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Guest Commentary

Asylums in the news

10/21/2015

A continuing story in Iowa news is about a lawsuit regarding Gov. Terry Branstad’s decision to close mental health facilities in Clarinda and Mt. Pleasant. However, another institution that some troubled souls want to get into is beyond the governor’s reach.

Suppose your uncle or aunt lacked humility to the point of arrogance, never admitted to a mistake or a change of mind, never apologized to anyone, never asked for forgiveness and was so driven by greed that he or she could not talk to anyone without asking for money. If so, you might refer the uncle or aunt to counseling or maybe an asylum.

Or you could suggest uncle or auntie run for president! After all, we are on the verge of turning the White House into an asylum for such characters. And much of that is our own doing.

If you think Congress is dysfunctional, consider the Iowa caucuses. Our political campaigns are so weird these days that Gil Cranberg, former editorial page editor of The Des Moines Register and Tribune, suggests we are victims of “electile dysfunction.”

If you doubt that, consider a few sure-fire ways to kill a candidacy for almost any elective office.

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  1. Be humble! Suppose you dare to say our nation is so beset with violence and racism that we should temper our comments about how the USA is the greatest country ever. In many ways we are a great country, but we have so much work to do, so many challenges to face. If you suggest something humble along those lines, disband your campaign staff and tell your family you don’t know what got into you.
  2. Admit to second thoughts! Confess that you were wrong in your thinking on public policy; thanks to talking to others — and letting democracy work — you now recognize there are better ways to address a social problem than the one you had been advocating. The press and public will brand you as wishy washy, someone without the courage of his convictions. You dare not admit you have changed your mind — ever!
  3. Respect others! That means not only caring about your campaign opponents but about others as well. If you say something like, “We talk a lot about how everyone deserves a second chance, but we have to recognize that there are millions of people in our society who never have a first chance,” that ends your GOP chances in Iowa.
  4. Don’t be greedy! Forget about raising millions of dollars to support your campaign and don’t sell out to contributors whom you would have to count on to be re-elected. But be sure to squirrel away some funds for bus fare home.

In short, to be elected, you must ignore thousands of years of collective wisdom and the core beliefs of almost any religion or thoughtful way of life.

Such beliefs typically center on humility, atonement, forgiveness, love, sacrifice, critical introspection — and other characteristics that doom political campaigns today. Fear and hate are the fodder for campaigns because the press and voters relish candidates who “toss red meat” to their constituents.

It’s not only the system that is corrupted by ignoring the wisdom of the ages — candidates are, too.

Can you imagine living a life in which you can never be humble, in which you make no attempt to  “Know thyself,” in which you can never say, “I’m sorry,” in which you can never tell someone else that they were right and you were wrong on anything?

Talk about “A Living Hell!”

Many good people have weighed such a life against accomplishing something in public office. To our loss, they’ve decided they can serve society just as well through private causes without subjecting themselves and their families to the hypocrisies and self-destructive nature of campaigns.

They leave the field to many who opt to be President rather than to be honest with themselves and voters.

Asylum seekers aren’t only those who are fleeing Syria these days; others for whom we might recommend asylum have their eyes on the White House. 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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