Following some rules of thumb

Bruce Lear: If Iowa Democrats insist on sacrificing the possible for the perfect, we’ll lose again. -promoted by Laura Belin

As a kid, when I heard adults talking about “rules of thumb,” I kept looking at my thumb, but couldn’t figure it out. I didn’t get it then, but I do now. The dictionary definition is, “A general principle regarded as roughly correct, but not intended to be scientifically accurate.” 

My definition is similar: “What I believe to be true, based on experience.” It isn’t always accurate, but it’s served me pretty well.

Here are a few of my rules. I never eat a hot dog that comes off that roller thing at a convenience store. They aren’t convenient for my stomach.

I’m not amused by amusement rides that soar above the height of a step ladder. 

I know tomorrow is another day I won’t use algebra, and none of my junior high screw ups actually went on my permanent record.

I know if my wife or daughter asks, “Are you wearing that?”, I’m not.

Some rules of thumb about politics have also served me well. 

I’m far from a high-powered political consultant. I don’t get paid for my advice, and a few years back, I sold my briefcase for $2.00 at a rummage sale. I’m just a guy who has worked with both winners and losers in the political arena.

I’m a Democrat, and to be honest, I fluctuate between glowing with pride about that, and agreeing with the old Will Rogers quote, “I belong to no organized party; I’m a Democrat.” 

Lately, Iowa Democratic politicians aren’t just a minority; they are an endangered species. Three of the last four general elections have been Republican waves.

Since winning control of the Iowa Senate in 2016, the GOP has used their trifecta to ram through one wedge issue after another, forgetting the legacy of Governor Bob Ray, and instead channeling the antics of former President Donald Trump.

With apologies to my southern friends, Iowa is rapidly becoming the Mississippi of the Midwest, and it’s scary.  

There are almost as many explanations for Democratic losses in Iowa as there are political consultants. It’s time to stop dwelling on the problem and concentrate on some rules of thumb that might stop the bleeding and ease the pain.

No magic candidate or strategy will propel Democrats into the majority in Iowa. But here are a few suggestions that might help.

For Congress and for governor, let’s choose candidates based on how Iowans feel. I like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, and I can tolerate the Democratic National Committee. They are probably great leaders and master politicians. But they don’t live in Iowa.  

In fact, I don’t know the last time they visited the Butter Cow at the State Fair. For that reason, they shouldn’t decide who should win a primary.  After Iowans listen to debates, and have a few hundred coffees with the candidates, and one is chosen, then the national committees can provide the needed money.

If we’ve chosen a weak candidate, the national committees can provide some ground support. We may make a bad decision, but it will be a Hawkeye decision.

Let’s not choose a candidate based on how rich or famous they are. Getting rich doesn’t mean he/she will get elected, and it sure doesn’t guarantee the person is smart. Also, fame doesn’t equal leadership. Trump is absolute proof of that.

Right now, Iowa isn’t a progressive state. If Democrats insist on sacrificing the possible for the perfect, we’ll lose again. We need a candidate who appeals to both Democrats and no-party voters. 

It’s simply not enough to be loved by the most vocal Democrats. There aren’t enough of us. They may launch a candidate to victory in a primary, but it often scares the independents, and the persuadable cross-over voters. I’m not saying choose a “Republican lite,” but I am advocating for a pragmatic progressive, much like Joe Biden. 

I know some in the “Twitter-verse” demand instant change, but I’m pragmatic enough to understand we can’t expect to eat an elephant in one bite. It may take a few mouthfuls. 

The 2022 election depends on organizing around a message that matters. It needs to be clear and simple. It’s can’t just be, “We’re not as bad as they are.” Iowans care about things like a logical COVID-19 approach, affordable health care, safe communities, excellent public schools, worker rights, affordable child care, women’s rights, access to broadband, safe roads and bridges, local control, and most things neglected by our governor and the party controlling the legislature.

It’s simple to say, but hard to do. Once we have a candidate, Democrats need to make their knuckles sore knocking doors to spread the candidate’s message, even if there is something not to like about the person. It’s not enough to sit back and critique. That will get Iowa more of the same over and over again.    

Ultimately, a simple, clear, optimistic, message appealing to rural and urban voters coupled with hard work should beat any Republican candidate stuck in the past with extreme ideas, fed to them by outside groups. That’s what we have in Iowa now. My rules of thumb say we are overdue for change.

Bruce Lear lives in Sioux City and retired after 38 years of being connected to public schools. He was a teacher for eleven years and a regional director for the Iowa State Education Association for 27 years until retirement. 

  • 2016-18

    After the shellacking in 2016 and laws enacted in 2017, I was disappointed in Democrats ability to bounce back in ‘18 in state government. I thought the fury among public employees would be “off the charts.” It only got worse.

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