

I found a little place in upstate New York called Love Canal.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass, back next week with most stories of This American Life.

Al Gore

That was the one that started it all.

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