Friday, December 4, 2020

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Rants & Reason

Could we put a cork in “Only in Iowa”?


For openers, here are a few lines I sent to Dan Finney at The Des Moines Register because I am weary of those who defend their homeland with puffery of “Only in Iowa…” or “You’re not an Iowan unless…”

“Dan: Your…piece included a point you’ve made before, one that always resonates with me: ‘…Iowa is a very insecure place.’ After more than 40 years here, I still gag at ‘Iowa nice’ and ‘Only in Iowa’ — perhaps over-reacting to what I see as characterizing Iowans as a master race, superior to the rabble everywhere else.”

I reacted that way because having lived in six other states (Illinois, California, New York, Colorado, Kentucky and North Dakota), I know that, as in Iowa, there are great people everywhere. Most of them, however, have the decency never to suggest they are better and better off than anyone else.

In fact, when the Register Datebook ran a “You’re not an Iowan Until…” series with staff members telling how wonderful life in Iowa is, I couldn’t find anything they said was great about Iowa that I could not recall as being great about my childhood neighborhood in Chicago — and we had the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, ballparks and world-class zoos thrown in for good measure.

Maybe “Only in Iowa” reflects a rural defensiveness or insecurity about being downgraded, looked down upon. Having lived in “big” cities in rural settings — Chicago, Fresno, California, and now the Des Moines area — I’ve heard folks lament that no one appreciates how really nice and good they are. But I can’t recall other places being as manic about it as Iowa is.


Iowans seem to have built a figurative wall around their state before the idea ever occurred to Trump.

The “Only in Iowa” approach didn’t bother me at all when we moved here in 1975. Difficult to find fault in a state with Bob Ray and Art Neu as governor and lieutenant governor, with Neal Smith as your congressman and with Iowa devotion to girls softball and basketball making your two daughters welcome.

And, of course, we had great schools, a great judiciary and other strengths that the 2017 Legislature is now dismantling.

I guess “Only in Iowa” can serve a purpose. The Des Moines Waterworks people were lambasted for not being “Iowa nice” because they had filed a lawsuit to punish polluters. “That’s not the way we do things in Iowa,” one critic said.

No, in Iowa nowadays when you suffer at the hands of polluters or clowns in the legislature, you’re supposed to say, like the fraternity pledge being paddled, “Please, sir, may I have another.”

Besides, testifying as to how great Iowa and Iowans are seems to get folks re-re-re-re-re-elected. Witness Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley now in their sixth and seventh terms in office — not counting terms in the Iowa Legislature. Their “I love Iowa” themes resonate with Iowa voters. Many marvel at their longevity in office. When it comes to longevity, however, I wonder how long it will take Iowa to recover from the opportunities for political courage or bi-partisan leadership that time and again the two of them have ignored or maybe didn’t even notice.

How un-Iowan of me.♦

strentz21Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes the monthly Rants & Reason column for CITYVIEW.




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