Social Commentary

Getting Out

Tomato Cages
Tomato Cages

LAKE MACBRIDE— The last eight weeks have been a retreat from my recent life in society. Eschewing standing relationships, wrapped in a cocoon, endeavoring to earn money for the tax man, insurance companies and lenders, the universe of human contact has been reduced to a very small circle of family, close friends and work. I got out yesterday to attend a political meeting. It was a mixed bag.

On the positive side, I spent time with like-minded people I have known for a while, engaging in ideas and strengthening relationships. On the downer side, there is a lot of work to do to make social progress, and the voices heard often are the loudest, regardless of the efficacy of their arguments. My take-away was an unsettling feeling of cultural dissonance.

The droning of talking points— the would be muezzin called for prayer from a seat in the back of the room. Her schedule followed no holy book, her themes were less than holy— the whims and fancies of enthusiasms founded in self-identified diatribes. She leveraged the event to support her secular devotions. Absent another voice, it’s all those gathered would hear. We have to be an alternative voice to the vapid droning.

It cannot be that social progress can be made only by the affluent class, people that earn more than a living wage. But it takes an economic platform to be active in society— source of finance, a safety net. It is beyond the means of most people. Many struggle to achieve such a platform their entire lives, wrapped in a social cocoon, getting by as best they can.

We each feel a sense of dignity and worth that comes from our indigent circumstances. We live in a society that would suppress our native instincts and bend our will to meet the economic, social and political needs of others. We must resist with all of our strength, remaining true to ourselves.

There is a personal responsibility to contribute to social progress, and it is hard to do under any circumstances. After examining yesterday’s events, my conclusion is that I have to get out more.

Living in Society

Divided Government Comes Home

Morse Fence
Morse Fence

MORSE— State Rep. Bobby Kaufmann held a town hall meeting at the Morse Community Center, where 25 people gathered this afternoon to hear what is going on in Des Moines. He wanted to hear what we had to say, and some members of the audience had a lot of it. Kaufmann reported that local celebrity, Laurie Tulchin of the Newport Road clashes,  helped pay for the hall.

Johnson County Republican party chairwoman Deborah Thornton approached, after the formal part of the meeting, and asked me to sign a petition changing how we would be represented on the county board of supervisors. I don’t support the proposal and said so. She said, “that’s okay,” and moved on to others, after mentioning the Rand Paul event coming up in Coralville. It was an example of the new Republican diligence in what they may see as a Graham township opening to expand their base. Kaufmann won only 42 percent of the vote in Graham precinct during the 2012 general election. I know Graham precinct and believe her effort was futile. However, one had to appreciate her diligence and persistence.

I liked Bobby Kaufmann the first time we met, and still do. What is surprising is now that I have a Republican representative in the state house, I also like divided government. Even more than the so-called trifecta, when Democrats, under Chet Culver, controlled the governorship and both houses of the legislature. (Note: The three branches of government are executive, legislative and judicial. Legislators seem to forget the judiciary in their tripartite calculus).

In divided government people have to work together to conduct the state’s business, each holding the other party accountable. For a working stiff like me, that’s as good as it gets in government.

After the 2012 general election, I wrote in the Tipton Conservative,

“In the 85th Iowa General Assembly, House District 73 will be typical of Iowa, where our state representative and state senator, Democrat Bob Dvorsky, will be in the majority in their respective chambers. In order for anything to get accomplished, the senate and house must seek bipartisan common ground as a first step.

The mistake of past house Republicans has been to get some house Democrats to join in legislation, call it bipartisan, and lay blame in the other chamber when it was rejected. This went both ways.

Kaufmann has an opportunity to differentiate himself. If he rejects the stale blame game house Republicans have played with the Iowa Senate, and, as he promised during the campaign, works toward bipartisan solutions to get meaningful legislation passed and forwarded to the governor, then he will grow his base of support and help his re-election prospects.

However, if he plays the blame game, his prospects for re-election diminish.”

It is too early to tell how the session will play out, and for me, everyone is too chummy over in Des Moines. Today, Kaufmann demonstrated that whether or not he read my letter, he gets what I had to say and has been working toward getting something done in divided government. He repeatedly mentioned his relationship with Democrat Dave Jacoby of Coralville (and their seven lunches together this session). He gave Jacoby credit for helping craft bills that gained true bipartisan support when put to a vote. It is hard to legitimately complain about that.

As a citizen, I believe our legislature doesn’t need to do dumb things like prop up the nuclear power industry, support economic development deals like the one with Orascom, or turn away an expansion of Medicaid in some reasonable form. If I don’t agree with Kaufmann on some important issues, he is doing the work of representing the district. At the same time, my state senator is protecting me from Republican bad ideas.

Now that divided government has come home to roost, one finds it not very progressive, but better than expected.

Living in Society

On the Body Politic

Main Street
Main Street

LAKE MACBRIDE— Would that the body politic were a human, subject to purges and nostrums that would cure what ails it. Alas, there is no cure for the body politic or our role in it. On most days we accept politics for the diverse, desultory and sometimes malodorous reflection of society it is.

That is not to say politicians are smelly. The body politic is less about public office holders, and more about us. The politicians, elected officials and those who would be, are full of good intentions, and occasionally, will take a principled stand on an issue. But more than these visible manifestations of it, the body politic is all of us in our raucous cacophony and wide spectrum of interests. Part of the dynamic is being disengaged from politicians and politics, most of the time.

To lead a reasonably normal life, one must resist tendencies driven by political activists, and focus on a more general political life. I have a few things in mind.

Engaging in politics includes campaigns, but is mostly governance. The work of elected officials is to govern after being sworn in. Vigilance of their performance and participation in guiding their actions are important in the body politic. In Big Grove, we are represented by two Republicans and three Democrats between the Iowa General Assembly and in the U.S. Congress. Whatever we want to accomplish depends upon working with all of them. When a favored candidate loses an election, some activists turn immediately to working on the next campaign to supposedly replace the undesired elected official. This behavior misses the point of governance.

It is common knowledge that a U.S. Senator or Representative must constantly raise political contributions for the next campaign. For them, the campaign never ends when they have a targeted dollar amount to raise each day. An elected official’s life includes constituency work, public appearances, and maintenance of a public presence, in person and on the Internet. All of this is a form of campaign work. People might think anyone can run for office, get elected and serve, but the large number of lame candidates who have recently challenged the incumbent in our U.S. House district is testimony to the fact that not anyone can. If elected officials must be in continual campaign mode, most of us do not.

My experience during the last five election cycles is that people are interested in politics, but not that much, at least in public. The tendency is for people to change their voter registration from partisan to no preference, so much so that no preference registrations are the largest segment of voters in many districts. This reflects the practical desire to dissociate from the body politic, even if people take general elections seriously. Some register no preference for business reasons, some to hide their political beliefs from neighbors, and others to feign an objective stance when deciding for whom to vote. It is evidence of a curious dichotomy between abhorrence of things political, combined with sub rosa engagement.

Life is more diverse than seeking the next big political campaign. Rather than the body politic, we should think of political engagement as like shingles in society. Once one has had the pox, they are a carrier for life.

Work Life

Plasma Sales and Politics

LAKE MACBRIDE— The Cumulus radio station in Cedar Rapids was advertising how a person could earn up to $340 per month selling their plasma. It’s enough money that it was worth a look to see if plasma sales could fit into our bottom line. It sounds kind of grim, but people do it all the time.

Plasma is the pale, yellow liquid portion of blood that helps our bodies control bleeding and infection. When one donates plasma, our blood is removed and the plasma separated before blood is returned to our body. We generate more plasma within a couple of days so twice a week donations are usually possible.

Donating takes about an hour and plasma collection centers make it easy with a straight forward, step-by-step process. Importantly, they explain how payment is loaded on a debit card. It is literally using one’s body as an ATM.

Several self-employed and low-wage earners in my circle use plasma sales to supplement monthly income. Got a toothache? Better schedule some sessions at the plasma center to get dollars to pay the dentist. One suspects residents of our nearby college town use the cash for cigarettes, sugary drinks and beer, but in any case, plasma sales can be a reliable and steady source of income if one meets the requirements for donating.

The money could be put to good use. For example, it could be used for political donations. That way, when a political telemarketer called, I would know my approximate annual budget, and be able to say, “Yes. I’ll donate that $100, which will take me four plasma sessions.” Politics would literally be based on blood money then.

We could go a step further and say that all financial contributions to politicians had to originate in plasma sales. There would be a natural limit to how much a person could donate, and a restriction could be placed on corporations that said something like, corporations can make political contributions, but such contributions must be paid via the plasma of shareholders, imposing a natural limit to money spent by corporations during political campaigns. I bet corporations would exercise their free speech differently under such a rule.

If my modest proposal about political contributions through plasma sales seems a bit edgy, I am pretty sure it would work. Importantly, it would set a human limit on political contributions. Having skin in the game would take on a whole new meaning. Most Americans are asleep at the wheel of politics, and would not contribute, so there is little danger of a glut of plasma on the market.

If times get tough, I’ll re-visit adding a plasma sales income line to our household operating budget. For now, I’m just glad I don’t have to do it.

Living in Society

On the March 5 Special Election

002JOHNSON COUNTY— Voters elected the first Republican to the Johnson County Board of Supervisors since 1958 last night. There was no surprise.

In a county with better than a 2-1 Democratic registration advantage, the enthusiasm of general election years has been supplemented with paid staff. During the 2012 presidential election, the most paid staff ever dominated the local GOTV effort. Campaign work is mostly done by a local party organization in other counties. When the 2012 election was over, the exit of paid staff created a vacuum, which sucked Terry Dahm’s campaign into the vortex, leaving a weak party organization and John Etheredge as our new supervisor.

Dahms was not as exciting a candidate as Janelle Rettig was when she won the January 2010 special election, to which this contest has been compared. Etheredge was less a public lunatic than Lori Cardella was in 2010, and that served to his advantage. Local Republicans were slow coming to modern electoral political campaigning developed during the Howard Dean and John Kerry campaigns of 2004, but they have figured it out, and were able to win last night.

The snowstorm leading into the hours the polls were open didn’t help, but it was a minor problem compared to the lack of a party organization and related voter apathy among Democrats.

A Republican victory has been a long time coming to Johnson County court house races, and one supposes last night’s win is like a burr that will be sanded off in the carpentry shop of the 2014 general election, returning the board of supervisors to all Democratic. Such an outcome is predictable, but remains to be seen. Today’s congratulations go to the Johnson County Republicans for last night’s win.