Politicians rearrange deck chairs as the S.S. Iowa hits COVID-19

Herb Strentz reviews recent comments from Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Governor Kim Reynolds. -promoted by Laura Belin

Sea-going metaphors and idioms hardly reflect life in Iowa, but may be useful in considering the double whammy that’s hit us with COVID-19 and Trump.

At least that drives this take on our U.S. senators and governor during past few weeks.  As one idiom would have it, they are rearranging the deck chairs aboard Iowa’s political and virus-ridden “Titanic.”

Reading emails and newsletters from Senator Chuck Grassley and his Des Moines Register op-ed piece on his 40th tour of Iowa’s 99 counties suggests rephrasing the opening lines of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Coleridge:

“There was an aging Senator of counties 33 times thrice

and everywhere he went, he said, he found ‘Iowa nice.’”

Then because of her lock-step allegiance to Trump, one might choose lines for Governor Kim Reynolds from “15 Men on a Dead Man’s Chest:”

“How to avoid the virus regimen?

“Yo ho ho and a bottle of bleach!

“Drink and Make America Great Again!”

Bobby Darrin’s 1958 “Somewhere Beyond the Sea” suits Senator Joni Ernst, who had a castration device as a gimmick in her 2014 campaign, vowing to emasculate the evildoers in DC:

“Somewhere beyond castration,

“She claims COVID inflation.

“Ernst’s soul is sold for Trump fool’s gold

 and conscience goes sailin.’”

Let’s continue sailin’ with Reynolds offering misleading advice at her last news conference on September 10.

She and State Medical Director Dr. Caitlin Pedati referred to an outdated Centers for Disease Control guideline.  

As reported by the Des Moines Register, “The [CDC] recommends that anyone who has been within 6 feet of someone with COVID-19 for 15 consecutive minutes or more should quarantine for at least 14 days.” 

What Reynolds and Pedati did not know (and apparently none of the reporters either) was that in late July the CDC had changed the distance/time guideline, saying it was “not stringent enough.” The virus, it pointed out, could be transmitted through a sneeze, or perhaps even loud conversation, in a few seconds of interaction at 13 feet.

And as Newsweek recently noted, Reynolds was one of five Republican governors to claim early victory over the virus. In a guest column the Washington Post published on May 5, the governors touted their focus on the economy as a “model for success.” At that time, there were around 10,000 COVID-19 cases reported in Iowa.

The number of reported cases now stands at more than 75,000 in Iowa. Our state is among the national hot spots in terms of new cases per capita.

The September 10 conference was not the first time Reynolds or Dr. Pedati had misled Iowans on the impact of COVID-19 in Iowa. As Laura Belin reported last month, the Iowa Department of Public Health reported county-level positivity rates that Pedati knew to be inaccurate, for weeks.

When it comes to rearranging, school districts throughout Iowa are struggling in rearranging desks, not deck chairs. Many districts are at odds with Reynolds in seeking the best — of maybe the least-worst — way to handle the logistics of the 2020-2021 school year.

As for Ernst, her re-election campaign has had to navigate some rough waters, too. Her campaign deception about a so-called “death tax” was targeted at her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield. But the estate tax in question applies to hardly any Iowa families because it doesn’t cover farm holdings of less than $11.5 million for one person or $23 million for a couple. The Ernst campaign’s “death tax” attack was properly labeled “hogwash” by Neil Hamilton, retired director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University’s law school.

Then Ernst hopped aboard a conspiracy theory that the medical community — which has lost hundreds of medical care givers to COVID-19 — was exaggerating the impact of the virus in order to rake in more money. She soon was forced to back away from that nonsense, another task of rearrangement.

Grassley, meantime, was completing his annual tour of Iowa’s 99 counties, careful to say only nice and sympathetic things about Iowans and nothing critical of Trump.

He has sort of a routine response to questions about why he has not been more critical of Trump — when Trump has all but destroyed a centerpiece of Grassley’s legacy, the work of inspector generals and whistleblowers to keep government accountable. Grassley’s typical two-fold answer is (1) he has always held presidents accountable, but (2) his job is to represent Iowans and not to get into squabbles with the president that the news media focus on.

To demonstrate his holding Trump accountable, Grassley sent several website URLs to check for his comments about Trump. After 30 or so checks finding no reference to Trump, I asked Grassley’s office about that and received a similar unproductive list.

Grassley was thoughtful, however, in praise of the late civil rights leader, U.S. Representative John Lewis. But his comment drew this response from a constituent, posted online: “Can we get lewis out of the coffin and shoot him again just to make sure the #soab is indeed dead!! #scum.”

That led to a few questions about the posting including whether Grassley had made any response to it. His response, some four weeks later, only repeated good thoughts about Lewis, with no reference to the questioned posting.

When it comes to rearrangements, Grassley dedicated four years as chair of the U.S. Senate judiciary committee — two years when Barack Obama was president, and two years under Trump. The rearrangements and damage inflicted upon an independent judiciary are noted in an Iowa Law Review article previously discussed at Bleeding Heartland.

Grassley, however, sees his judiciary work as something Trump should recognize as a good argument for re-election.

In his September 9 email newsletter, Grassley concluded, “Americans expect equal application of justice.”

But what does “equal application” mean if you have a president who sees himself above the law, and Iowans who tell Grassley that no one is above the law?

Charlie Warzel of the New York Times tweeted his take on the bigger picture: “My biggest takeaway of the last four years is probably realizing the extent to which big chunks of America are living in a different universe of news/facts with basically no shared reality.”

Perhaps we will have a better shared reality after November 3 and be a bit more ship-shape even if we are inland.

But Warzel has his doubts: “My only prediction is that, no matter the outcome in November, I doubt we’ll be returning to shared reality anytime soon.” 

Small wonder people opt to simply rearrange deck chairs.

Top image: Screen shot of Governor Kim Reynolds speaking at her September 10 news conference.

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.