© 2008 Karen Van Fossan
Obama T-shirts! Made in America. Hillary's are made in Mexico! So the vendor calls, walking the line, peddling Obama-ware to a merry crowd. I mean that. Merry. This line, these 17,400 people or so, compose not only the largest line I've ever been in, but the merriest. We have braved the Grand Forks wind, walking this line for an hour. Maybe two. So what's another hour among 17, 399 friends?
Some have come to hear Barack Obama. For instance, the child who carries a giant, orange Obama poster. Which he, not his brother, has made; he assures me of this. Some have come for Hillary Clinton. For instance, the women who sport Hillary buttons as large as strawberry pies or maybe circular saws. And some (like my friends and I) have resolved to cheer for both, and also for each other as much as possible. In this spirit, we throw ourselves into a game of 20-questions, which is record-breaking both in length and complications. My turn.
Person, place, or thing? Tracy asks.
Does it talk? That's Spencer.
Does it have a spine? That's Ramona.
Somehow, these are tough questions. A thing? Sometimes? Depends?
Then Tracy spots a long row of plastic bottles, there inside the window. Uff da! she cries. Food and drink aren't allowed! So the four of us scarf down water, apples, cashews, marveling at the delightful combination.
And we're in! We move through the security contraptions. The officers let Spencer (and his key chain) through, at last. Two of our apples (Uff da!) are confiscated. Then we see the time. 5:45! Obama was to speak at 5:30. Say it isn't so! The four of us scale the stairs, two, three at a time. We tear through the Alerus Center, past fancy renovations we barely notice.
Can we make it? Yes, we can! (Sorry.) Obama hasn't started yet. Only Senator Conrad (D-ND). Ramona finds us the best possible spot (at the farthest, farthest reaches of the Alerus Center). Just in time to hear Conrad proclaiming Obama's Midwestern values. No chance to wonder what Midwestern values might be, or what his dad's opinion is in Kenya. Here's Barack Obama! And what's the first word he speaks? Uff da!
We cheer, applaud, jump to our feet, dance together. And before we know it, we've found a brand new spot, and now we're doing the wave for Hillary Clinton. Former Governor Sinner introduces her, asking the pulsing crowd, Have we confronted our gender bias?
Too soon, the Obama and Clinton shows are over. Still, I'm as merry as ever. (Except for the couple of times I had to boo. I admit it.) All along, I've been taking notes. On an envelope, a wrapper, a receipt. This is history in the making, and I'll be taking a little to the folks back home. But suddenly I'm flustered and befuddled. Maybe it's running into my partner's ex. In a crowd of 17,400 no less. Or that terrifying game of 20-questions. Or doing the bump with my friends. But I've dropped my notes to the floor! Hillary wrappers here. Obama receipts there. I can't seem to sort them, one from the other. They're sticking together, clinging together. They almost seem to be running together! I gather what I can, my mismatched bits of paper. And this is what I've got...
CLINTON: I didn't know there were this many Democrats in North Dakota!
OBAMA: It's the party of tomorrow!
CLINTON: Let's believe in ourselves.
OBAMA: This is our chance to start over.
CLINTON: We stand on the cusp of a new beginning.
OBAMA: That's why I'm running; that's why you're running.
CLINTON: The Bush Administration has used fear to divide us and fatalism to discourage us.
OBAMA: They have destroyed generations of goodwill and understanding with the rest of the world.
CLINTON: Since when did America become the can't-do nation?
OBAMA: Theirs is a party that uses religion as a wedge and patriotism as a bludgeon.
CLINTON: You wish they'd just apologize.
OBAMA: With Bush's tax cuts, you're on your own. Ordinary people, most of you here today, you can just fend for yourself.
CLINTON: If you listen closely, you can almost hear the sound of the moving van backing into the White House.
OBAMA: We'll bring a new kind of politics to Washington.
CLINTON: And take that money away from the corporations.
OBAMA: The arc of justice doesn't bend on its own.
CLINTON: Here in North Dakota...
OBAMA: Right here in North Dakota...
CLINTON: We will once again enjoy peace and prosperity.
OBAMA: I am my brother's keeper. I am my sister's keeper.
CLINTON: Give us the child to learn, the people to work, the veterans our care, this country to rebuild.
OBAMA: Every child is our child.
CLINTON: For me, this is no longer debatable.
OBAMA: I love this country not because it is perfect, but because we've always been able to bring it closer to perfection.
CLINTON: God bless you, and God bless America.
OBAMA: Uff da!
Someday maybe I'll get my notes in order. Someday maybe Clinton and Obama will be president. And if I have a chance, maybe I'll even ask them 20 questions. For starters...
1. Who got the apples?
2. Did you hear us in the crowd? (We were the ones going, Uff da!)
3. Where are Hillary's T-shirts really made?