In Search of Tulsi Gabbard, Part III

Everything that has a beginning has an end. The Wachowski brothers understood that sixteen years ago, and theirs is a wisdom I’ve never forgotten. It was on the brain as I gathered my things and readied myself for the final leg of Tulsi Gabbard’s tour of the Granite State on this Fourth of July frame. The only problem with that maxim—“Everything that has a beginning has an end”—is that it was declared in the disastrous closing chapter of the Matrix series, a brainless film comprised of repetitive action scenes that go absolutely nowhere.

Perhaps that’s not the most inaccurate illustration of the American government’s foreign policy: senseless, sustained, disorienting violence that serves no demonstrably sensible purpose. It’s all a bunch of explosions, the single note of the brutal symphony sustained, maybe forever. The only difference between this disastrous foreign policy of imperialist carnage and the last installment of the Matrix trilogy is that the latter was bloodless, the victims make-believe; sadly, the same can’t be said of the former.

Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. It’s easy for me because I am sitting here and typing in the present, several days after the Gabbard campaign has left New Hampshire—for now—whereas you, as my reader, are forced, by the natural parameters of writing, to remain in whatever time and place is designated for you. Therefore, I must not disrespect my reader, and therefore, I will take you back to Saturday, July 7th, when I was driving back into the mountains of Franconia, wearing a black tank-top and a pair of silver basketball shorts, to compete against Tulsi Gabbard in a 5K.

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Running is one of my great obsessions. To me, there is no better way to unwind after an unpleasant day than to power up my Nano, stuff my feet in my New Balances, and take a six-and-a-half-mile run. Many an armchair psychologist has diagnosed me with pathological masochism, but I prefer to think of myself as disciplined, adventurous, or at least looking pretty as a gallon of sweat washes over me. Unfortunately, Tulsi Gabbard doesn’t share my psychotic passion. She explained, as she stood on the grass minutes before the race, that she despises running, but that it’s required as part of her annual physical test in the Hawaii Army National Guard. “I have to get my practice where I can,” she said with a shrug.

Suddenly, I noticed that several of her campaign staffers—a small, but very buoyant, group of men and women with whom I had many conversations throughout this four-day tour—were stretching on the other side of the park. The next day, a resident of the town of Milford would volunteer “to do anything to help” Gabbard win the presidency, to which she replied: “In Franconia, I asked my staff to run a 5K with me, so you might want to re-think that offer.” There was something surreal about this, about a presidential candidate running among the people of Franconia on a muggy—and I do mean muggy—Saturday morning.

I’ll admit something kind-of strange about myself. When I’m about to go running on a sweltering day, I may (or may not) take a before-and-after selfie, just to illustrate the barbarity of the heat—or my own barbarity, as the case may be. Naturally, I wanted to take such a selfie with Gabbard, one which I would never post on the Internet, but one which would have been a great prize for me. However, in a rare moment of sagacity, I decided against it, and as Gabbard crossed the finish line, I could see that I had made the right choice. She was drained, panting as she stood with both hands on her knees, and while she mustered up a smile when I asked if she wanted to run another, I could tell that now was not the time for pictures and interviews and whatnot. Accordingly, I returned to my car and began the trek back to Concord, where I hoped to complete my second essay on the statewide tour.

As I left the parking lot and turned towards the highway, I spotted Tulsi Gabbard walking in the same direction, not towards anything, but away from the crowd that was still bunched together on the opposite end of the park. She was gathering her senses, recovering from what was, for me, a lovely way to spend the very beginning of a Saturday morning, but what was, for her, a brutal and possibly even punishing experience. In that moment, I thought about how exhausting it must be to mount a political campaign and to constantly throw yourself out there, to yield to the never-ending demands of everyone around you, even when you are literally struggling to breathe. There was an uncommonly human element to this, to the image of Tulsi Gabbard walking, alone, her face redder than a beet from exhaustion.

I would not ask for any pictures on that day. I would not ask her any questions. I would leave such activities to those less familiar with all that had transpired that morning, and before.

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With your permission, we will bypass the other events of Saturday the 6th. I skipped the parade in Franconia, as there was no way for me to return to Concord, bathe, and make it back to Franconia in time for the Independence Day parade, and Gabbard was entangled in Franconia and couldn’t make it to Bradford in time for their parade. That was unfortunate, because we met a large number of people in Bradford who stated their intention to vote for her. It was an uncommonly dramatic parade, besides, as a heavy rain pounded us about five minutes before we were supposed to start a-marchin’. Luckily, I was able to stash my Julian Assange poster before the first splatters started.

Now we proceed to Sunday the 7th, the final lap of Gabbard’s statewide odyssey within the New Hampshire deep. This stage of the adventure began in Goffstown, and after two days of wandering around in the mountains, I was thankful to see the urban south again. The first event commenced at eleven in the morning, so I had time for coffee and a muffin at Sawyers, seemingly the only café in town that hadn’t shut down for the long weekend. Meanwhile, Gabbard’s crew was setting up shop at Apotheca, a flower store that, I later discovered, doubled as . . . a café.

When Gabbard arrived and stood in the center of a very small room—I would say there was maybe fifteen feet from the doorway to the wall, and maybe forty-five feet of flooring along the middle—I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly appropriate it was for her to be speaking here about the cannibalization of the American people by the gluttonous corporate and militaristic forces. You’ve probably noticed how seldom you find a store like Apotheca, one of those specialty businesses that are being reduced, at a breakneck pace, to a section within a section of an international department store. Will Apotheca still be standing ten or even five years from now, or will it be snatched up and swallowed up, just like so many others?

At Apotheca, Gabbard was pressed on her specific policies to revitalize the American economy. The first step, she argues, is to abolish the ridiculous taxation system that favor the wrong people and organizations. She is hardly the first person to observe that there is no reason for the American government to award $30 billion in annual oil subsidies, but when you pair this observation with her condemnation of the $48 billion we spend in Afghanistan each year, suddenly, the economic arguments against universal healthcare are exposed as absurdities. I mean, when you have an icon of Austrian economics like Ron Paul effectively endorsing your candidacy even as you call for universal healthcare, then you know, blessedly, that you are not even in the same universe as your Democratic opponents.

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From here, we journeyed on to Milford. My GPS failed me in Mont Vernon and led me to Trow Road, a rugged little path that achieved notoriety for all of the wrong reasons a decade ago. Alas, I would have happily traveled a hundred roads like this one to avoid the disaster that this failure of the GPS portended: when I was in Milford, taking a second to breathe and watch the highlights of the Women’s World Cup, my cell phone committed electronic suicide and purged itself of all of its data. I lost every photo I had taken in Goffstown, as well every note I had ever recorded. The only gratitude I have in this ugly mess is that my interview with Tulsi Gabbard occurred and was recorded after the crash. Had it been the other way around, well, I’m not sure if I would have had the patience to write this article.

As I was saying, we arrived in Milford, where Gabbard would address a community center that was filled to capacity. I noticed how the size of the assemblage seemed to climb at each venue. It is difficult to say what, exactly, was responsible for this perpetual growth, but to be honest, I’m a lot more interested in the potential that it not only indicated, but proved: so many people want to hear this woman speak. Even if there are more people who would prefer an establishment candidate for nebulous reasons, doesn’t the significant interest in Gabbard, who does offer an alternative to the realpolitik template, justify her inclusion in the next debate, and the debate after that, and each of the debates, for as long as she chooses to run? Otherwise, you put the American people in the unenviable position of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were given “alternatives, but not choice.”

Gabbard offers choice, a choice contrary to the imperialist policies sustained by our government across many administrations for more than a century. These policies have culminated in what she describes as “this nuclear abyss”, a nightmarish precipice that none of her Democratic rivals even seem to notice. It’s very surreal, even very frightening, to realize that Gabbard is the only candidate who offers a legitimate ideological alternative to Trump, at least in the realm of foreign policy—which, as Gabbard observes, is linked inextricably to every other issue, regardless of how many sophists try their hardest to convince you differently.

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The most poignant illustration of this comprehensive link was made in Windham, where her tour of the New Hampshire deep reached its end. She attended a house party, one which presented an interesting challenge to a nascent journalist: is it acceptable to freely photograph the inside of somebody’s house? However, within time I came to understand that it wasn’t very different from any other venue: once again, it is simply a person standing among many other people, speaking to them about something they are interested in. The people who gathered in this home were interested in war, in bringing an end to the wars that have come to define the American government for most of my lifetime, and probably for much, much longer than that.

There were many interesting questions, including one pertaining to Julian Assange—arguably the highest-profile victim of American imperialism in recent memory—and another whereby Gabbard was advised to challenge Elizabeth Warren on her support for Trump’s military budget. Again, the problem resurfaces: alternatives, but not choice. Warren will spend plenty of time on the campaign trail making indirect references to Trump’s mismanagement of taxpayer funds, but when the time comes to deliver the goods, she will yield to the majority, to the establishment that funds her. She can have her cake and eat it, too—a hypocrisy whereof Trump might be said to be the master.

Ah, but none of this gets to the heart of the matter. We came upon the heart of the matter when an elderly woman told Gabbard about her grandson, who is enlisted in the military and stationed in a foreign country. Every few days, this woman hears about the number of American soldiers most recently killed in that country, and upon receiving this notice, she has to wait several days before it is confirmed that her grandson is not one of the dead. As she described the agony of waiting, she started choking up—and so did a lot of us who listened to her story. Before saying anything, before making a formal response, Gabbard hugged her.

I thought about taking a picture, but I didn’t. Like the moment in Franconia, it just seemed wrong to intrude on that moment, irrespective of how many people saw it.

And that is the single biggest reason why the media ignores Gabbard: she doesn’t describe her military career with the insipid, narrow vocabulary of jingoism. She doesn’t depict war—otherwise known as mass death—as something glorious, invigorating, romantic, or fun. She doesn’t paint it in the gaudy colors of corporate patriotism. She paints it in stark, intense, and serious colors. She doesn’t present a homogenized cartoon that can be packaged cleanly and sold to the masses. She is telling us not what we want to hear, but what we must.

I waited until Gabbard said goodbye to everybody else before I greeted her outside the house. I removed my hat, but she wouldn’t accept that: she wanted a hug, and I gave it to her. “Keep up the good work,” she told me.

“You, too.”

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