The Focus Groups

Cedar Rapids (or Peter Rapids as one sign declared) was the center of the Democratic world there for a minute while 19 candidates attended the Democratic Hall of Fame Celebration on Sunday. The day before a whole lot of them were in Des Moines for Pride Fest, and most made a weekend of it with multiple events all over the place.

from The Gazette: Bernie, Kamala, Elizabeth, Cory, Amy, Kirsten, ?, ?, Beto, Tulsi, ?, Eric, ?, ?, Julian, Joe, Pete, ?, ?, Andrew, Marianne, ??, Jay?, Bill?
?=indistinguishable white guy candidate
??=unknown black guy candidate

yrmama’s Friday night was all about Bernie and hunger, Saturday was for Jay and Cory, Sunday was Pete, more Cory, and sightings of Bernie again and Kamala and certain hearing loss from the yelling TYT Army. Why were they angry at us? Were they angry at us or just…yelling? In between all those events yrmama held focus groups.

My dental hygienist got all worked up Friday afternoon with her hands in my mouth. It was hard to hold my own. She said, “well…I like Pete,” and a lot of other political things. She does not like Donald but knows a lot of folks who do. I do not know anybody who likes him. Another member of the Friday focus group told yrmama all about vanloads of diverted ballots, the hackers who vote remotely from nursing homes and, for some reason, the Whale Cycle. It’s kind of like the water cycle, but whales.

The large Saturday noon group determined that it is time to prohibit baby boomers from running for office. That means anyone older than yrmama because 1964 can count as a transitional year, right? The cusp. yrmama swings both ways. Donald, W and Bill were all born the same summer in 1946, Joe is four years older than them and Bernie is six years older than them. Kamala is 55, so in by a hair, and Cory is only 50. According to this metric, Elizabeth, a peppy 70, needs to step away from the microphone as well.

Towards the end of this session it got really real. “so, yrmama,” he said with sneaky menace, “which of the candidates has the best plan for completely disenfranchising all Trumpers? We’ve got all the evidence we need that representative democracy is a failure, so if someone is going to be in charge it better be us.”

To which yrmama calmly replied, “I love you, dude. I raised you to be this passionate and I’m proud of you. Who indeed?” Well, that didn’t get us anywhere, but the bile pressure was thereby reduced a bit. It brought the righteous anger of the good that is ominously burbling under the crust of society into focus and that’s valuable.

Sunday morning was, as usual, a confab of sweet middle aged ladies who think Pete is adorable, waiting for him to appear like a sprite from the mist. They said things like, “This is the first time I’ve been to any kind of political thing in years.” And “Well…I like Pete, but Elizabeth is good too. And I hope this doesn’t offend you, yrmama, but Joe is just too damn old.” At which point yrmama mentions Bernie and they go off. “Bernie’s even older! Oh no. I hope he’s not the one you like. I don’t want to hurt your feelings.” Look, if yrmama’s feelings were gunna be hurt by sweet Iowan ladies cautiously stating their opinions there’d be nothing left in here but scar tissue.

Coming Next! Bernie at Sinclair Auditorium for a taping of Political Party Live.

Pete Buttigieg at Wildwood Smokehouse – May 18

Look. Listen. I was there, saw Pete IRL and left partway through his speech drenched in that greasy kind of sweat that precedes keeling over and embarrassing oneself. For me the best parts of the event were the new best friends I made in line outside, and the second group of new best indoor friends crammed into a corner with me for the second  hour of waiting. 

Both groups were of my favorite demographic; women 10-15+ years older than me. Among us there was genuine enthusiasm for Pete and shared dismay at what we’ve let things come to. We wondered what it will take to get “young people” behind Pete the way they were with Bernie last time around. We ranked our favorites, we compared notes on the various campaign events we’ve been too, we admired one another’s fantastic taste in shoes and eyeglasses. In each group ladies leaned near me and asked in a confessional tone of voice if I thought Pete was “electable.” I reminded them that Donald and Barack weren’t electable either and urged them to not try to second guess their true affections. We talked about Roe v Wade and our embarrassment when we catch ourselves feeling critical of female candidate’s gestures or tone of voice because, WTH, that’s so sexist. In two hours we had time to cover a lot, including our favorite parts of his book, The Shortest Way Home, and how Pete inspires a kind of maternal protectiveness and pride in us. I think we were pretty unanimously all in for Pete.

I heard that the venue officially holds 500 people, but that was a handful of hundreds short of the crowd that showed up. I was in physical squish contact with everyone around me and I think that was a nearly universal condition. The HVAC was inadequate. Pete came onstage once they had packed everyone in and gave us one of the best ever renditions of his stump speech (according to someone I know who has watched A LOT of them on Youtube). But by then things had gotten hazy for yrmama. A woman reached through the crowd and tapped me on the shoulder. “Hi yrmama!” I mirrored her enthusiasm, “Hi!” but had no idea who she was. She wore a name tag but the only person I know with that name lives in rural Ontario. I was so confused.

*Late Breaking Edit: I’ve been thinking about the bit that follows the last couple days because I’m not happy with it. But I’m leaving it. ——–> The conclusion is wrong. ———-> This is right: Power-crazed volunteers will always exist and that’s okay. Victimhood though is useless and not at all yrmama’s brand. She wants to be more ready to stand up for herself. There’s no shame in pain or autonomic “dys”function. There’s no shame in anything because we are just little organized blobs of energy making things up as we go along. Electrons have a moral charge of zero.

Haziness postscript: I left while Pete was speaking and almost embarrassed myself even more by crying in public from disappointment.  I’ve been feeling pretty good lately but had significant back pain that day. Indeed, during the hour we waited outside, my new best friends and I, I was happy to stand. A friendly volunteer patrolled the line offering folding chairs to the gimpy. After about 45 minutes I took her up on the chair not knowing how much longer we’d be waiting. She repeatedly assured the gimpy that there was ADA seating right inside so not to worry. 

But the ADA pen was guarded this time. (Give a volunteer a nametag and a job and the power just goes to his head.) The guard looked me up and down, the cane, yes, but also yrmama’s tanned and muscular limbs. He said, “Well, can you stand?” yrmama said, “not the whole time.” “Can you climb up those stairs? There’s seats up there and I’d rather you went up there.” The “seats” were barstools which aren’t so great for bad backs but he’d successfully shamed me up the steps so I decided to stay and see how it went. How it went was it got more and more painful.

So that’s the lesson for today. Invisible disabilities, like those caused by Ehlers Danlos, are real. Ehlers Danlos, in fact, often gives one super-soft skin not prone to wrinkles hence my perpetually youthful appearance. I look strong because I exercise, and yes, people with chronic pain can exercise. I look good, but not looking as raggedy as I feel sometimes is one of my superpowers. People generally don’t fake chronic illness for the immense social benefits it affords them. They generally fake being okay so they don’t have to deal with explaining themselves all the time.

Spin the Bottle

How about Liz and Pete? Or better yet, Liz and Amy? Joe and Stacy Abrams? That would make me like him more. Oh wait, she already turned him down, and declined to run for a senate seat, which means we may soon have 23 candidates…baited breath… Kamala and Pete could work, but we all hate to see Pete just cooling his heels for four years. Kamala and Amy? I think we are working with a top tier of Liz, Kamala, maybe Joe, maybe Pete…

Stacy Abrams
Rolling Stone

But those maybes, that Joe is too old, Amy looks too much like yrmama and Pete is too adorable bring us to the issue of ELECTABILITY, a quality that doesn’t exist. Electability is when you start second-guessing yourself and stressing about what you think other people want and how much you’re willing to compromise to beat a tyrant toddler, and none of that is good, ever. Which leaves me with Liz and Kamala. And Pete. (My sweetie wants me to love Pete best and yrmama’s sweetie is very persuasive.)

In May or so of 2007 yrmama was at a wedding reception and a know-it-all, political writer academic guy asked what I thought of the upcoming Democratic prospects and I blurted out “Barack Obama.” He laughed at me. Until that glorious sweaty, fluorescently lit Iowa Caucus night in the jam-packed school gym Barack was not electable. Donald descending his golden escalator was a joke, unelectable. Electable doesn’t know it’s ass from a hat rack.

Listen to Sam Sanders on It’s Been a Minute, taped Thursday in DesMoines. They’ve really got our number, us stressed-out Democratic Iowa caucus people.