Braley and his Brooklyns4/2/2014
The West Tennessean walked tall. And he spoke in a manner one would expect from the curator of so many things associated with the famous 1973 movie based on tall-walking Sheriff Buford Pusser.
The question from my quick acquaintance came as easy as his syrupy drawl on this spring afternoon in Savannah, Ga., outside the Mansion hotel, on the patio overlooking moss-treed Forsyth Park where we had ice cold Yuengeling beers and fresh American Spirit cigarettes to wind down from a day of Southern travels.
“So ya’ll from Iowa,” said Steve Sweat, a body shop owner from Selmer, Tenn., who is something of a Pusser historian. “What do you do there besides farm?”
My late grandmother Constance Wilson, a lovely and extraordinarily well-read woman, grew up on a southern Iowa farm, west of Bloomfield. That was our family business long before the presses started to roll in what is now a fourth-generation newspaper operation.
So this just a farmer business from Congressman Bruce Braley hit close to home. I’ve sort of felt a little bad for Braley. He’s from Brooklyn, Iowa, and it must be frustrating explaining to people, that, no, he’s not from the other Brooklyn, the one in New York, land of Mr. Kotter and Grimaldis Pizza and the Big Bridge. As it turns out, other people aren’t confused about this. It’s Braley who forgot where he’s from.
In rural Iowa, we are all, as Steve Sweat observed, connected to the farm, whether we’re turning over the soil ourselves or flipping the pages of family photo albums to earlier times.
In a revealing moment, Braley showed us what he thinks of rural Iowans. He told some Texas trial lawyers that Sen. Charles Grassley — a farmer who has served in government since the Eisenhower Administration — could chair the Judiciary Committee if the GOP snares control of the Senate in November.
“If you help me win this race, you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice — someone who’s been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary” Committee, said Braley. “Or you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary. Because if Democrats lose the majority, Chuck Grassley will be the next chair of the Senate Judiciary.”
Two things here.
I’ve learned is that if you really want to know what’s rolling around in someone’s mind, listen to what he says in the company of colleagues. Journalists talk to each other with frankness exclusive to the club. I would suppose dentists unload about bratty, biting kids with great candor when they’re all flossed up at whiter-teeth conventions.
So now we know how Braley talks around fellow members of the bar.
Grassley is one of the more dignified Iowans I’ve covered. Nearly 30 years ago, while interning in Washington, D.C., I sat next to the senator in the subway that runs from the offices of Members of Congress to the capitol.
You can agree or disagree with Grassley on the issues, but there’s no doubting he’s one of us. He’s an extraordinary legislator. And he’s a farmer. I’m not inclined to chalk that up to coincidence.
We can’t fool around with this November decision. It’s a time for candidates of weight, measured thinking in the electorate.
Braley, who should be embarrassed of what he said about Grassley, is, at the end of the day, well positioned and quite qualified to carry on the Grassley-Harkin-Vilsack legacy. Iowa needs someone who knows where the levers and buttons of power are to preserve renewable energy standards, to make the Department of Agriculture work for us. Iowa agriculture loves the federal government, so what sense does it make to send government haters to Washington to do its bidding?
Sure, Braley insulted farmers. But he can deliver for them. So think of it this way: Would you rather have a supremely charming brain surgeon with clumsy hands or a jackass of a physician who moves his scalpel as if angles were guiding his fingers?
Iowa needs Washington to work, really work. Anyone who doesn’t understand this, who thinks we can send a recently retired Texas energy man or a Red Oak state senator with Sarah Palin’s stamp of approval to Washington to fight for Iowa, is insulting Sen. Charles Grassley, too. For they know not what Grassley does.
Like me, Braley has grandparents who farmed. Let’s hope he thinks long and hard about his Brooklyn before chumming up with lawyers from that other Brooklyn.
To most of the world, “Iowan” and “farmer” are synonymous.
Constance Wilson’s grandson is more than a little proud of that.
We’ll see over the next seven months whether the same is true for former Poweshiek County Republican Supervisor Cliff Braley’s grandson. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.