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"That's what I do!" I say, overjoyed. "I do things to impress girls too!" At the second-to-last stop of the day, at a public library, one of his supporters shows up with a huge home-cooked vegan meal. Dennis insists on splitting it with me. "Are you hungry?"
"No, that's OK." But he knows I'm lying. We eat side by side in the van. I'm tired and feeling a little emotional after listening to Kucinich talk about love and peace all day. "Your whole life can change in one momentthat's what people are looking for. They spend their whole lives searching for that." He hands me a bottle of water. I didn't realize how dehydrated I was. The stars are so brilliant that even at 50 miles an hour it looks like the sky might explode. And I suddenly really think I will cry. "Envision the world as one. We need to think about reparations for all the innocent victims." I think I see a fog bank coming east from Nebraska but I know that's not even possible. I think, look at the telephone lines between Des Moines and Davenport. No way, man. Look at America, just look at it. Would you shed an American tear for the innocent victims? When the collateral damage is counted, will it touch your patriotic heart? Will they pray for us, to save our souls, while we pray for them? Radio Iowa, can you hear me?
It's the best food I've ever had. When it's over I am in an entirely different place and Dennis is splitting his apple pie with me. We are friends. "You're more in touch with your humanity than the other journalists," he says. But he has no idea how in touch I am in that moment. Then there's the house party and the polka. One woman suggests loudly, when asked about vice presidential candidates, "How about a black woman?" I wonder if she is talking about any one in particular or suggesting a constitutional amendment. In the parking lot of the Holiday Inn, we sit for twenty minutes while Dennis speaks with a Christian radio station. Man it's cold outside. In the lobby we hug and have our picture taken together. I realize that I have really been compromised. I don't know how. But when that AP reporter told me not to eat from the John Kerry buffet, that was nothing. That was just baked beans and bacon salad. Kucinich didn't even charge me transportation. He split his meal with me. I love the guy. Could he be president?
Just before I go to sleep I ask myself, Why not love your fellow man, why not peace on earth? In the morning the sun has risen over the enormous Coral Ridge shopping mall, the biggest in Iowa. And the shoppers from Iowa City and Cedar Rapids are pulling in like ants returning to a hill. I ask myself the same question, Why not peace on earth? And the answer occurs to me immediatelybecause the other guy wants to rape your women and kill your children.
Stephen Elliott is the author of four novels, including What It Means to Love You andHappy Baby. He is currently working on a book about the 2004 presidential election.