Guest Commentary

December 23, 2010


By Herb Strentz


Strentz Commentary


Terry and Bob: Iowa’s own ‘Butcher’ and ‘Mullah’?


Recent actions of Governor-elect Terry Branstad and Robert Vander Plaats call to mind “Dick the Butcher” and Mullah Mohammed Omar.

“Dick the Butcher” is the Shakespearean character in Henry VI who eagerly says, “First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Omar is the Taliban leader who in 2001 destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan, the two monumental statues of Buddhas carved into a cliffside in central Afghanistan. The 6th century archaeological wonders didn’t suit his religious fancy.

The approaches of the “Butcher” and the Mullah — common enough in the human condition — have emerged in Iowa in the attacks by Branstad and Vander Plaats upon the Iowa judiciary. Branstad essentially consented to Vander Plaats’ successful drive to do away with three supreme court justices in the November elections. Branstad now wants to go a step further by telling Iowa Supreme Court justices they must do what the mob wants, not what the law or the Iowa constitution says.

What’s both amazing and depressing about all of this is the almost sterling history and integrity of the Court. If you haven’t already done so, read the tribute to the Court written by Michael Gartner for Cityview in October. It is on line at

The article provides good context for the evil of the likes of “Dick the Butcher.” When the “Butcher” inveighs against lawyers in Act IV, he doesn’t do so as sort of a 15th century putdown of barristers. Rather, he wants lawyers out of the way, so street thugs and violence will be unimpeded by the courts.

Likewise, Branstad and Vander Plaats would restrain the Iowa judiciary so the Iowa Republican Party, under control of the religious right, will be unimpeded by courts and the law. Branstad had refused to say how he would vote on retention of the supreme court justices although time and again he stresses how important it is for the crowd to overrule the judiciary when it comes to same-sex marriage and whatever else the religious right finds offensive. Branstad refused to express support for justices he appointed to the court. (One can only wonder how Branstad’s future appointees will fare if they come under fire for doing their jobs; given his record, he will not support them.)

Branstad also has chimed in about how important it is to consider political affiliation in the process of appointing judges and justices, even though the Iowa constitution says political affiliation shall not be taken into consideration when appointing members of the commission that nominates judges.

Vander Plaats is already on record as saying he views court decisions and, presumably, the Iowa constitution as just so much legal mumbo jumbo when it comes to advancing what to him is a Christ-driven agenda. Not content with the ouster of the three supreme court justices, Vander Plaats wants the remaining four justices to resign, too. He would have them repent in sack cloth and ashes for their part in the 7-0 decision in Varnum v. Brien that found a law against same-sex marriages to be unconstitutional.

If comparisons with the actions of “Dick the Butcher” and Mullah Mohammed Omar don’t sit well with you, how about comparisons with the late Gov. Ross Barnett of Mississippi and Gov. George Wallace of Alabama? They fought the courts and wanted to enforce racial segregation in support of the mobs of their day.

If Dick the Butcher, Mullah Mohammed Omar, Barnett and Wallace don’t scare you, how about the horrors of — GASP! — Terry Branstad and Robert Vander Plaats? CV


Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.


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