My best friend in Iowa is a country girl. Like me, Carol Bodensteiner grew up on a dairy farm in the 1950s. She wrote a childhood memoir, which brought us together. We are both writers.
For the last two years, Carol and I have talked with each other once a month, discovering that we both enjoy this “jubilación” period of our lives after careers, respectively, in public relations and higher education. We care deeply about the future of our country and the world, which means we often talk politics.
Last week Carol bragged a little on the phone. She said she could meet the top Democratic contenders almost anywhere — at the farmer’s market, coffee shops, schools, churches — even in homes.
As she was nonchalantly describing this direct participation in democracy, I blurted out, “I hope you know how rare this is.”
Although I now live in a coastal state, unlike many other coastal-dwellers, I don’t resent Iowa’s role in our electoral politics. I rather enjoy the idea of city-slicker candidates having to breathe in the aroma of the 4-H heifer-judging tent or the thought of a calorie-counting vegan enticed into eating fried butter at the Iowa State Fair. Click To Tweet
More seriously, I know that real people will be taking the pulse of real people. I trust Midwesterners, specifically Iowans, to be my proxy. I doubt that Barack Obama could have become president without that early Iowa win.
Lately, I’ve been encouraging Carol to check out the candidate who has been rising fast in the Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa polls. Pete Buttigieg is now in a virtual tie for second place with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They all trail Joe Biden, who is in first place but losing ground.
Here’s my analysis of recently unknown-outside-of-South Bend “Mayor Pete’s” emergence as a rapidly rising star after watching him closely in a variety of venues.
One of those venues is the Seniors for Pete Buttigieg Facebook group described in a recent CNN article that cited polling evidence for strong support from older voters.
Columnist David Brooks way back in April described Buttigieg as “an old person’s idea of what a young person ought to be.”
That sounds pretty bland as an endorsement, but the Seniors supporting Pete don’t do bland. They overflow with fervor, eagerly sharing news articles, donating money, buying swag, making memes, and volunteering for his campaign.
The reasons many people older than 55 cite for loving this candidate fall into two categories: their evaluation of his merits and the visceral experience of his impact on them.
His rare and startling merits.
When asked what they like most, people will begin with qualities they admire in him. Phrases like “incredible intelligence” and “amazing verbal ability” appear frequently. They love his values and character – a man devoted to public service and not personal gain. They are not just wowed by his pedigree: Harvard, Rhodes Scholar, McKinsey, Navy. They barely mention these. Seniors don’t judge by logos.
Instead, Seniors value transparent leadership skills: a razor-sharp but gentle wit, the ability to listen, practical problem solving, courage, and moral clarity.
In 2016 Donald Trump destroyed a field of much better candidates with his reality-television braggadocio and insults. The Democrat who runs against him in the next election should not try to beat him at his own game (Rubio) nor wilt (Bush) nor try to use science (Warren).
Buttigieg has schooled the other candidates in how to treat a Trump insult. I doubt that Trump will call Buttigieg “Alfred E. Newman” again! Any other epithet will either be tossed off as easily, de-fanged with humor — or with a pause and “I don’t care” response that brought thunderous applause at a town hall. More than any other rhetorical skill, this one will expose the soft underbelly of the bully.
Mayor Pete says over and over again that we have to “change the channel” and focus on the voter instead of focusing on the theatrics in the White House.
Visceral experience of his impact on them
The voters are responding to this attention. They say things like “he’s a breath of fresh air.” He “inspires hope.” He “brings me to tears.” He “helps me breathe.”
The majority of voters do not, and never have, supported the current president; many are traumatized by him.
In this state what people need most is a “non-anxious presence.” “Calm” is one of the most common compliments Seniors give Buttigieg.
Bill Clinton could FEEL your pain. Peter Buttigieg makes YOU feel calm. Click To TweetHe is quietly, deeply present to others, encouraging them to take action on behalf of the common good.
If there is any wisdom in age, it is this. No one lives forever. As our awareness of our own mortality grows, so does our love of all that we will be leaving – the landscape that birthed us, our nation with all its not-yet-fulfilled-promise, and, most of all, the people we have cherished.
Over and over again, the Seniors for Buttigieg speak of their grandchildren, their precious ones who need a rare combination: a strong, young, kind, intelligent leader. They don’t just admire Buttigieg as if he were a deserving, well-behaved student (a la David Brooks). When they look at Mayor Pete, they see their own grandchildren’s faces.
Iowa, you are a rare gem in the middle of our country.
Caucus goers, please go out and connect with as many candidates as you can. Feed them corn and pulled pork. Listen to them speak. I trust you and I trust the urgent whisper of the future calling to us all.
Oh, and look for Carol. I expect she might be showing up in a yellow Pete cap any day now.
Okay, I took a plunge and revealed what I have been doing in this early stage of a political campaign. Here’s your chance to offer your own strategy as a voter. And to speak up for other candidates. I am ready to listen.