Walk to Paris: Day 4

Saturday, November 14, 2015 – Bénouville to Dozulé

Dear Friends,

France also suffers from rural decay. Steve in front of crumbling out buildings.

France also suffers from rural decay. Steve in front of crumbling out buildings.

It was an odd feeling, waking up at 3:00 a.m. to watch and live-tweet (using two cell phones) a presidential debate happening 4,400 miles away from where I was sitting, but only one mile away from my home in Des Moines. I imagined other Iowans in France were watching as well, and I felt an odd, bleary-eyed kinship with this unknown and numerically undefined universe.

Rousing myself in the middle of the night after today’s 12-mile walk was difficult. The skies had been cold and overcast with occasional light, misty rain, appropriate to the prevailing air of lingering sadness after Friday’s terrorist attacks. I wondered how the Democratic presidential candidates would address the tragedy of this latest, and from my perspective, nearest act of terrorist carnage.

The pundits of the mainstream media suggested the tragedy would benefit Clinton, who would trumpet her foreign policy experience as Secretary of State. My expectation was that Sanders and O’Malley would jump all over Clinton for her foreign policy blunders, especially her vote to support the disastrous Iraq War.

Ed meets a bumper crop of sugar beets.

Ed meets a bumper crop of sugar beets.

As I watched the debate, I found myself immersed in the French perspective on the terror attacks. I was disappointed that none of the candidates laid out a compelling vision on how to deal with the root causes of terrorism.

As usual, Clinton sounded sensible, articulate, wonkish. But to me, her words came off not as an expert on foreign policy but as a seasoned politician who knows what to say to a targeted audience. There was nothing in her perspective to suggest she grasps what drives and fuels terrorism, nor that she would present new strategies to address a reality that has only worsened under conventional approaches by both Democratic and Republican administrations.

Refreshingly, O’Malley admitted that nothing in his experience as a mayor or governor compared with the foreign policy challenges facing a president. Nonetheless, I had hoped he would present a more thoughtful analysis indicating a deeper understanding of the complexity of the challenge.

Disappointingly, Sanders said very little about the terrorist attacks before launching into his core platform of economic justice. What a lost opportunity! If economic justice is needed in America, isn’t it essential in the world’s nascent democracies? Perhaps Sanders did not feel such a message would resonate with the Democratic base, who polls say are focused on domestic priorities. At least he (and O’Malley) challenged Clinton on her support for the Iraq War, and drew the connections between that debacle and the worsened state of affairs in the Mideast.

I have not had much opportunity to talk with French who watched the debate or who read about it after the fact. I am eager to gain a deeper sense of how they feel about the candidates’ responses to the Paris terrorist attacks. Maybe I’m off base, but my sense is they’re disappointed in what all three Democrats said – or didn’t say.

"I'm dining well!" says Ed about this delicious and affordably-priced meal of mostly local foods.

“I’m dining well!” says Ed about this delicious and affordably-priced meal of mostly local foods.

That said, French following America’s presidential campaign are mortified at the absolute crazy talk coming out of the Republican field.

I will say this: in terms of an overall debate “winner” (since in America we have to have a winner, right?), it was O’Malley. He was feisty, took on Clinton, and to a lesser extent Sanders. He was articulate and empathetic, and shared the best story of the night, about the Burlington, Iowa woman who did not appreciate her soldier son being seen as mere “boots on the ground.”

I am not endorsing a candidate, at least not yet. I am very pleased that Sanders (and Rand Paul) have come out against the Bakken pipeline, and I hope O’Malley and Clinton will do the same. I and other climate activists continue to bird-dog the candidates, pushing them to sign the Pledge to Mobilize on climate action. Signing would indicate an understanding of the urgency of moving rapidly toward an all-out, World War II-scale transformation of the American economy to fight the crisis that is already defining this century.


Ron Yarnell hosts the Fallon Forum today. I’ll call-in to share an update from Normandy as the Walk to Paris moves from the coast to the rolling midlands.

Hear the Fallon Forum live 11:00-12:00 noon CST on KDLF 1260 AM (Des Moines) and online. Call (515) 528-8122 to add your voice to the conversation. The program re-broadcasts Wednesday on KHOI 89.1 FM (Ames) at 4:00 p.m. and Monday at 6:00 a.m. on WHIV 102.3 FM (New Orleans).

Thanks! – Ed Fallon

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