Living in Society Writing

New Way of Seeing

Flooded Wetland

I had an epiphany while reading Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s memoir, Shortest Way Home, the March release of which coincides with his presidential campaign.

In the first chapter he described growing up in South Bend, Indiana, a place I frequented while working in transportation at about the same time.

It was a stretch to understand Buttigieg’s new narrative of something I knew well during the late 1980s. My conclusion after finishing the first chapter was I feel too comfortable with people closer to my own age with similar experiences. Like it or not, aware of it or not, a new generation of Americans has arrived and is already making change in a society I increasingly recognize only in memory.

I don’t know Buttigieg’s presidential chances among a large field with many experienced politicians, but I know this: I’d better join younger people in their efforts to improve society or get out of the way.

I’ve written about the struggle of young farmers regarding land use in our county. Some of them have been addressing the county board of supervisors since 2013 about the 40-acre rule which defines a farm. If a farmer farms on less than 40-acres here, by definition, it is not a farm, and therefore, the financial remedies of the Iowa agricultural exemption are unavailable. Having advocated with the supervisors during the run up to the most recent five-year land use plan, they are making an end run around them for lack of accommodation, seeking a remedy from the state legislature. Whether they will be successful this year is uncertain, but eventually they will reshape the law to better fit their vision of contemporary farming.

Congressman Dave Loebsack is in the same cohort as me, about a year younger. A relatively small group of us joined together in Iowa City to open his first campaign office for the 2006 election. Together we beat a 30-year incumbent Republican in the general election. Over time there have been complaints that Loebsack is not progressive enough. If one looks at his actual positions and votes, and hears it from him personally as I’ve been able to do because of our long relationship, that seems ridiculous. However, the new generation will have their way, maybe not now, maybe not in an orderly way after Loebsack retires, but their patience with perceived grievances won’t be bottled up for long. As Buttigieg’s narrative of South Bend in the late 1980s instructs, there is a different way of seeing things and it is not the view of white guys like me.

After the decennial political redistricting in 2010 Bobby Kaufmann won the first election in newly formed House District 73. He has dominated the district ever since, despite efforts by Dick Schwab (2012), David Johnson (2014), and Jodi Clemens (2018) to win the seat. Like him or not, he is the face of the new Republican party in Iowa and a popular figure in the district and around Iowa. That’s not to say he’s popular among Democrats and progressives because he mostly isn’t. Because he won four back-to-back elections he rose in the legislature and became the gateway for constituents to get things done. Will he support all of our initiatives? No. Will he listen? I found the answer to be yes.

I no longer see life through the eyes of a thirty-something. However, I’m willing to set aside my biases and predispositions if I can and spend time with men and women in their 20s and 30s to work on common issues. It’s the lesson I’ve learned from Pete Buttigieg’s candidacy.

There is so much needed to improve our lives and old solutions no longer work. To find our way, we need something different, and better. Our hope lies with the thirty-somethings who have arrived — like it or not.