In years past, Genie Maybanks thought that an Iowan who was undecided in January wasn’t paying enough attention. Except now, in 2020, that undecided person is her. Maybanks has lived in Cedar Rapids for seven years. She’s a mother and she’s involved in her community. Maybanks has been to so many campaign events she’s seen herself in the background of both a Yang campaign and a Pete Buttigieg ad, her daughters were in a picture on Elizabeth Warren’s Instagram.
But she still doesn’t know who she’s going to caucus for.
In true Midwestern fashion, Maybanks loves all the candidates. She truly does. They all have “great qualities” she tells me as we stand near the customary bed of coats that is a staple of cold weather winter gatherings.
She’s just worried: They’re all so good, but who can beat Donald Trump?
We are at a house party for undecided voters with California Representative Katie Porter, who is also an Iowa native. Porter, a former student of Elizabeth Warren’s, is a campaign proxy for the Senator. Porter has just given a speech about growing up during the fear of the farm crisis of the 1980s.
The message from Porter and Warren is that the way to attack the fear and anxiety in America is with plans—focused and actionable plans from Medicare for all to a 2 percent wealth tax.
It’s a different message from Barack Obama’s “hope and change.” But we aren’t in Obama’s America anymore. We are in Donald Trump’s America. And you can feel the unease. It’s been less than a week since Trump brought us to the edge of a war after assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. In an interview, Porter told me, “Trump has been pushing a narrative at the American people that basically they don’t get to decide. That he’s in charge. That their voices don’t matter. And people are worried about the stakes, and the stakes of this election are very, very high.”
Iowa Democrats have a tough job to do. As the first in the nation caucus state, Iowans help narrow the field of candidates. And in an election year with so much at stake and so many candidates, how do you do that?
People at the event tell me they love Warren, but don’t want to see another woman lose. They love Warren, but wonder if she can win. They want her, but…you know. They sigh, maybe settle for Biden?
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Right now, it’s undecided who is winning the caucuses, polling at 45 percent according to the Des Moines Register. Undecided hasn’t polled this well since 1976, when he won the caucuses, beating out Jimmy Carter. Undecided is a candidate who hegdes. He’s a man who thinks women aren’t electable. He’s a candidate who worries we are alienating the “businesses” and maybe messing “too much” with healthcare. Undecided has no vision beyond November of 2020, besides winning. Undecided is afraid and banking on your fear to paralyze you.
In 1976, like now, America was caught in a time of deep insecurity. The Vietnam War had just ended, but the Cold War was strangling Americans in a deep sense of existential fear. A study by the Associated Press reports that while America is still deeply politically divided, we are united in our fear and anxiety with 53 percent of those surveyed are anxious about the election. And Democrats are more afraid than Republicans, with 67 percent of Democrats saying they felt anxious about the election.
The 2020 election is holding Democrats chained in the basement of a collective political fear. People are afraid to hope for better than “electable” afraid to vote for better than “beating Trump.” Yet, “I’m scare to lose” has never been a good policy position. It makes you go for the safe, rather than the exciting, the comfort you understand, rather than the bold policies that can change the world.
But we’ve never made ourselves safe by giving into fear and indecision.