It may still be 2005, but it’s already 2008 in New Hampshire. Since the first recorded sighting of a presidential wannabe (John McCain) in December 2004 the swarming is on. Let me be of some help.

While I can’t speak for Republican primary voters, I do know Democrats. If any White House hopeful has staff monitoring Granite State periodicals, here’s the scoop: only candidates with backbone need apply.

New Hampshire Democrats are diverse. There’s the party insiders, the folks who may have some position in the structure, people who’ve been around a while, the reliable workhorses. Then there are the much greater numbers outside that circle.

For example, a huge crowd from all over came out recently to hear Pacifica Radio’s non-embedded reporter Amy Goodman. Not a party insider scene, just lots and lots of angry citizens fiercely dedicated to the traditional American values and principles now being assaulted by the Cheney-Bush administration. These are the MoveOn and People For the American Way armies.

These are the fired-up primary voters who will not go for any Bush-Lite. Look at the last New Hampshire primary. The Dean phenomenon was not a cult of personality. It was a widespread grassroots, angry-yet-hopeful voice demanding a sensible foreign and domestic policy that will make our families more secure, in both economic and defense terms.

Yet the recent headline, “Democrats Struggle to Find a Voice,” indicates many presidential aspirants still don’t get it. We’ve got kids dying and being maimed for a lie — Iraq has become a terrorist training ground. As we so successfully fuel more hatred and anger, our values and principles are being flushed down the toilet for the world to see. And Democrats can’t find a voice? Come on guys (and Hillary), Americans are waiting.

Were they to awake in the 21st century, our brilliant constitutional founders would be aghast and appalled. They’d want us to do something about it.

We can. And we will. But what about the candidates?

Kerry used to say it was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was right. Then. Now he and candidate Joe Biden agree it’s not the wrong war, we just need to fight it better. Hillary Clinton worries that an intense public debate over Iraq could bitterly divide the nation. A little late, Senator Clinton, it’s time to take a side.

We’ve already got a large prospective pack: Biden, Clinton, Edwards, Bayh, Feingold, Clark, Vilsack, and even Kerry apparently hasn’t had enough. Any one of them would be an improvement. Somebody’s got to steer this plutocratic runaway train back to the founders’ idea of government of, by and for the people. It’s up to us in New Hampshire to test them.

People here are fired up. They’re angry and they want real solutions, to the war, the economy, health care, education, our withered rights and the general state of the common good (remember that quaint notion?).

Candidates in 2008 must have the courage to hoist something up the flag for people to see.

Among the pack Sen. Russell Feingold is the only U.S. senator to have voted against the so-called Patriot Act (for which polls in New Hampshire show a strong disdain). He’s got a resolution calling on the president to “define the mission of our military in Iraq.” He wants to ensure that our men and women in Iraq “have an achievable mission, sound planning and a reasonable time frame by which to finish their part of the job.” A sensible and appealing approach.

We will demand a truth-teller and a winner. Kerry came close. If he’d only had a message.

New Hampshire Democrats take our national responsibility very seriously. We’re listening carefully as the courtship begins. There’s much to fight against, and much to fight for. And we must win. That means no jellyfish, please. Vertabrates only need apply.

Burt Cohen, a former state senator, now hosts a Portsmouth radio talk show.

Categories: News