November 23, 2003

Iowans gone wild

By: AF Editors

DES MOINES, IOWA–I visited Des Moines in May, and as I watched the Iowa Cubs take batting practice before a game, I looked around and decided I was going to stay.

From where I sat in the back row of the minor league stadium, the Great Plains stretched on to infinity behind the breathtaking state capitol dome. As the fans began to trickle in–mostly young fathers with their beautiful Iowa wives and wholesome Iowa children (the tickets were cheaper than a baby-sitter)–and I tasted my bratwurst and beer and peanuts, I reached for my phone. I, a native New Yorker, was going to call Bob Novak and say, “Boss, I ain’t coming in to work on Monday, or ever.”

I chickened out (I’m not yet at the point with my boss where I call the shots), but got myself a return trip to Des Moines this past weekend. Friday, at the airport, the hotel, the hotel bar, and the brew pub down the street, I saw right away why I love the heartland: the people are genuinely kind, the spaces are wide open, and beers cost less than $3.

But by Saturday night, I felt like I had been transported out of this rural utopia into a left-wing fever swamp. In short, I felt like I was back home in Greenwich Village.

That I was in bizarro-Midwest should have struck me earlier in the day, but it didn’t come home until early on in the Iowa Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. The chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party announced that the National Anthem would be sung for us “by a very special group”: the Des Moines Gay Men’s Chorus.

When that group’s rainbow logo was emblazoned on the jumbotron at the arena, the crowd erupted into its loudest cheer of the evening. A couple dozen men of various ages took to the wrestling-ring-type stage at the center of the floor, some wearing skin-tight black tee-shirts, and gave us some variation on the Star Spangled Banner.

Things had seemed normal enough in the morning. John Kerry had strapped on his skates and played hockey with the Des Moines Fire Department. Sure, during the second intermission he launched into a tirade about how he was lied into voting for war and about tax cuts for the rich, but basically, he skated well, took some good shots, and never scored. “Maybe the epitaph for his campaign” said one Democratic congressman at lunch.

Time magazine columnist Joe Klein bought lunch for me and some CBS reporters at the brew pub where they top your burgers with onion rings. He explained to us that every Democratic campaign hates him, which seems to me a sign of good journalism.

But after that the day took a strange turn to the wacky left. At the rural America forum, Kerry told the farmers in the crowd how he’s not a newcomer to their issues, pointing out that for years he’s been fighting for clean water, clean air, and global warming treaties–meaning he’s been trying to keep them from driving their tractors too much and using the fertilizers they want.

Then Dennis Kucinich took the stage. Kucinich, as usual, was the most exciting speaker. He brought the crowd to its feet promising FDR-style make-work programs for farmers. When the moderator asked him what Iowa would look like after eight years of a Kucinich Administration–a phrase strange enough to make even the candidate flinch–things got downright unreal.

He talked about his first trip around the Hawkeye State, the one where he realized the White House was his destiny, and how the mist was rising up from the fields after a rain. The former boy-mayor of Cleveland then saw something he had never seen before: “Rainbows, dancing from field to field. Rainbow Farms!”

He got weirder from there and ended by promising that under President Kucinich, we’d all see the dancing rainbows.

No other candidate went so far as to promise such a federal hallucinatory-drug benefit program, but they all promised to complete the farmer’s welfare state with new subsidies and anti-competition rules.

Despite the attempts by some conservatives to make it sound like the inner-cities are giant pits of welfare, the farm forum made it clear, Middle America, despite my Spring reveries about Iowa, comes to Washington palm up more than anyone else.

But farmer dependence on welfare cannot explain the spectacle that was Saturday night. In the Veterans’ Memorial Arena on the edge of town, everybody’s chair had some paper from the IDP and a big paper disk from Planned Parenthood reading “Stand Up For Choice” by which, of course, they meant the choice whether or not to kill one’s own unborn child.

While those signs didn’t bring the crowd to its feet, the Emcee of the evening did: my home state’s Junior Senator, Hillary Clinton. After Hillary and the National Anthem, it was time for the invocation.

A prayer before a dinner of 7500 was going to be ecumenical, but I expected it would resemble a prayer. No, folks sat and ate through this one–a feel-good story about stopping to smell the roses–and even broke into applause a couple of times.

So in this Democratic version of the heartland, we had gotten a Democratic version of the National Anthem and a Democratic version of a prayer, but I still wasn’t ready for the Democratic version of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Democratic Governor Tom Vilsack made it clear that this pledge showed that his party, despite Republican insinuations that Democrats are less than patriotic, is made up of true Americans.

A cynical conservative might have expected the crowd to leave out the “Under God” part of the pledge. The American left has moved dramatically to wipe religion from public life. But the Democratic Party really made its name on another issue about seven score years ago.

Tom Vilsack left out one word from the Pledge of Allegiance: Indivisible. Yes, you read it here first. Governor Vilsack this weekend publicly reserved the right of Iowa to secede from the Union.

On that idyllic May evening, I would have been ready to immigrate to a Sovereign Hawkeye Nation. Before the entrée was even served Saturday night, though, I was worried I would need to sneak out of the Peoples’ Republic of Iowa to save my life.

Tim Carney is a reporter for the Evans-Novak Political Report.