So I Was Having Dinner With Dick Durbin Last Night...
by Jeff Dinelli
Senator Dick Durbin stopped by my hometown last night on his way to Chicago, where he was to give a response to President Bush's speech last night. It was an intimate setting in a back room of a local restaurant. Besides all the local Dems and our Mayor, there was room for some interested old people and me, the only person with a notebook. I shook his hand when I walked in, then headed back to a chair. My local state rep, Careen Gordon, gave me a big hug and asked me if I'd ever met Durbin before. I said, "Uh...no." Never exactly run into him at any parties. So she takes my arm and drags me back up to the front of the room and formally introduces me to the Senator, telling him I'm an old friend, I write on a leftist blog and have always done a lot of work helping her. Durbin says, "Blogging. I've always wondered how you people have the time to do all that stuff." He didn't sound like a fan. We chatted for a few minutes about his excellent website and the local area and I went back to my seat.
He spoke about getting back from his third trip to Iraq. 80% of Illinois' National Guard has been there, and he told some pretty harrowing stories about the situation there and the difficulties injured vets have upon their return getting proper health care. Durbin said we should "Fight our enemies then fight our government, which has given up on our soldiers." He lamented the fact that we're spending $12 billion a month on this occupation.
The Senator boasted of passing the biggest increase in college aid, recently, $18 billion, and the bill's intention of reducing interest rates and Pell grants. Plus if a kid graduates and goes into social work (nursing, education, public defending) he/she pays no more than 15% of their salary towards their college debt, which is forgiven after 10 years in one of these fields.
He touched on sub-prime loans, unsafe toys from China, and his belief in universal health care (whether it be government-run or through competition between private companies). It's his opinion that New Orleans didn't get the proper help because most of the people in need were minorities.
Then the moment I was hoping would come: Q&A. After a couple of people boasted of local efforts in producing clean energy-run plants, and experimentation with ethanol, windmills and coal, I seized an opening. I asked, "So what's your latest plan on getting our troops out of Iraq? Are you going to continue to say we just don't have the votes to override a filibuster and/or a presidential veto?" I got some looks from people who apparently wanted to keep things polite in thanks for Durbin to actually spend some time with us, but c'mon, this is the 2nd most powerful Democrat in the Senate. How often would I be in the same room with him? He indeed felt the plan to forge a change in Iraq policy was to get Republicans to flip next week during the vote. He claimed they only needed 6 more votes from across the aisle to make this happen. "Bush wanted to bring democracy to Iraq," he said at the end of his short response. "That's not gonna happen. The best hope at this point is creating stability and political reconciliation." Weak? Yeah, I thought so, too.
Durbin concluded by extolling the virtues of our candidates for president on the Dem side, mentioning Hillary, Biden, Dodd and Richardson (not Edwards). "But the candidate I'm supporting is someone you know far better, Barack Obama." His reasoning was that he has never seen a candidate have such an impact on a crowd, and compared him with RFK. "This dynamic has brought people usually not interested in politics into the game. This is a dynamic opportunity for us." Bruce Springsteen is dynamic and excites a crowd, too, should he be President? Would've liked to have heard a little better endorsement.