Obama’s Trip Back to New Hampshire: An Ex-Democrat Reconsiders

FIRST PERSON | NASHUA, N.H. — President Obama arrived here on Thursday just as southern New Hampshire was hit by its first real snowstorm since a freak squall in October. I bought a snowblower after that nor’easter.

Since then, I’d seen Obama speak in Manchester last November, experienced another New Hampshire primary (doing the unthinkable and registering as Republican for one day to vote for Jon Huntsman), and just last week, witnessed Joe Biden kick off the 2012 campaign with his own Manchester rally.

As a long-term unemployed “99er” whose benefits ran out in 2010, I also continued my fruitless search for a job. But in all that time, there wasn’t one real snow storm, which kept the new snowblower garaged. It had failed to find work, too.

Thursday morning, I used it to clear the driveway and drove to Nashua Community College. Inside the gymnasium, there were about 750 people. It was in Nashua that I first saw Obama, in January 2008, in another packed gym. He arrived fresh from his Iowa victory, floating on a cloud of hype, but I was unimpressed. He struck me as phony.

I’ve had a rocky relationship with Obama since voting for him for president. I’m a progressive, and he tacked right and eventually, I lost faith. After the November 2010 elections, I registered as an independent to register my disgust.

I have not had a full-time job during his term. He is the first president under whom that’s occurred since I first went to work in the late ’70s. It’s not at all what I expected. The audacity of hope has been replaced with the misgivings of discouragement.

Obama’s speech was good and the audience enthusiastic. The local newspaper reported he would talk about the economy, but he focused on the energy crisis, and energy policy is hardly the stuff of great speeches. Ask Jimmy Carter. He didn’t match his rousing rhetoric of last November when he did address job creation, but he didn’t disappoint me, as he so often has in the past. Perhaps it was the infectious spirit of the crowd. Or something else.

Since Obama’s last New Hampshire appearance, Huntsman dropped out of the race. With the rise of Rick Santorum, the GOP race has lurched farther rightward. Santorum recently attacked John Kennedy, a demigod here. JFK launched his 1960 campaign in Nashua, and I remember him even though I was a child.

I knew Jack Kennedy, and Barack Obama, you’re no Jack Kennedy. He felt like a second father to me. Do people actually think of presidents as father figures now? Obama is two years my junior. Have I been looking for something I can no longer have?

The Bible tells me, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

As I listened to Obama and felt the crowd’s affection, I wondered if I was ready to put away childish things. Can I set aside my vanity and vote again for the man I once supported?

The struggle to find a job in this economy is hard, but my prospects will be even bleaker should the Republicans retake the White House. As a progressive, he is all I have.

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