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Rants & Reason

Monty Python’s Flying Caucus

3/4/2020

Always look on the bright side!

As our Iowa caucus chaos unfolded, I half expected the British comedy troupe — Monty Python’s Flying Circus — to appear on TV in NFL officials’ garb and throwing yellow penalty flags at everyone involved in what was called a fiasco.

Chief among the infractions, a friend suggested, would be “piling on” with not only the state Democratic Party pilloried but also earnest Iowans dedicated to a candidate and spending months in the civic duty of making self-governance work.

A writer for “The Economist,” a respected British weekly with an international print circulation of almost 1.5 million, had put it this way: “…after spending a few days with caucus-goers, I have been impressed by the seriousness with which Iowans take their role. Lots of Iowans I spoke to had been to several events to see candidates up close…They were well aware of how important their job is.”

“Planet America,” a public affairs program of the Australian Broadcasting Company, had good coverage, too, because “Once again, this rural Midwestern state with a population of just over three million is having a big impact on who the Democratic nominee is going to be.”

Perhaps that perceived impact led to the “piling on.”

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The next week, Sean Bagniewski, Polk County party chair, offered a good online report on local efforts to salvage the state’s caucus report. His views resonated with our experience at the caucus of Urbandale Precinct 7, where 330 party members enjoyed a well-run session in collegial, almost jovial, fashion with no sign of party divisiveness — that assessment probably applies to many other precinct gatherings. All the more reason to be bugged by both the foul ups and the resulting outrage.

Still, one wishes folks would be as outraged about the influence of big/dark money in political campaigns as they are about the caucuses and “unrepresentative” Iowa.

The complaint that Iowa is “unrepresentative” helped fuel the reaction to delays — in line with a focus on “identity politics,” which suggests we can’t work in unison for human rights but must pigeonhole demands for justice and fairness into racial, gender and ethnic categories.
My friend Mike Wegner, a retired Register newsroom veteran, wondered just who was hurt by the delays in caucus results — figuring candidates’ staffs had a good grasp on where they stood, and that much of the fuss came from talking heads on TV, denied the chance of telling us who would win if the nomination were decided today.

As for delays, he asked, “Aren’t Register subscribers used to getting the news two days late?”

That whimsy brought me back to Eric Idle’s tune, “Always Look on the Bright Side” — a parody of Disney happy songs — written for the 1979 Python film, “The Life of Brian.”

In the film, “Brian” (Idle) is mistaken for the Messiah and is among many victims of Roman crucifixion. In the Python tradition, he finds a measure of bizarre pleasantness in leading a crucified chorus in “Always Look at the Bright Side” (now said to be the most popular hymn at British funerals).

So with apologies to the Python circus — Idle, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin and the late Terry Jones and Graham Chapman — here are some caucus lyrics:

Refrain: Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the light side of life
‘Though the caucus went awry
Keep a twinkle in your eye
Treasure the delegates you’ve beckoned.
When you’ve been castigated
Please don’t be subjugated.
Just move on ahead don’t waste a second
Refrain: Always look on the bright side…
Politics a’int Apple Pie
You’ll have setbacks by and by
Remember the news that ‘Truman lost?
Harry made quite a turnaround!
The campaigns must now rebound
Too much is at stake to count the cost!
Always look on the bright side…
A fine comeback’s in the works
We’ll show all those pundit jerks
Candidates: Iowa’s your launching pad
Many folks worked hard for you.
Take on Trump, that’s what to do
Relish Iowa time; you’ll be glad.
Always look on the bright side…

Wegner, again: The value of Iowa and New Hampshire should be in providing a valuable shakedown for campaigns, like Broadway plays opening in New Haven to work out kinks. Iowa offers a low-cost, efficient way for campaigns to test messages and delivery styles, vet staff, and, most important, to listen to people — up close and personal — about their problems, hopes and dreams.

That’s the bright side. ♦

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

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