Monday, April 24, 2017

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Political Mercury

Think it pays to be white in Steve King’s Iowa? Think again.

4/5/2017

U.S. Rep. Steve King has easily dispatched Democratic opponents in western and central Iowa since his first run for Congress in 2002. Photo By Douglas Burns.

U.S. Rep. Steve King has easily dispatched Democratic opponents in western and central Iowa since his first run for Congress in 2002. Photo By Douglas Burns.

I was somebody else’s baby.

Until I wasn’t.

Born to teen parents in Cedar Rapids in 1969, the first motherly play-call in my life was a handoff to a nurse who took my swaddled self from the young-and-distressed hands of Biological Mom at Mercy Medical Center to an on-deck circle for adoption. Having escaped the bent-wire coat hanger of the pre-Roe days, I was within weeks tucked safely in a western Iowa crib surrounded by a Carroll newspaper family. Yes, This Is Us.

So when my congressman, inspired by the great intellects of far-right Dutch politics, junk philosophers more interested in the color of people than tulips, summoned a sermon on the dangers of incorporating “somebody else’s babies” into our culture, I took interest.

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Does Steve King mean me? Am I in the basket of bastards he’s disparaging?

Upon review, I think I’ll be allowed to stay in Carroll County. The 23andMe DNA report, the science of my spittle, says I’m 100 percent European, mostly English — making me, I guess, something of a wanted unwanted in King’s modern-day eugenics movement, a sunburn-prone, green-eyed citizen of the white-capped city on a hill of the Kiron Republican’s dreams.

On March 12, King, in support of anti-immigrant Dutch politician Geert Wilders, tweeted: “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The congressman insists this is about culture, not race. Asian kids are great so long as they are raised by the Irish, goes King’s reasoning.

But later, speaking with Jan Mickelson on WHO-Radio, King revealed race is very much at the center of his narrowing worldview.

In disparaging Latin American culture, King flat out says “the majority of people who established the foundation of Western Civilization were white.”

It would have been more effective, congressman, to deliver that line in its original German.

None of the provocative Republican’s comments, his doubling and tripling down, are surprising. They are but more chapters in The Book of King.

We’ve chronicled similar observations from King for more than a decade. Election Day is the most boring of King’s year. Steve King losing a political race in rural Iowa would be like a Rockefeller having his ATM card rejected.

King defeated Democrat Kim Weaver this past November 61 percent to 39 percent in the 39-county district that includes Carroll and Greene and several surrounding counties. He’s similarly handled other Democrats.

Does this mean we’re a prejudiced lot here in west-central Iowa, territory solidly in the King Camp every other November?

Members of the national media ask me that question as they analyze the phenomenon of Steve King.

No, the vast majority of people I know here are not racist. They are warm, open and embracing, especially in one-on-one contexts. Look, I say, at how well Carroll has incorporated people with disabilities into our daily lives, at businesses, and generally, around town. When we encounter diversity, we measure up admirably.

What’s more, there’s enough space out here in western Iowa that we’re pretty good about giving people wide berths to live their own ways.

But rural Iowa faces challenges, many of them threatening our very survival as viable economic communities, and the Democratic Party, rather than genuinely connecting with us, dispatches urban candidates (and worse, surrogates) bubbling over with condescension and smugness. The only way it could be worse is if the Democrats sent tenured poetry professors or street mimes to our towns to campaign for their party’s initiatives.

You can feel this, sense it. Even leathery-skinned veterans of the public square like me find the attitudes of too many current Democrats, from Des Moines to New York to California, unbearably dismissive. They point fingers rather than offering a hand in goodwill. The Democrats lecture and fake listen. And they can’t hide their disdain, their amusement at rural Iowa. It’s as if they are visiting the zoo, gathering tidbits on our country ways, for later sport at our expense with friends over drinks in the Central West End of St. Louis or The Big Apple’s Brooklyn Heights — once these city Democrats, you know, skip out to Omaha or Des Moines before returning to their super-hip enclaves where people are more familiar with the cuts and recovery of gender-transition surgeries than slaughtering hogs or combining corn.

And then we have King, who is unapologetically and unbendingly rural, an autodidact who is an original article. There’s no spin with King because he means what he says when he says it and plans to keep saying it. As a fellow journalist told me the other day, King isn’t unavailable for comment. He’s unavoidable for comment.

Then there’s this reality. Most white people in rural Iowa don’t interact regularly with Hispanics or African Americans, meaning King’s comments may offend an Iowan’s sensibilities and decency, but it doesn’t compromise or pain loved ones and friends.

That’s a big distinction.

Thousands in the 4th District see King as a no-surrender rural Iowan, a folksy warrior for towns time left behind, which is a small-community-killing misread of what King actually delivers.

King’s bare-knuckled view of government and capitalism — a pure winners-and-losers affair — advantages the sprawl of Grimes, the urban march of Des Moines’ East Village, at our expense. Instead of sending ICE after Mexican immigrants, King should work to deport real estate agents in Waukee and Ankeny so those cities don’t keep sucking the life from us.

We don’t like to admit it here, but an active government makes much of life in rural Iowa possible, from the grain-market-boosting Renewable Fuel Standard to the USDA loans that made construction of the Manning hospital and expansion of the Greene County Medical Center possible to the potential for Highway 30 four-laning across Iowa in President Trump’s developing trillion-dollar infrastructure package.

King’s views on race are embarrassing, to be sure. He even earned a shout-out from celebrity Klansman David Duke. But Democrats and King’s opponents should beware of getting dragged exclusively into the politics of race, identity and outrage. King wins that battle every time because race is just not part of rural Iowans’ day to day.

People vote their own interests. Full stop. Not enough Iowans cast ballots simply because they are offended for black people and Latinos, even those white voters who go straight from the movie “Hidden Figures” to the courthouse booths.

Here’s the opening, though: King is not serving in Iowa’s interest on matters having nothing to do with race. He’s gone Washington, D.C., fancy. That’s the terrain on which Democrats must engage him. King may be supremely white and fantastically European, but he’s no longer one of us in the way we desperately need our congressman to be. ♦

burns doug 12-10-25Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

 

2 Comments

  1. Doug Burns puts it through the uprights when he says: “We don’t like to admit it here, but an active government makes much of life in rural Iowa possible, from the grain-market-boosting Renewable Fuel Standard to the USDA loans that made construction of the Manning hospital and expansion of the Greene County Medical Center possible to the potential for Highway 30 four-laning across Iowa in President Trump’s developing trillion-dollar infrastructure package.”

    • Much true. But we don’t need more 4-lane super highways. Anywhere. We need to invest Trump’s infrastructure budget into modern high-speed, frequent passenger rail, and get off being addicted to more cars, trucks and the unsustainable lifestyles they foster. Build and re-build real communities (neighborhoods, small towns, city centers) where people will experience a healthy collective dimension to life, in contrast to “gated communities,” isolation, division and chaos..

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