Hermits Rock

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We were in Des Moines yesterday at a collating party for K’s job that meant we spent five straight hours folding letters and stuffing about half of 6,000 envelopes. I escaped with only one papercut.

So it was late afternoon and very hot by the time we made it to Ames to take in the spectacle of the Iowa Straw Poll, and already dozens of charter buses had left the grounds to return home. I understand now that most of the buses were occupied by Romney supporters showing support of the nation by supporting Mitt (button slogan: “Team Mitt”) because they think he’d be a great president. What Team Mitt left behind were earnest stragglers intent to see out the day, a few imposters like us, a lot of reporters, and at least as many staffers. Sam Brownback’s apparatus, which consisted of a NASCAR-themed inflatable playground, another unthemed inflatable slide, a climbing wall, and an air-conditioned tent greeted us. Brownback’s tent was beside Romney’s sparkly, TV-lined stage, which wasn’t yet occupied by the Christian, pro-life metal band when we were there. Both campaigns’ tents were near the FairTax sales tax bus and Ferris wheel. Mike Huckabee with his band, Capitol Steps, and a Fat Elvis impersonator Around the corner of the coliseum were the rest of the campaigns’ tents, including John Cox (who?), and in the shade of a row of trees, Mike Huckabee. Huckabee, who looks more like Kevin Spacey with every passing day, was the only candidate we saw; he had traded the jeans and white shirt and bass guitar for a black shirt and slacks and the Very Serious Expression that all good politicians learn to wear at an early age, and he was standing in the shade amid a crowd of people. I thought to thank him for appointing my grandmother to be the White County prison inspector—but we didn’t have a lot of time, so we wandered away toward the tents of Tommy Thompson and Tom “Xenophobe” Tancredo and others. The narcissist Duncan Hunter had a bus with lots of photos of himself plastered on the sides. “Marrying my wife was the best decision of my life,” read one of the captions, which was nice, but it doesn’t really tell anyone why Duncan Hunter should be president. Someone was giving out ice cream; someone else was giving out bomb pops. Hippie bus, by Flickr user Ty Compared to the undertone of stodginess (belted khaki shorts; polo shirts; short hair), it seemed as if hippies might pour out of the Ron Paul bus—all the Ron Paul buses, painted with “Ron Paul Revolution” on their sides—but instead it just generated roving bands of wild-eyed libertarians, libertarian wannabes, and anti-war Republicans.

There weren’t many interest groups. In addition to FairTax, Ed in ’08 had a tent, as did the One Campaign and the American Medical Association. The Lance Armstrong Foundation was there; so too was Children’s Rights Initiative for Sharing Parents Equally, a group that apparently lobbies to to diminish the effects of divorce on children by encouraging joint custody, although what we saw wasn’t the big purple bus but rather a pickup truck lined with posters.

The Iraq war was strangely absent, especially given the staunchly pro-war positions of the GOP candidates. Where were the veterans, the solemn celebrations of militarization, the aspersions against Arabs and Islam, the glorifications of war? Perhaps we were just too late for that pageantry, or too early. We were tired from the collating and from the heat to do more than circle the stadium once—by no means were we going in to vote—and take in a general impression of the scene. What I saw made me wish we could have been there earlier, before Romney’s buses drove away; I would have liked to talk to people such as Huckabee’s staffers, to find out where they were from, or to shadow the many reporters wandering about to see what they saw. Later, at dinner K said what I’d been thinking since we left: “You know it’s been a bad day when you’d rather have spent it with Republicans.”



No offense, Republicans. You just had to be there…It looked fun!

I am so jealous.

It was quite the party. But then, you get to spend your days with Republicans all the time, so I’m sure the Nascar set is old hat to you.