Confessions of an Iowa Caucus Voter

The Iowa Caucus will be held Monday night. I was a caucus voter one presidential election, in 2004, so my experience that long-ago January night can perhaps illustrate what we will see unfold next week.

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Gephardt was down. He was not going to get a vote from our precinct. In the game of three-dimensional chess that is politics, I could see how this was going to be bad for my candidate. I needed to act. Gephardt needed a vote, because it would help my candidate, and that vote needed to not be me. I sprung into action …
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The Embrace of Donald Trump’s Hate

This is Donald Trump’s America now. If Trump does not win the nomination, it no longer matters: He has moved the debate into an ugliness that gives cover to almost all bigotry.

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“I’m no racist, but I think the one bunch it’s okay to hate is those Muslims.”

I thought to myself, “Did I really just hear him say that?” I have replayed this moment in my mind every day in the six months since I heard the man, an acquaintance of mine, say this to me. Shocked into complacency, I did not speak up.

An elderly women was beside us. She is the sort of person who looks like the meanest thing she might say in her day is something like, “A dozen cookies! That’s too many! Have another.” She chimed in: “They believe in the devil. They lie when they say they pray to God.” Her eyes flared and she repeated herself. “They know it’s a lie, and they do it anyway.” I excused myself, shocked into a mortified silence, which was an inexcusable silence.

Others were nearby, and no one spoke up. I asked a couple people later about what they heard the man say, and each of them expressed surprise but offered some variation of the excuse, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”

This is Donald Trump’s America. My first-hand report. These voters may not have the opportunity to vote for Trump for President of the United States next November, as he may not win the Republican nomination, but whomever they vote for next year is being shown the blueprint detailing how to win their support. With his status as the front-runner for the Republican nomination and his open espousal of complete racism, his promises of policies of brutality towards American citizens of one religion, Donald Trump has moved the debate into a region where less ugly racism, less obvious brutality, appears acceptable, becomes accepted. It will still be brutal racism. The moment has arrived when we can not shrug it off and say to ourselves, “I guess he needed to get that off his chest.”
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Protest Is Not Polite

Oh, the media is ridiculing Jennicet Gutiérrez, an activist and protester that President Obama shushed during an event last night. That is, if and when they bother to use her name or discuss things like issues.

Few are reporting what Ms. Gutiérrez was speaking about. That must change. I will try to do my part with this column. The issues she spoke about at the event deserve attention and, more important, action now. There is a community that is suffering terrible harm right now as I type this simply because its members are different and are seeking a new life in a new country that they hoped would be safer for them.

The President handled the protest that she launched into—alone, with no support from anyone—during a dinner last night at the White House in an almost tolerant/amusingly annoyed way, which is fine, I suppose, but not many are reporting what the event was: the White House was publicly hosting a Pride Month event, which is a sentence that I never thought that I would ever be able to type. This makes me happy.
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Flipping and Flopping, Wishing and Washing

If you are interested in the horse-race nature of American politics, the drop-everything-every-four-years-so-we-can-fill-all-the-jobs-in-Washington-DC portion of our public life, you could do no worse than live in either New Hampshire or Iowa for the entire year before Election Day. This means that right now is a good time to move to Nashua, New Hampshire, or Des Moines, Iowa, if you are a politics addict.

The reasons for this are obscure and boring, unless you live in either state. In that case you might be passionate about your community’s role in selecting our next President. It might be the one thing you care about, and you might care about it more than the name of the person who will get your vote.
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Daily Prompt: Vote for Not-Him

The WordPress Daily Prompt for August 7 asks, “Tell us about a time you made a false assumption about a person or a place—how did they prove you wrong?”

If you are interested in the horse race nature of American politics, the drop-everything-every-four-years-so-we-can-fill-all-the-jobs-in-Washington portion of our public life, you could do no worse than live in either New Hampshire or Iowa for the year before Election Day. This is because, for reasons I could bore you with but will not, Iowa is the first state in the country to hold a vote for President, in January of election year, and New Hampshire is the second state, usually a week later. (Through the spring and summer of election year, the major political parties conduct state-by-state votes, and the winner of the most votes is sometimes, often, usually that party’s candidate for the national election in November.)

These two states fight very hard every four years to hold their place as first, fight so hard that both states always claim to be first every time, even a week apart, because Iowa uses one type of voting system and New Hampshire a completely different one. So they are both always first. It comes down to money: because they are first, both states receive a quadrennial economic boost unlike any other, with political candidates and their support teams and journalists and their support teams needing food, shelter, television time for months before January. Some nationally famous politicians have rented houses in Iowa to live in and signed year-long leases for the year of door-to-door campaigning they will do. Other states would love to be first in the nation, to attract those millions of dollars, but these two small-population states put up a winning fight with both the Democratic and the Republican parties every four years and get to be first in the nation to cast ballots.

From 2000 to 2004, I lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a city of about 125,000 in a state of three million. A state that is larger than New York State but with one-sixth of the population. So that means that in 2003, I was in the second-largest city in the first of the two “First in the Nation” vote-casting states for Election 2004: Bush v. Kerry. With George W. Bush running for re-election unopposed, it meant that almost every Democrat elected to any office anywhere in the country was campaigning in Iowa.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In the foreground is a Quaker Oats factory. My apartment building is the red brick building smack in the middle of the photo, across the highway from Quaker Oats.

Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In the foreground is a Quaker Oats factory. My apartment building is the red brick building smack in the middle of the photo, across the highway from Quaker Oats.

I am a progressive voter, to the left of most Democrats but tending to vote for them. But I also fall head over ballot for every candidate who claims to be the representative from the Land of New Ideas. Rarely do we hear what those New Ideas might be or how much he or she may think they will cost, but I love the idea of New Ideas. Selling New Ideas is an Old Idea, but it gets me every time. And so my life’s list of candidates I have rooted to run for the next office higher than the one they already possessed includes several people named Kennedy, Gary Hart, the late Paul Tsongas, Bill Bradley, and, in 2003, a North Carolina senator named John Edwards. There are others, but I am blushing while typing this.

I should retire my political instincts. Then-Senator Edwards was one of the few politicians I have ever heard speak about rural as well as urban poverty as a blight, a blight because it is a problem that can be tackled. I was inspired. From 2004-’08, it could be said that he pushed the bigger-name candidates to the left (some might think that a good thing), but from 2004-’08 it could also be said that he was doing some other (scandalous) things.

And I met him! And my immediate in-person sense of the man was: “I do not like him.” In January 2004, days before us Democratic Iowans were to cast our first in the nation votes, our so very first votes that New Hampshire was going to be the second first, so stuff it, New England!, just days before that, I saw him speak. Great speech. People are poor. Terrific. Speech over. In the crowded room, we all discovered that that single door entrance over there was now the single door exit for everyone, including the candidate and his handlers, who must hate situations like this in Iowa and New Hampshire. I was next to him for the five minutes it took to leave. He shook my hand—he shook everyone’s hand within reach. I have met a few politicians and I have met quite a few people who ought to run for office, but I have never been rendered invisible quite as quickly as I was by that man. It may qualify as the single most bizarre social encounter I have ever had: I have been dismissed mid-conversation plenty of times, even made to feel that I offended someone, but never looked at like I did not exist.

Perhaps it was the overwhelming crowd and the fact that I did not immediately produce a way out and he was looking for one, or perhaps it was the woman behind me. Or perhaps it was because, a bright man, a good reader of juries in his lawyer life, he felt my instinct to not like him. Or perhaps it was the woman behind me who wanted and received his autograph. I have no idea.

What did I do with this instinct to not like John Edwards? I convinced myself to ignore it and campaigned for him at my caucus site on election night and swung our district over to him. My instinct to ignore my instincts can not be trusted.

News v. ‘News’

The president signed a bill into law today, which is news in and of itself since not much new legislation has made it to his desk in these last two Congresses, but it was the VA bill, a pretty important piece of “gotta fix this now” business. Most news outlets covered the event live, and a live stream even showed up in my Facebook and Twitter feeds (no, not from the White House or the Democrats. From a news organization) so I was aware it was taking place at the moment it was taking place.

It was not so for viewers of one national news channel; that operation had an nearly elderly rock star (Gene Simmons is 64 and is still leading KISS) speaking about global politics, war zones, and the controversial name of an NFL team. I believe “general interest” is what news producers call such a chat, rather than “specific news,” which is what was happening at Fort Belvoir while the president was signing the VA bill there. Simmons was probably on Fox News to plug some book, TV show, or thing, because a Gene Simmons without something to sell is a Gene Simmons we do not see on TV.

And now I have gone and further publicized this by including it in my little blog.

Most news shows tonight will not air the boring footage of a president signing a piece of paper but will instead feature Gene Simmons because he made his points about the name of the Washington Professional Football Team by using some colorful terms, giving us all a “Ha Ha!” moment or a “Shame on Gene Simmons! How old is he nowadays? What color is his hair?” moment. Perhaps someone should get a quote from President Obama about it, in order to keep him in the news.