I know Iowa. Iowa still has the best public schools in the country. It’s got some great businesses and makes the best blue cheese in the country. I was born and raised in Iowa in a Republican family, even taught in those schools. But then I left, and I haven’t been back in more than forty years, because in spite of those public schools, there is little evidence that half of the state’s residents have actually benefited from their educational system. They can’t think, by which I mean analyze, sort through information, and interpolate a world beyond themselves and their own insular boundaries.
Conservative Iowans have extended the chaos in the Republican party by their serial flop-flopping, elevating Rick Santorum to second-place in the Iowa primary by a mere eight votes. (Will Santorum ask for a recount?) In the summer, these same conservatives began all the trouble by anointing Michelle Bachmann to something akin to goddess status with a paltry five thousand votes in their caucuses. Then these same conservatives flipped to Rick Perry. Then Herman Cain. Then Newt Gingrich. And now to Rick Santorum. One fool after another. Evidence (in case you need it) that Iowans are indecisive, unsure of themselves, that they can’t think. So much for that great educational system.
Think of the damage to the Republican Party. (Who cares?) Single-issue candidates almost totally oblivious to the problems our country and the world face. Think of Michelle Bachman’s fixation on President Obama’s health reform. She’s utterly obsessed with it, convinced that Obama is a socialist and that the most urgent problem facing the country is elimination of the health reforms. Is she so naïve to believe that not one of her twenty-three foster children might need that reform sometime in the future? (Or is this further evidence, since she was born in Iowa, that Iowa’s educational system also failed her?) So what does Snow White get in the primary? Five percent.
Then there are the others. Rick Perry (who acts as if he was conceived in Iowa) with his frat-rat IQ, who stalked onto the Republican stage and became one of the most embarrassing candidates ever to run for President in recent years. Loved by conservatives for a few minutes. Until Herman Cain (remember him?) came along, as evidence not only of delusions of grandeur but also of eating too many pizzas. Conservatives loved Cain who proved (they believed) that race was not the center of their anger about Obama. They’re right, of course. It’s intelligence (though the President, until recently, has pretty much tossed aside the education that got him elected in the first place).
Next Newt Gingrich, who like Herman Cain, demonstrated that conservatives can embrace adultery unless it results in abortions or involves gays. Conservatives loved Gingrich—with a track-record of train wrecks—because of his professorial swagger. Who else could parlay history (of all academic subjects) into millions of dollars in “consulting” (whatever that means) for Fannie and Freddy? Hey, that’s something we admire. People who can make money out of a sow’s ear and show no regrets for who picks up the tab.
And now it’s Santorum, in addition to that other candidate conservatives don’t trust. The pretty boy from Pennsylvania who mistrusts school systems so much that he schools his brood at home, guaranteeing that they, also, will have no world view. Mr. Innocence. Mr. Honesty. Mr. Stick-with-it-long-enough that you’ll have your fifteen minutes of fame. Can you imagine Mr. Clean getting that phone call in the middle of the night?
So this is what Iowa conservatives have brought us. Proof, once again, that anyone can run for President in the United States—that, with democracy, we unfortunately get the people we elect
My suggestion, therefore, is that conservative Iowans occasionally leave their state. Go to Chicago or St. Louis and learn something about diversity, about poverty in the United States, about the unemployment that doesn’t exist in Iowa. Take a vacation next summer by leaving Iowa. Before the caucuses and the primaries four years from now, expose yourselves to some of the country’s and the world’s urgent problems. And possibly consider eating a little less blue cheese.
Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C.