We started today with an oh-dark-early run up to the ancient Town Hall in Hopkinton for a Yang event. It was nine degrees when we left the hotel; the rented Impala didn’t want to move. My diet Coke was a mass of ice.
Walking across the crusted snow toward the event, I sounded like a marching regiment. One particular grave in the cemetery next door had memorial flags from what looked like eight different conflicts. I must someday find out what manner of military hero is buried there. But not today; it’s a different sort of fight I’m watching.
From outside the hall looked deserted, but the door opened on a packed crowd. The hall holds maybe fifty people comfortably for town meetings; today, there’s ten times that many. It’s hard to find standing room; I’d call it Russian-nesting-doll room only. Several of us taller fellows ushered the elevation-impaired to the front and we sorted ourselves out more or less. I could have fallen asleep standing and never touched ground.
Except then the event started.
The warm-up man was none other than Steve Marchand, who tried and failed to get the Democratic nomination for governor here in New Hampshire a couple of years ago. Very powerful speaker who knows how to work a crowd. It’s funny: The professional gloss that’s missing from the candidate himself — and quite a few of the other contenders, come to that — is very evident in Marchand. He whipped us up like a Baptist preacher going off on Pharaoh and the Israelites. When Yang came on, the applause was thunderous.
As always, just listening to the man makes me feel smarter. He talks so his audience can follow, but there’s no doubt in my mind that his plans are far beyond the comprehension of most in the hall. He explains the strange yet entirely valid math underlying his thousand-dollar-a-month plan; he invokes the evils of Amazon; he talks about the danger of Trump. In the end, when he describes himself as Trump’s exact opposite (“a smart Chinese guy that likes math”) everyone’s eating out of his hand.
M.A.T.H.: Make America Think Harder! How can anyone criticize a man with that motto? Particularly one who not only means it but makes it seem the inevitable consequence of his election.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We could do a lot worse than have Andrew Yang as president. He inspires people to think.
“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy — then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece. Probably the rarest form of life in American politics is the man who can turn on a crowd & still keep his head straight — assuming it was straight in the first place.”
Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing ’72”
The next stop was Plymouth, at a resort that seems to be mostly used for weddings through the summer. It was a completely different feeling from the Yang event; I thought for quite some time that I must surely be at the wrong place. Instead of open doors and a milling crowd, there was a large yet discreet security presence. Yet nobody seemed oppressed; instead, bright cheerful faces lined the hall. Bernie shirts, buttons, and hats were everywhere. As an uncommitted voter, I felt distinctly out of place — and I was completely wrong to.
This was a canvass meeting, filled with volunteers. But the public wasn’t only welcome; it was expressly invited. The staffers at the door were delighted to meet an independent voter, and I heard others come in behind me that were equally well greeted. Campaign crew was everywhere, looking harassed and busy, but one took time to point me specially to a comfortable seat and another pointed out the refreshments table. Bear in mind, I have no press pass for the Sanders campaign; I must just have looked bewildered and lost, and they took great care to put me at ease. It reminded me a great deal of visiting a new church, except there was nobody judging me for my dress or hairstyle.
The warm-up here was done by a local campaign area director. He was not a professional, and it showed. “Just to throw some numbers around, like, this campaign is going great.” *applause* (Yes, I got that on tape. I love this little device.)
He wasn’t polished, but that’s not always a bad thing. In fact, listening to him showed clearly the difference that makes up the Bernie crew. There’s a dozen out-of-state canvassers assigned to this area; housing is provided by local supporters, and the weekly take was a dozen cards for people they visited who are committed to vote for Bernie. It’s a traditional grass-roots campaign, and it’s organized just exactly like the classic McGovern operation that scored such a surprising win in Minnesota in ’72. The excitement in the room was palpable, and for good reason: They know they’re working to win, and their efforts are making a huge difference.
A note on Bernie’s supporters: There are certainly some internet trolls who back Bernie with foul language and cruelty online. They were not present in this room. The vast overwhelming majority of his serious supporters are positive, cheerful, energetic, and kind; they’re solicitous toward everyone in the room almost to a fault, and even willing to cheer on fellow Democrats. It was delightful.
Bernie came in and proved he really didn’t need a pro to warm up the room. Actually, he spoke to everyone like they were family, and in a sense they were — even me, for the moment; adopted, perhaps, but made to feel at home. He spoke simple truths, even truisms, but he did so in a way that made them seem new: “In the richest country in the history of the world, if you work forty hours a week you shouldn’t be living in poverty.”
His words are simple, but they’re inarguable. I disagree with him on a few political positions here and there, mind, but not on his main theme: that things ought not be as they are, and if we want change we’re going to have to make it happen ourselves. And he inspires those who hear them to go out and do it.
Bernie, like Yang, has less charisma and polish than one might want. But both of them work that small talent just as hard as they can, and they get away with it because they’re both perfectly sincere. They mean exactly what they say. These are two politicians who won’t lie to you.
And they are, as Hunter S. Thompson tells us, both perfect examples of that rarest form of life: Politicians who can whip up a crowd and still keep their heads on straight.
We think this Mini with the Bernie wrap is owned by the guys at Ben & Jerry’s, but we’re not sure.
The Fear and Loathing 2020 Tour is running in New Hampshire on a shoestring. We haven’t brought in enough to cover expenses and travel costs, much less the hotel — and I travel Amtrak in the cheap seats and usually dine on sandwiches and rubber eggs. So feel free to donate if you like. I won’t object; I’m not that proud.