[by Susan Ashline]
In the end, my vote came down to a missed handshake.
My 11-year-old son got interested watching news reports of the presidential election, then he was watching debates. When I heard Bill Clinton was coming to Rochester to stump for his wife before the New York primary, I thought Reed would like to see a former president.
That’s how it started: simple.
The night I offered up the idea, my son got increasingly spirited, and as I lay in bed with flu, he popped in and out, strategizing on how he was going to get Clinton’s autograph. And he did.
Reed became hell-bent on getting each candidate’s autograph. He fashioned a special election folder from a two-pocket school folder, labeled it and affixed election stickers. He borrowed my leather briefcase and organized it with permanent markers, pens, paper, and various utility inserts he’d made with black-and-white checkered duct tape.
To score an upfront view, we arrived at Hillary Clinton’s rally an hour ahead of the doors opening. I was surprised to find myself shoulder-to-shoulder with 1,300 people. Clinton’s speech done, she walked the perimeter of the podium (the “rope line”) shaking hands. Some members of the democratic party got my son’s duct-taped signing sheet to a Clinton staffer. While we waited for it to come back to us, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren stood near us, talking to someone. She overheard me telling her staffer that my son had been hoping to meet Hillary.
Warren, who doesn’t know me and never met me, said to her staffer, “Take them back.”
But it was too late, Hillary had just left. Back came Hillary’s autograph to Reed. Warren’s ever-so-slight gesture left a big, positive impression on me, and I spent time wondering why. It was impulsive. It was not asked for, but offered. It was . . . human.
We didn’t leave too far in advance for candidate John Kasich’s rally the following day. Who would go? No one was voting for him.
We hit the traffic clog long before the rally site and encountered a line at the door that wound down the sidewalk to the tune of more than 4,000 people. Republican Mark Assini, who’s running for Congress, was shaking hands and talking to folks in line.
Once again, we managed to get in the main room, right at the podium. I liked what Kasich had to say. If I was registered as a Republican, he’d get my primary vote.
We missed the rope line walk at the conclusion, and Reed was so disheartened he didn’t get Kasich’s autograph. He stood forlorn in the main room long after it’d cleared.
Then, I noticed Kasich had returned to speak with reporters. I grabbed a “reserved” sign from the bleachers and we walked up to him. Not only did he write on it, “Reed – live your dreams!” but he also took time to tell my son an anecdote of trying to score an autograph when he was Reed’s age.
When we left, Assini was still there, still shaking hands.
Three autographs in fist, our simple venture turned complex. We were on a mission. Donald Trump was in town. A friend dropped us off at the airplane hanger six hours early, in the freezing cold. But it paid off. There was a guy who positioned himself directly in front of Trump’s podium, and we stood right next to him. Behind us were some 10,000 people.
I wasn’t “one of them.” This was a tough one for me. I’m very anti-Trump. However, if he is to be my president, it is not only my right to find out what he’s all about, but my obligation.
No, I don’t like Trump.
While it didn’t change my opinion of Trump, it certainly softened it. It was difficult to admit to myself that after all my serious concerns about Trump’s platform, something so seemingly insignificant could matter so much.
Maybe it was that Trump understood the value of marketing himself in such a way. Maybe it was strictly vanity. Maybe he genuinely likes connecting with individuals. Whatever the case – it worked. He shook hands and signed autographs, and it mattered.
Reed was 4-for-4 and Bernie Sanders was rallying. I pulled him out of school because some of the best lessons are learned outside the classroom. We got up at 5:19 a.m. We waited in a long line of traffic, then a longer line of pedestrians. It was so cold we brought mylar blankets. After two hours, my body was shutting down, my teeth chattering so hard, I was afraid I would bite off my tongue.
Once we got through the metal detectors, we managed to get right up to the rope line. This meant we were pretty much assured an autograph.
Bernie was the candidate I knew the least about, so I was paying close attention to each word. I liked a lot of what he said. I thought I might vote for him in the primary. I could finally have a candidate to back, though some of what he said was too extreme for me.
He finished to cheers and applause and music, and Reed readied his duct-taped Bernie rally ticket and indelible marker for an autograph.
Bernie flew down the steps of the podium – straight out the door. He did not walk the rope line. He went for the exit. Bernie couldn’t get past the throngs of people on his way out who were reaching out to him, so he grabbed a few hands as he whirred past. One guy held out a sign and marker, and a security guy snatched it as Bernie blew by.
From the rope line, the masses screamed Bernie’s name, trying to get him to come for a handshake. An autograph.
He maybe had to use the bathroom, I reasoned. He had to rush to another rally? He’s old and was too exhausted? But if he those were correct, then he’s not fit to be president. He’s too unskilled with time management to be president.
Is he too out of touch with people to be president?
His message rang “inclusion.” Yet, he’d excluded all the people who stood for hours in the cold, making themselves sick and hurting just for a chance to shake hands. His actions seemed incongruous with his message.
Did we not matter?
We missed one autograph, but went to the Ted Cruz rally anyway. In line, we again saw Mark Assini. He came over and chatted, and told us he’d shaken so many hands at the Trump rally his hand was sore. I gave him credit – lots – for walking the lines and meeting with people.
Cruz was criticized for the brevity of his speech. But like Trump, he took an inordinate amount of time connecting one-on-one with prospective voters, posing for photos and signing. He patiently signed his name for my son.
In the days leading up to the primary, I tried to erase my personal feelings about Bernie not walking the rope line. But in the end, it mattered. I could go into detail about this candidate or that, and I’d like to get into specifics about platforms and agendas and criticisms and rumors. But then I’d be denying the importance of a handshake. For whatever reason – it mattered.
And because Bernie could not give me his time, I could not give him mine.