Politically speaking, the state of Iowa is as unpredictable as Tiger Woods’ sex life.
I heard that the Iowa Caucuses were a big deal. So I wanted to investigate.
This is the first night in the history of Grinnell that someone could not find a parking spot within two blocks of Grinnell. Unfortunately, that someone is me. And I fucking hate walking, so this night really could not have started any worse.
While we’re on the subject here’s a list of shit I don’t like: hospitals, people from the Midwest, old people, talking to people, nursing homes, cauliflower (even just looking at it pisses me off), waiting in lines, amusement parks, bugs, and events that are poorly organized.
When I finally arrive at the address, I’m in front of a goddamn nursing home. I think to myself, “Get out. Get out now, while you still can.”
But I know that democracy needs me.
My country needs me.
I want to figure out what a caucus is.
When I get to the top of the stairs, there’s a line. Which just makes me want to leave even more, but I don’t, because then everyone would look at me and see that I’m leaving because of this stupid line. So I end up wedged between an obese lady and an elderly man with a metal cane who keeps asking the person accompanying him when he’ll be able to sit down.
Once I finally get inside, I realize that outside of the 10-15% of people who are college students, everyone is dressed like they were just at the Steve Avery arraignment. As I examine the crowd’s facial hair, I truly believe it’s possible that the Grinnell Wal-Mart doesn’t carry razors of any type.
Why do we put so much trust into the Iowans?
Why are they the first measure for any sort of tangible success in a presidential race?
And if this event is so important, why does this auditorium smell like moldy dog shit?
I tell the man who’s standing behind the table in a “Feel the Bern ‘16” hat that I need to register at my new address. He tells me to fill out a piece of yellow paper. I put down my name, new address, and last 4 digits of my social security number, and hand it back to him. “You’re good to go,” he tells me. Seriously, Dude? I just registered to vote? It’s that easy? You don’t need a photo id? No proof that I actually live at 971 High Street? No proof that I didn’t just write down random numbers and letters on that sheet?”
I walk over to the right side of the large auditorium. Demographically, we’re looking at 12% Grinnell College students from out of state choosing to vote in Iowa so that their vote matters more, 20% middle-aged in overalls, 50% extremely old and scary looking, 17% well-to-do-couples from in town (wearing cashmere sweaters and shit), 1% non-white.
And as I look around the room, I start to think to myself, “Why Iowa?” Then I combine the words in my head. “Whyowa?”
It’s bullshit that the most generically white, rural, middle-American state should consistently be one of few swing states in every general election and get to serve as the first indicator of any real momentum in the primaries.
I’m not sure whether or not it’s an official Iowa caucus rule that the room crammed with 300+ people has to have a thermostat set to at least 85 degrees, but either way, I have pit stains dripping halfway to my waste.
A blonde male college student, who isn’t wearing any socks or shoes, gets up to a podium and says, “Hello everyone, the caucus rules are as follows: there will be one spokesperson giving a two-minute-long speech in support of each candidate. After that, you’ll have fifteen minutes to decide which corner you want to go to (the O’Malley corner, the Bernie corner, or the Hillary corner), if the O’Malley corner fails to acquire 15% of the vote.”
“Hey!” The O’Malley corner has issue with the speaker’s presumption.
“Sorry, if any of the candidates have less than 15% of the vote, there will be a 20-minute period to try and convince the undecided and those supporting the candidate with less than 15%. Then I will take the tally again, and those numbers will be final. Any questions? Nope? Okay, I’d like to call up Ron Swinner to speak on behalf of Martin O’Malley.”
And Big Ron Swinner gets up there and speaks on behalf of Martin O’Malley.
The next 24 minutes go like this:
Young Woman College Student speaks for Bernie Sanders.
College Professor speaks on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
Some kid from the O’Malley makes a motion for each candidate to have another person speak on their behalf for an additional thirty seconds.
I immediately call out with a motion against his motion.
Crowd laughs and cheers.
His motion is fucked.
Then there’s a mad scramble. Pushing. Shoving. Moving chairs. Offering people cookies to come vote for Bernie Sanders.
A homeless man maybe or maybe not offering me a reach-around for me to switch my vote to O’Malley.
Talking about how hot it is in here. Waiting. Offering people water bottles to come vote for Bernie Sanders. Me thinking: “Damn, I really wish I could just put a piece of paper in a box and be done with this.” Me trying to get my briefs unstuck from my sweaty ass without anybody noticing. Leaving to smoke a cigarette with my friend TJ. Coming back inside.
And then hearing this from College Student with no shoes: “After the first round, we have Hillary Clinton—137, Bernie Sanders—131, Martin O’Malley—15, and Undecided—17. We’ll now have 20 minutes for the undecided and the Martin O’Malley supporters to choose a new corner, and if we still have people who are undecided after this, we will read the new tally and then do another ten minute round.”
More out of boredom than passion, I decide to go talk to the undecided people.
Quick anecdote: Fuck the undecided people. You pieces of shit, attention-whores, dragging on this tedious form of political representation for far longer than necessary, I don’t believe for one second that you came to this caucus without already knowing who you were voting for. And if you really did, then you’re an even bigger idiot, because why would you depend on me, my friends, a bunch of old people, and Big Ron Swinner to convince you who’s the right choice for you?
Anyways, I walk over to these shmucks, and just for the hell of it start talking to them, seeing if I could get them over to my side.
I talk to this kid I know who’s on the tennis team and is also from Southern California. I try to look straight into his eyes and speak as clearly as I can, “There will be more opportunities to vote for a candidate similar to Hillary Clinton in every election. Voting for Bernie is a unique opportunity.” I hooked him like a bass.
Next a chubby, dark-haired, middle-aged lady comes up to me, “Excuse me, are you with the Bernie campaign?”
“I mean, I’m not affiliated officially, but I did just stand under a poster of his face for the last 20 minutes.”
“Will you tell me, I love Bernie’s politics, but I’m just concerned about one thing: what exactly are his views on God? Because I cannot live in a country where our president doesn’t…”
“Oh! Bernie loves Jesus!” I say instinctively as I elbow past her on my way to a place where I never need to hear her voice ever again.
However, somehow when it is time for the new tallies, she — and most of the undecided and O’Malley people — are in the Bernie corner.
Then the amazing, young, and shoeless caucus mediator speaks out the final tallies for honorable Grinnell Precinct 4: “The final tallies are as follows: 133 for Hill, and 143 for Bernie.” (And 24 who—I’m guessing—died of suffocation)
“Fuck yes! Suck on that!” yells the man in front of me wearing a “We Don’t Want Monica’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife As Our President” shirt.
And the Bernie section is suddenly on some absolute chimpanzee-high-on-PCP type shit. Supporters are shouting, chest bumping, high-fiving; Bernie-loving couples are holding each other tightly — some make out intensely, as if they are not only feeling, but are fully overcome by, the intensity of the bern.
The heroic moderator silences them for just long enough to say that both sides will get nine delegates from the precinct (making the result of the precinct a virtual tie).
And when he finished speaking, everyone on the Bernie side immediately goes back to pumping their fists and passing around awkward high-five/fist bump combinations.
The Hillary group has their heads hung low and faces like they’ll be doing some drinking after all of this is over.
I walk out happy to have experienced the caucus, but frustrated that the last two and a half hours of my life could have been condensed into a much less sweaty minute in a polling booth.
And as I walk out the front of the terrible fucking nursing home, there are two high school kids walking in opposite directions of each other. As they part ways, I hear one of them yell, “Hillary’s still going win once it’s all said and done.”
“Scoreboard.” His friend answers, as if he was trash talking after a basketball game.
I’m not going to pretend that I know exactly what was going on for those two and a half hours that I had just endured. For most of the time, I really didn’t have a clue.
But neither did anybody else.
Leo Abbe is a former runner up in The Schlereth (a competitive fantasy football league based out of Southern California)