Andrew Yang at the Grundy Center on January 31. | Credit: Lawrence Gamble

Yesterday was a long day as I didn’t get back to the hotel until after 11 (for those of you who know me, you know this was way after my normal bedtime). This morning I slept in and decided to roll out later. I checked for local events and couldn’t find any, so I decided to work out in the hotel’s fitness room and catch up on my notes. The only thing happening even close to Des Moines was a Andrew Yang town hall in Grundy Center. Grundy Center is 111 miles from Des Moines, most of those miles on country highways. The weather people said we might get light snow showers, but I decided, what the hell, it’s supposed to be an adventure, isn’t it?

Pulling into Grundy Center (I spoke to a local who referred to this town and many others in Iowa as “water tower” towns. I got what he meant. For many places the tallest and most notable object in town is a large water town with the town name inscribed on the side) I noticed a large bus parked on the street. This bus is painted with large images of smiling, hardworking people, with the inscription “Socialism Takes, Capitalism Creates.” The organization calls itself the Job Creators Network. I need to research it, but I’m guessing I sense either/both the Club for Growth or the Koch network. Anyway, I didn’t know why they were there. After Andrew Yang started speaking, I learned why. We were in a small room in a community center attached to the Grundy Center City Hall. Seats for 30 people. A dozen press, including three video cameras, but overall a pretty small press presence. A volunteer introduced Andrew.

Yang has just started speaking when a young white guy walked right up to him and demanded the $1,000 Yang was proposing as his Peace Dividend. Andrew tried to engage, but the provocateur kept asking for his money, why wouldn’t Andrew give him his money, etc. Security and staffers moved the idiot out of the room without resorting to physical violence. As soon as things started to calm, another young white guy walked up to Andrew and unfurled a banner that said, and I am not kidding, “Andrew Yang is a robot” and started saying something to back up his claim. By now the audience, who had clearly had come to hear Yang, started booing, and this guy was led away without further incident.

That was the second instance of someone in a town hall confronting a candidate (the first was the Mayor Pete event on Wednesday). It reminded me of a few things. First, in a place like Iowa, the voters get to look into the eyes of the candidates. There is very little separation, particularly in these small-town encounters. It increases the excitement and also the danger, I would say. Next, both times the candidates took the interruptions/obstreperousness with good humor, which I admired. Which leads me to three: I couldn’t do what the candidates do because my first inclination would be to tell the person to … you know what I would say. It wouldn’t be good.

This is the oldest crowd so far, but it is not a college town. There are Yang for President signs all over the room, on the walls and being held by supporters.

Yang seems a very intelligent and likeable guy. His pitch is that he feels he can provide what he calls “real solutions for normal people in their lives.” He tells a story of meeting a voter whose daughter is afraid of losing her job at Walmart due to automated checker systems. His pitch is that the 21st century is going to present huge challenges to how we work and communicate and that he is the only candidate who understands the issues and problems and has ideas to make things better for the 99 percent who are not impossibly rich. He refers to the “4th Industrial Revolution” that is already happening. He believes in a “trickle-up economy,” which would be helped by his idea of giving all American adults $1,000 per month, financed by taxes on tech.

He refers to his two children and says he is afraid that Americans are being born today whose futures will not be as good as their parents’ lives. This is not acceptable, he believes things can improve, but he doesn’t think the other Democrats are fully facing the problem.

He ticks off what he calls the “hallmarks of a thriving society” including life expectancy, health, social connection, education, and several others. He says that for all of those hallmarks the U.S. is declining.

Donald Trump is not the source of the problems we face, Yang believes, but is a symptom of a disease that has been building for years.

He notes that he recently won the Iowa Youth Straw Poll of Iowa school kids and asks at the end, “Who better to oppose Donald Trump than an Asian man who loves math?”

The crowd applauds enthusiastically.

Driving back to Des Moines, I have to admit that I went to Grundy Center expecting a freak show but came away impressed. I hope Andrew Yang stays in public life and fights for the things he believes in, although looking at the most recent polls, he is slated to end up in single digits on Monday night. Falling under 15 percent makes a candidate nonviable. Where will the Yang Gang go?

In the evening I attended a Get Out the Caucus event for Elizabeth Warren in Des Moines. Large, enthusiastic crowd but I left before Warren could arrive from D.C. (I don’t actually know if she did show up). Other speakers told why they supported Warren, and Bailey the Dog got a big round of applause.

After teaching high school social studies for 19 years, Lawrence Gamble retired this past June. A Goldwater Republican at age 14 and a Bobby Kennedy Democrat at age 18 who later walked precincts for anti-Vietnam-War candidates, Gamble spent years trying to explain the Iowa caucuses to his American Government students. “I am in Iowa to see American democracy up close and personal.” he wrote in his first Caucus Crazy 2020 blog entry.


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