Living in Society

Do Better Democrats

Lettuce harvested Sept. 29, 2021 from the row covered plot.

Democrats either don’t know how or haven’t the will to make Governor Kim Reynolds pay a political price for outrageous and sometimes false statements she makes. As the recent Selzer poll illustrated, Reynolds’ approval rate continues to improve. Democrats sit back and watch the numbers move up while wringing their hands. We can do better than that.

By pay a political price I mean hitting her where she lives among her Iowa political constituencies. I don’t mean posting a mean tweet or writing a blog post for limited circulation. Complaining about the governor’s latest outrage to friends may make us feel better but does little to impact her popularity. We tend to believe no one could support this governor. The fact is many do, enough to re-elect her.

Reynolds does not write her own talking points. She recycles frequently updated Republican political buzzwords. Reynolds now beats the word “inflation” like a drum.

“We have a crisis at the border, a disaster in Afghanistan, and inflation is soaring,” Reynolds said in an Aug. 19 press release. “President Biden is failing on each of these issues… I have had enough, and I know Iowans have too.”

She name checks the president, associating “inflation” with the Biden administration, along with two other talking points. Inflation! Disaster! Crisis! She wasn’t the first to do this.

The Koch network-backed Heritage Foundation rolled out the “inflation” attack seven days earlier in an opinion piece in the Washington Examiner.
“Diminishing the paychecks of the average person with inflation and weak growth will only advance the Chinese narrative that they are outpacing the U.S. free enterprise system,” wrote Jessica Anderson and The Heritage Foundation’s Vice President James Carafano.

Not so fast!

It is not credible to say there is inflation when personal experience doesn’t reflect it. My weekly expenses for groceries and sundries remain unchanged in 2021 compared to 2020. Yes, fuel prices are higher but for Pete’s sake there were two recent hurricanes in the Louisiana-Texas oil patch on the Gulf Coast. Of course this disrupted petroleum product supply and prices spiked. Meat prices are up, yet is that market manipulation among the small number of meat packers? Congress believes so and is investigating. Are these things inflation? No, they are not.

The last paragraph is a perfect example of what Democrats do wrong. We use logic in a culture war. We also set ourselves up to lose.

How do we make Governor Reynolds pay a political price for crying “inflation” along with other right-wing inspired parroting of Heritage Foundation’s current framing? Like most Democrats, I don’t know what will work. What I do know is it is time to figure it out.

Our response cannot be there is no inflation, no crisis at the border, or no disaster in Afghanistan. When we do this the effect is to reinforce Reynolds’ framing of the issues and help her gain popularity. We’re not supposed to be helping her!

The first thing we have to do is accept reality. Three headlines appeared in the Iowa City Press Citizen on Sept. 23:

“Grassley has big lead in possible matchup.”
“Sen. Ernst’s job approval ticks upward slightly.”
“How much longer can we keep doing this?”

The first two refer to politics and the third to employee burnout at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics during the coronavirus pandemic. These reflect realities many Democrats seek to dismiss. We must embrace them and work to change the underlying reality.

We can’t use Republican framing to try to advance our causes. A hot topic in Iowa today is mask mandates in schools. Reynolds’ familiar refrain on wearing face masks can be found in a Sept. 13 press release, “…parents’ ability to decide what’s best for their child.”

Don’t get me started. Not because I can’t logically explain the ways this statement is wrong, but because I can. In a culture war we need a different approach from logic because it serves Reynolds more than Democrats.

I hope Democrats will find their way to make Reynolds pay for the misrepresentations and outright lies. If we don’t have the will, we may as well kick back and take it easy while Republicans dominate the state’s politics.

~ First published in the Fall 2021 issue of The Prairie Progressive, Iowa’s oldest progressive newsletter. Prairie Progressive is funded entirely by reader subscription,  available only in hard copy for $12/yr.  Send check to Prairie Progressive, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. Click here for archived issues.