By Matthew Rothschild on January 04, 2008

Obama owned all the excitement, even before the tallies.

I was in Dubuque, Iowa, with my 18-year-old daughter, Katherine, an Obama supporter.

We arrived at 3:30 in the afternoon, and proceeded to the local headquarters of Obama, Edwards, and Clinton.

A couple dozen volunteers, young and old, staffed the phones at Obama’s. Of all three, it was the only one that had a diverse staff. A young black man from Milwaukee greeted us. A middle-aged black woman from Chicago sketched pictures at a table. A Native American man from Arizona kept urging people to shut the sticking door when they entered. The white press person told me everything was off the record. But then he pointed me to Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois, who was visiting the office with her husband, Robert Creamer, the author of “Listen to Your Mother, Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win.”

“Barack is the one, and the only one, who is right for this time,” she said. “He really can be a uniter, not just across race lines. He can bring Republicans, progressives, and Independents together to really move an agenda to realign us. He will be our first 21st century President. He will change the narrative of the United States around the world and make it possible to even hope for a peaceful century.”

I asked her whether she wasn’t tugged in the direction of Hillary Clinton.

“As someone who always supports women candidates, of course I’ve thought about that,” she says. “But Barack is the one who can actually make progressive change happen and a women’s agenda happen.”

We then went to Edwards’s headquarters just two blocks away in downtown Dubuque. The sign on the door said:

“Not Paid for by PACS or Washington Lobbyist Money EVER.

“Only one candidate has never taken a dime from PACs or Washington lobbyists.”

About ten people, all white, were working the phones under signs that said, “Call Like a Champion Today.” The “door knock goal” was 2,900, and they had reached 2,000. The “phone call goal” was 6,544, and they had reached 5,000.

“Edwards will keep fighting for the middle class, economic justice, and corporate power,” said Peter Rickman, the volunteer state organizer. “This is bigger than one man.”

Three miles away, at Clinton headquarters in a little strip mall, the sign on the door read: “Hillary—Turn Up the Heat.” Inside the signs stressed, “Strength and Leadership” and “Give ’em Hill,” and “Help Make History.” Of the dozen people there, all white and mostly women, not many were working the phones.

Penni Secore came to Iowa from AFSCME in Milwaukee. “We’ve chosen Hillary because she’s always had a commitment to working for union people,” she says, adding that “Hillary was overwhelmingly supported by the membership.”

Was Hillary going to win Iowa?

“Of course, by a point or two,” Secore said.

It didn’t look that way the minute we got to Carnegie-Stout Public Library as the caucus in Precinct 19 was just getting going. Four years ago, this caucus had 77 voters. This year, there were 219, with more than 50 first-timers. Most of these were for Obama, and many of them were young.

“It warms my heart,” said Kaye Hess, the Obama precinct captain. “It’s so unusual to see young kids here. I’ve never seen this before, and I’ve been in politics 5,000 years.”

“He’s the change everyone’s looking for,” said Nick Saenz, a white 22 year old.

Sheree Omoyi, a black 34 year old, was there for Obama because he had met her 11-year-old son at Lincoln Elementary School. She said he told her: “I like him! Mom, you’ve got to support Obama.”

Carol Dunlap, a white 49 year old, was also there as a first-timer for Obama: “I like what he has to say and how he says it. He seems honest. And he doesn’t seem like a know-it-all like other people.”

Ruby Sutton, a 70-year-old African American woman was there with her daughter Kathy, 48. “He’ll make some changes we need,” Sutton said. “I’m a social worker, and I see a lot of needs. He’s committed, and he’s not afraid.”

Dr. John Whalen, 60, a white pathologist, said he liked Obama because he was “looking for a new beginning. I still have idealism at 60,” he said.

Phillip Wilson, a 36-year-old African American, applauded Obama’s stance on the Iraq War. “When it was almost unpatriotic to oppose the war in Iraq, he stood up,” Wilson said. “A lot of people didn’t have the heart. He’s got a different type of leadership.”

Many of the Clinton supporters, overwhelmingly white, wanted an old type of leadership—Bill’s.

Barb Fisher, 70, cited Hillary’s experience “and her husband’s experience.”

Pam Thorpe, 45, mentioned Hillary’s stances on education, the environment, and health care. “I’m a midwife,” she says. But she, too, cited Hillary’s husband. “If she has Bill as a backup, that’s an asset.”

Cathy Morley, 41, said, “Quite honestly, I support her because she’s a woman. And she’s got Bill behind her, and his know-how there.”

Other Clinton supporters stressed the woman factor.

“Go women,” said Katie Morley, Cathy’s daughter, 23.

“Women get things done,” said Sandi Juergens, 65. It was her first caucus.

Marcos Rubinstein, 56, is Dennis Kucinich’s statewide Iowa coordinator. “We put our main efforts in New Hampshire,” he says, bemoaning the candidate’s lack of financial resources.

Carla Osborne, 60, wore a Kucinich button. “He’s the only one who speaks from the heart. He doesn’t pull any punches, and I like everything he says.” Asked who she would support if Kucinich did not reach the 15% threshold needed in the caucus, she said: “I can’t think of anyone else. I came in here for Kucinich and I’m going to stay with Kucinich.”

The initial tally was Obama 89, Clinton 46, Biden and Edwards 18, Richardson 9, Dodd 7, Kucinich 6.

Each campaign had one representative address the crowd.

The Edwards man stressed that he “speaks best for middle America. He’s been a champion for us. He’s a genuine nice guy, and he will not accept any lobbyist money.”

Clinton’s rep said she was “the number one choice in education and health care, and she has a relationship with over 100 world leaders. On Day One, we’ll be respected, and she will stand up for us every single day.”

But the most moving speech was by the young white man who stood up for Obama.

“Over the last six years, we’ve seen our country shift to places that are dangerous and scary and against what we stand for,” he said. “Obama has the judgment to move the country forward, to shift our perspective and the perspective the world has of us. Just look at his name: Barack Hussein Obama.”

The final tally was Obama 100, Clinton 49, Edwards 34, Biden 33.

Just before we left, I saw Carla Osborne, the staunch Kucinich supporter. She, too, ended up voting for Obama.


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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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