Charles Bruner

Rural Iowa and an approach to political dialogue

Charles Bruner: Democrats need to recognize rural Iowans’ frustration with the political system and start finding common ground.

Broadly generalizing, rural Iowans are good folk. They work hard and play by the rules, care about their neighbors, and seek to leave a future where their children can succeed and prosper. If an African American family moves in next door, they welcome them with fresh-based bread or cookies. They regard a child with Down syndrome reaching the age of majority as a part of the community and look out to see that youth is supported by and included in community life. They are entrepreneurs and tinker to be good stewards in preserving the land and community, in the context of a corporate agricultural economy.

Those qualities may not distinguish them greatly from city folk, but rural Iowans frequently have much more sense of and hands-on involvement in community life.

They also are older, whiter, and less likely to have college degrees than their urban counterparts. In 2008 and 2012, nearly half of Iowans outside large metro areas voted for Barack Obama for president. But a third of those who had voted for Obama switched away from the Democratic candidate for president in 2016. Donald Trump received about two-thirds of the rural Iowa vote in 2020.

Democrats have been wringing their hands over this shift – and the change in the county coffee shop conversations that must have occurred in small-town and rural Iowa.

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Re-establishing Democratic governance

Charles Bruner is a longtime advocate for policies that support children and strengthen families. -promoted by Laura Belin

About this essay

I studied political science at the beginning of the 1970s at one of the elitist of universities, Stanford University. My graduate school class, if not all radicals, shared a serious critique of American government and the military-industrial complex, the Vietnam war, the academic privilege and not freedom that embodied the Stanford administration, and the failure for society to listen to youth and follow-through on the vision expressed in the decidedly liberal document, The Port Huron Statement.

I returned to Iowa in 1975 feeling alienated and full of angst at my better understanding of the darker side of American politics. But I had no clue how to contribute to changing it. Fortunately, I found a group of 20-somethings in Iowa – largely through the Community Action Research Group (Iowa’s Public Interest Research Group) – doing that work in the policy field on the environment. They connected me to a job at the Iowa Welfare Association funded by the Compensatory Education and Training Act, the federal jobs program that provided nonprofits with funding to create jobs. It gave me space to learn and grow, as it did for others in my group.

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Relational campaigning and our roles as influencers

Charles Bruner is a longtime advocate for policies that support children and strengthen families. -promoted by Laura Belin

Relational campaigning is back. Out of necessity, campaigns have had to adapt to the strictures of social distancing. 2020 has not been a year for mass gatherings, nor for packed party headquarters of volunteers to disperse leaflets door-to-door or operate phone banks. Instead, much of the volunteer work has relied upon people in their own homes and with their computers and cell phones doing what they can.

The plus side of this has been an increased emphasis upon “relational campaigning,” asking volunteers to reach out to the people they know best about issues that matter to them.

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As ambitious as the New Deal: Biden's plan for caregivers, educators

Charles Bruner: Joe Biden’s plan to improve the caregiving and education workforce is “every bit as ambitious as the New Deal at the time of the depression or the New Frontier/War on Poverty/Great Society efforts of the 1960s.” -promoted by Laura Belin

It may or may not receive the media attention or the public dialogue it deserves during the campaign, but presidential candidate Joe Biden’s “Plan for Mobilizing American Talent and Heart to Create a 21st Century Caregiving and Education Workforce” represents the type of bold vision that has the potential to reshape and fundamentally improve our society.

It opens with a recognition of the critical role caregivers and helpers play in our society:

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Child poverty and the country's future

Charles Bruner is a longtime advocate for policies that support children and strengthen families. -promoted by Laura Belin

Possibly the most important five minutes of the eight Democratic presidential debates happened when candidates answered the last question–on child poverty–in the recent New Hampshire debate.

It was not that the candidates differed in their approaches, but they all saw this as a critical issue and provided important reflections on what is at the heart of a fundamental challenge to American prosperity — the future of our diverse next generation.

First Focus has done a valuable service by putting the clip on You Tube.

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Reframing racism

Charles Bruner is a longtime advocate for policies that support children and strengthen families. He has endorsed Elizabeth Warren for president. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowans like to see presidential candidates in the flesh, but sometimes their surrogates offer perspectives that deserve as much attention.

In early January, Heather McGhee spoke on behalf of Elizabeth Warren to a small group of Iowans at Smokey Row in Des Moines. Her message, however, was one that deserves to be considered and heeded by Democrats and progressives more generally.

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