One day back in August of 2002, Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson walked eight miles with Vilsack during his annual week-long walking and jogging tour from one small Iowa town to another.
Eight miles took just a little over two and a half hours once you figure in the water breaks and the handshaking at a few farmsteads. It gave Henderson plenty of time to ask questions.
“Do you like campaigning?” Henderson asked.
Vilsack laughed. “I like governing and I like campaigning in terms of meeting people, going out and talking to folks, shaking hands, visiting with them, finding out what’s on their mind. There are other aspects of campaigning that, you know, I could do without.”
Vilsack, though, said he’s developed a thick skin over the years. “You have to remember that campaigns are about an image or a perception of a person, they’re not about the real person because people don’t have an opportunity to know who I really am. They haven’t spent time with me, so it’s about a perception. As long as you keep that in mind, that it’s about a perception, then it’s a little easier to take.”
While Vilsack says people don’t really know him, Vilsack has over the years publicly shared details of his life that others might have kept under wraps. Vilsack often tells very personal and sometimes painful stories to illustrate a point.
From the Radio Iowa archives, here’s a segment of a Vilsack campaign speech:
“What you need to know about me is that when you start life out as an orphan and you were adopted into a family with an alcoholic mother in an abusive situation from time to time with a father who was a great guy but a poor businessman, when you grow up in a situation like that, there’s not a great opportunity for joy. There’s not an opportunity to experience childhood. In my family, it was more about shame and humiliation and embarassment. But every once in a while there was a bright light in our home. Every once in a while all of us could take pride. Every once in a while those in my home could see a brighter and better future and it was when I brought my report card home. When I showed my parents that I was doing well in school, it was an opportunity for them, even though there were differences between them and even though they were separated for a period of time, it was an opportunity for them to transcend their difficulties and that taught me a powerful lesson of the importance of education and opening the door of oportunity, a door that can provide a much brighter and better future,” Vilsack said in 2002 at the Iowa Democratic Party’s state convention.
A review of Vilsack’s strong points is next in this Radio Iowa series spotlighting the Vilsack career.