Back to the Future

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of Planned Parenthood which has since become America’s preeminent provider of reproductive health care for women and for the prevention of unwanted pregnancies.

19 years later in 1935 American retirees first became protected by Social Security, reducing poverty among senior citizens from nearly 50% to 10%, making it one of the most successful programs in history.

In 1963 President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act to improve and protect fair wages for women. In 1964 his Equal Rights Act was passed posthumously under President Johnson.

One year later Congress enacted Medicare to provide health insurance to people age 65 and older.

In 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency was created under President Nixon and the clean water act to restore and protect the nation’s water supply was strengthened.

Union membership was nearing 40%, the middle class was strong, and wage earners were upwardly mobile.

Could any of us imagine that today we would be fighting for the very existence of every one of these things?  Programs designed to protect and improve our lives?

We are because an extreme right has coaxed a once reasonable Republican Party into their extreme narrative for America.  What was once considered our moderate center is now viewed as far left.  Our actual left, which once led the charge for social justice in the most formative moments of American history, is now dismissed as far left and too idealistic.

But, idealistic is what we must be.  Idealism is what will stop the decades long drift away from the promise of the Preamble to the Constitution: “..to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…”

Realism has replaced idealism as our modern operating system and while we must be realistic in order to achieve our goals-  our goals must still be forged from idealism.   Because that is how we will achieve great things.  Things like genuine civil rights, access to medicine for all Americans, affordable education, sane, moral and effective foreign policy, and curbing the dangerous course of a changing climate.

Edward Kennedy said it best when he eulogized his brother, Robert, by quoting George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask why….I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

That is the essence of the Democratic Party and that is why we are Democrats.  But no party can make an exclusive claim on great ideas.  Dreams and ideas are not partisan; they belong to our collective consciousness to improve lives.

This is not a time to compromise our ideals of liberty, justice and tranquility – this is the moment we must seize to inspire America back to the idealism that once moved us forward.

The Measure of Our Purpose


The Iowa Legislature finally adjourned at 6pm on Friday, April 29th.  Issues that remained unresolved capiltoainclude Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood, water quality, and medical marijuana.  While we must consider any agreement to be a positive result and Democrats and Republicans came to an agreement on a $7.35 billion budget that will now go to Governor Branstad for approval, I am, personally, disappointed.

Democrats and Republicans have come to compromise agreements before regarding school funding that the Governor vetoed. And what he vetoed was such a watered down version of what Democrats originally proposed based on what Iowa schools really needed, that I saw little reason to be optimistic about that accord.

With all due respect to Democrats who have tried hard to correct these issues, what we are seeing as school funding falls woefully short, while clean water initiatives are not passed, while medical cannabis continues to be restricted from Iowans who can benefit from its medicinal application, is that Quality of Life has taken a back seat to corporate-pandering special interests.  We are seeing crony-politics take root and grow.

Since 2011, Branstad has gotten his way to give away $400,000,000 in new tax breaks to Iowa corporations.   What suffers, as a result, is our middle class, schools and infrastructure; all of the reasons that attract corporations to Iowa in the first place.

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Policy falling short appears epidemic as just the other day I was in a conversation with a candidate for office who said that medical marijuana needs to be tested more fully by the FDA, and as a Schedule 1 drug it warrants such careful and patient study.

I replied, “Without even getting into the absurd Schedule 1 classification, which was far more political than scientific, we aren’t even talking about recreational use here; we are talking about patients with epilepsy, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and other afflictions, who have found groundbreaking relief from cannabis oil.”

“More study is needed,” he continued, “I haven’t seen enough documentation.”

“I’ve seen plenty,” I said. “Even one little girl, who has had two brain surgeries for her epilepsy, whose parents told me that medical cannabis was the only treatment that gave her rest from seizures, is enough evidence!  But there are thousands like her. th Who are we?  If not a state that does everything it can to allow our citizens to live healthy lives?  This isn’t about anything other than improving the quality of life for Iowans who are suffering.  I don’t want to hear about years of testing to find out what we already know.”

I wasn’t finished.

“I’ve heard state legislators who have opposed expanding the availability of medical cannabis in Iowa say that people should ‘go out of state to get what they need.’ I was told that one such legislator when confronted with the issue of an epileptic sufferer said:  “I’ll pray for her.”

“My daughter doesn’t need his prayers,” the parent told me, “She needs medicine that is being denied to her!”

And Medical Cannabis and School Funding aren’t the only issues that stand as evidence of misplaced priorities:  No Senate Water Quality Plan.

House Democrats put up a proposal that stirred discussion with Republicans, who had a proposal of their own. The Republican plan raided state funds; a classic rob Peter (education) to pay Paul (whatever they are willing to compromise on) and progress was halted.

Planned Parenthood also resulted in a stall. That stall works in favor of continuing current funding through Medicaid, but the fact that it’s even on the table is confounding.

My support of Planned Parenthood and continuing its Medicaid funding is three fold:

  1. The mission of Planned Parenthood is to provide women with reproductive health care.  In fact, it is the preeminent provider of health care to women as 1 in 5 American women have, at one time or another, used PP services.  The majority of their programs are preventive, primary care, to prevent unintended pregnancies through contraception, reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections through testing and treatment, and screen for cervical and other cancers.  PP in Iowa is a vital part of our health network, providing high-quality and affordable care to nearly 38,000 women (and men) each year.
  2. If abortion is the issue which Planned Parenthood critics have taken hold, then it cannot be overlooked that as a contraception provider it reduces unwanted pregnancies.
  3. And finally, abortion-related services are only a fraction (3%) of what Planned Parenthood provides, and government subsidies do not go toward those services.  Furthermore, in Iowa, Planned Parenthood receives no direct legislative funding, it is only through providers like Medicaid.

Defunding Planned Parenthood does nothing but compromise needed health services. There is no rational justification for its defunding especially if the primary reason is to stop abortions.

And since abortion is the issue by which the Planned Parenthood antagonists stake a very passionate claim, let me say this- NO one likes abortion. Where I stand is that I don’t want government dictating, moralizing or determining a choice that belongs to a woman.  A woman must have dominion over her own body, and it is with the counsel of her choosing; her doctor, clergy, and family; to decide in early term what course to take.  To say otherwise is, in my opinion, to demean the rights and equality of a woman.

We may disagree, but let’s do so without malice and use logic and reason whenever we can to make determinations regarding a very emotionally dividing issue.

In conclusion, whether we are talking about Education, Women’s Rights, Health Care, or the quality of our Water and Land, we are talking about the Quality of Life and the fundamental purpose of legislation: To provide a governing framework from which the citizens collectively “…establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

I believe that a legislator must evaluate every issue through the lens of understanding and AR-140509959compassion and consider the improvements to the quality of life that any legislation before them can provide. That should always be the measure of our purpose and our success.

 

 

Though Love and Life make tearful intercession…

dc82853e7904b0731f4e903e56980211Theologian, A H Strong, defined the human will as “the soul’s power to choose between motives and to direct its subsequent activity according to the motive thus chosen.”

No more apt description of the duty of a true politician has ever been written.  Such reflection is what strengthens our moral purpose, and as a candidate for public office, the convergence of my ideas and motives are what will reveal to voters what kind of a representative I will be.

Strong continues his description of will as “The soul’s power to choose both an end and the means to attain it.”  Within our soul is our moral purpose.

The journey I am on has led me to biographies of political leaders to learn more about their motives and recently I have been drawn to biographies about Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and James Garfield.

universe-wallpaper-20It would be easy to develop a fatalistic point of view, considering that each of these men were assassinated, but my belief is that life is a series of capricious events orchestrated only by our capacity for reason; we attach meaning to stories drawn from the collision of our will and forces outside of our control.

My point of view does not deny the existence of God, it only admits that I cannot define God any more clearly than I can define love for my children; the concept transcends the confinement of words.

Lincoln, Kennedy, and Garfield each seemed destined, yet their demise was the result of careless mistakes; a lack of attention when they should have been more aware of their vulnerability.  As purpose and fate comingled in my mind, I began to think about my own mortality.  Not in a morose “Oh-my-God-I’m-past-the-halfway-point-and-the-last-half-includes-incontinence!” way, but in a reflective “What-is-the-sum-of-this-journey-so far?” kind of way.

Life will always reveal a lesson when our awareness is heightened.  I was on a flight from Chicago to Cedar Rapids in pitch-black darkness, zero-visibility cloud cover, andplane-lightning-100610-02 buffeting crosswinds from a huge storm system passing through.  I fly a lot, but this was one of those flights where the wings tilt dramatically side to side and simultaneously hit air pockets where the plane drops several feet, and I’ll admit that I said a prayer.

It wasn’t a fear of dying at that moment, but I thought to myself, “What if I did?  What was the sum of my life?  What would people say?  Would I be remembered as a good man?  Did I remember to pay the cable bill?”

I try to tame the tendencies of self-indulgence by mediating such thoughts, but I think it’s a primordial human desire to want to be worth something to others, and suddenly a moment with my father popped into my head.  It was only two months before he passed away and he asked me if I was happy.

Not willing to recognize that my father wouldn’t be here for years to come, I replied, “Yes…why are you asking me?”

GE DIGITAL CAMERA“Because I’m not going to be around forever and I want to know that my family is happy. I can believe that I had something to do with that.”

I asked him if he was scared of mortality and he said, “No.  I raised good sons and that’s how I want to be remembered.  And maybe you’ll tell your children that there was once this man named Glenn Kroeger…”

I found solace in his words because I already knew that my memories of my father would always construct a story about a good man, who was kind, wise, intelligent, and who loved his family. It would be the story of a man who achieved great success by giving his children the safety, comfort and dreams that his own childhood was denied. His flaws would be as forgiven in death as they were in life; they were not the measure of the man.

On this flight I asked myself, “Will my children feel the same way about me?”

There was an unsettling vibration under the fuselage as the plane banked against the wind to land, but as we touched down softly and safely, it occurred to me that the answer lies in the question itself.  In these moments of perceived peril that turn into the fortune of living, our vanity is arrested by reality.

The present is a moving target that passes seamlessly into the future and instantaneously becomes the past; and that is where my lesson found words:  To live the best of my life from each moment on.  Value is not measured by quantity, but quality. The number of years, the amount of wealth, or the accumulation of things, have no bearing on the value of a life.

My motive in this quest to become a public servant is exactly that.  As I serve the purpose of being a father by sharing with my children the best that I have to give, I will serve my constituents with the same resolve.

As my father once proffered:  “We are immortal when our sincerest motives live in the memories of those we’ve loved.”

 

What’s your CSI?

Do you know what I’m really tired of? Besides, shortfalls in education budgets, short-sighted environmental policy, political bickering, hyperbole, and demagoguery.

I’m tired of acronyms.

The intention of an acronym is to reduce space in writing.  Once a long name,acronym thebacksofmyeyelidsblogspot like the Association for the Proliferation of Acronyms, has been established in a document, the writer can save space by using AFPUA from then on.  Makes sense.  All the reader has to do if they forget what AFPUA stands for is jog back in the article to where the name was first used.

It comes as no surprise that such shorthand would find its way into advertising and promotion.  We all know that PETA, for example, is an organization that defends animal rights, but who remembers that it stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals?  No need to; having “PET” in the shortened name makes it even better.  Even PETA doesn’t use their full title in their own materials.

NATO is NATO whenever it’s referred to. It is really the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.  Except in France where it is OTAN.  The Organization of Treaty for the Atlantic North.

And maybe those are two easy ones that most people do recognize for their full titles, but acronyms have nevertheless transcended from written pages to spoken language. The idea of saving time trumps all other forms of communication, but there is a virus within the body of shortcut language:  When you don’t know what the acronym stands for, not only is time lost, but so is understanding.

There is nothing new about Acronym-mania.  The AFL-CIO has been using theirs for over 60 years.  And to be honest, saying “The American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations, is a mouthful.  But do we really need to know their full title to understand that AFL-CIO is a labor union?  No.

I belong to SAG and AFTRA (since merged to SAG-AFTRA), but again, knowing that they are labor organizations in the entertainment industry is enough without spelling out Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists every time.

These are cases that illustrate exactly why acronyms became popular, even necessary.  My issue here is when they replace language as part of language itself when, in fact, they are not.

In my advertising career we throw around ROI, DMS, SPAM, BR, ASP, CR, CRM, CPL and MOM and expect everyone to understand what we mean as clearly as “Please pass the ketchup.”  The other day an employee came up to mean to say: “I didn’t know what AGI meant for 2 years.  All I knew was that I was responsible for it.”

In health care we are always talking about HMO’s, MCO’s, the NIC, HIPPA and HHR. It is assumed that if you are at a meeting within any discipline that you have taken a course in that industry’s Abbreviation Program and will use these letters just as you would call for the family dog.

“Here, HIPPA! That’s a good, HIPPA!”

No one wants to appear uninformed, and in fact, the truly informed love to show how informed they are by using the too-cool-for-school acronym vernacular.  As a result very few people will ever volunteer: “Hey!  Could you explain what you meant when you said ‘The ACU challenged the ACLU responding to the DCCC regarding the CBO assessment of the ECU analysis of the GNP’?”

The trend to abbreviate isn’t going to change; it satisfies too many of our instincts.  One is to shorten everything, another is to make ourselves exclusive whenever possible.  There is a satisfaction that is realized when we speak an esoteric tongue understood only by those “in the know.”

This little essay isn’t a reprimand with even the slightest hope that Acronym Fever will ever subside, but it is a caution.   In our progression to abbreviate language, we can also abbreviate understanding.  In the effort to save time, we can lose time.

How’s that for a PSTMOT? Oh….that’s a pithy statement to make one think.

Monica Vernon for Congress

When I was running for Congress I was running against two other Democrats in the primary for the nomination.  Naturally, the political stump is competitive as it is essential to differentiate ourselves so that voters can make a decision, but, my strategy from the beginning was to clarify myself, rather than define the other two.

“I’m not running against anyone,” was my opening salvo.  “I am running for the office.”

The truth was that three accomplished, informed, and credible candidates were running for Iowa’s First District. We were also three very different people.  I include myself in that assessment, at the risk of sounding braggadocios, but I would not have run if I didn’t feel that I was qualified.

FB_IMG_1453821273631I left that race, however, when a series of debates that I was counting on for media attention were cancelled.  The viability of a path to victory was greatly diminished.  I immediately (and enthusiastically) entered a race for the State House, leaving the two other candidates to vie for the Congressional nomination.

Also, upon leaving the race I endorsed Monica Vernon. I learned firsthand throughout the campaign, from other Democrats and from my own observation, that Monica Vernon has the right combination of skills, connections, experiences, and passion to help working families in Iowa, prioritize education, to promote equality and justice for all, and to continue improving health care, forward environmental concerns, and to grow Iowa businesses.

How we arrive in life at the place where we stand is personal, and the sincerity of our journey should be judged by what we do moving forward and so I do not question the progressive integrity of either candidate. Both are good Democrats. They are passionate about public service, have done great things with their lives and want to take their experiences to Washington to serve Iowans.  Most of the progressive principles at stake are issues that all 3 of us shared, with only variations in terms of prioritizing and some policy specifics.

Monica Vernon’s personal story as a mother, a businessperson and member of the20160425_155100 Cedar Rapids City Council, have given her insights that are unique toward building Iowa’s infrastructure with an unyielding commitment to Quality of Life.

Her rhetoric has remained positive and compassionate, and those are principles of character that I look for when making an important decision.

What struck me most was that she was willing to listen, and not simply dictate her views.  She regards her relationship with Iowans as a partnership and she is eager to listen and to elicit our ideas.  That is how it should be and that is a rare quality for a politician.  And it’s the one that sealed the deal for me.  She is a person before a politician.

Again, I am not against anyone.  I stand for certain qualities and principles and I believe that Iowa Democrats have great candidates up and down the ticket in district after Monica_Vernondistrict.  And I am on record to say: “I enthusiastically endorse Monica Vernon for the United States Congress from Iowa’s First District.”

 

Learn more at:  www.monicavernonforcongress.com

Historical Histrionics

stopStop!  The claims being made on both sides, Republican and Democrat, regarding historical triumphs are flawed!  The political parties do not represent consistent ideologies throughout their histories.  The essential ideological arguments today are (and always have been) between Conservatism and Liberalism, and not Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans, for example, can make a legitimate claim to being highly instrumental in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but conservatism cannot.  It was from an eloquent presentation by a Republican senator who said, “This is a bill whose time has come” and enough Republicans (not the majority of Republicans), led by Everett Dirksen, overcame the bloc of Southern Democrats (not the majority of Democrats) and got it passed.

Richard Russell, a Democratic Senator from Georgia, launched a filibuster to prevent its passage saying, “We will resist to the bitter end any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our states.”

Russell was a Democrat but not a liberal.  In fact, he was the founder of the Conservative Coalition that brought Southern Democrats and Republicans together to wrest control of Congress. Southern Democrats largely became Republicans in 1964 due to their anger over the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

Even within the larger philosophical movements of Liberalism and Conservatism, there are different societal and economic contexts.  Republicans in Lincoln’s time were not exclusively the party of conservative values as they have become.

Lincoln considered himself a conservative Constitutionalist, and was supported by Republicans (primarily from the North), but in assuming all powers not delegated in the Constitution, including the power to suspend Habeas Corpus, he took more liberty with constitutional authority than perhaps any President in history.

He also became socially liberal in his interpretation of the natural rights the Constitution upholds. While the Republican Party was literally founded by anti-slavery activists (the abolitionists) in 1854, “emancipation” was a movement of Liberalism over Conservatism.

The claims of either political party, however, for creating huge ideological shifts in America is nonsense. One side may harbor a majority of those who hold a particular philosophical position over the other, but political party affiliations are merely a skiff deployed from that larger vessel.

John Locke who is often credited for the creation of “liberalism” defined the concept of each of us having “natural rights” and the “right to life, liberty and property.” The root definition of “liberalism” is liberty; Latin for “free.” Not today’s interpretation among anti-liberals as meaning “excessive” (as in a liberal application of suntan oil).

Conservatism, which is defined as “reluctance to accept change” actually has its roots with the Tories or the “Loyalists” who wished to remain loyal to England and the monarchy.

Take the conservative position toward women’s suffrage in the early 20th century. Life Magazine in 1905 offered this (edited here) as an argument to the more liberal North American Review which had just offered its support of the movement.

“The primary objection to woman suffrage is that it would add an enormous army of unqualified voters to the huge mass of them that vote now…There is nothing the average American woman wants that the average American man will not give her if he can get it…The average woman thinks the same… for our part, we are old fogy, and hope that it will never need to happen. Not in our time, kind Fate; not in our time, anyhow.”

The article above was not written to support the repression of women, it was intended to be a rational and reasoned argument to reflect the beliefs of many Americans at the time. It was a position to maintain the status quo and to protect what it saw as America’s best interests.

That article is clearly not the position of modern Republicans, but it is historically consistent with conservative philosophy .  What is illustrated is how the conservative status quo must be pushed by a consistent progressive movement.  We can glean from history that radical voices are required at times to unite in opposition to the status quo when conservatism denies natural human, and civil rights.

That has primarily been the course of the liberal movement and why I, personally, align myself to the left; it is the choice I make between different philosophies to fulfill what I view as my responsibility as an American.

I understand what it means to “conserve” and to be cautious; I understand why it’s important to protect that which protects us.  I also understand what it means to respect differences and to allow for new ideas. The latter sometimes has to challenge the former in order to bring about a better progression toward Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

While it may be true that modern conservatives align more with the Republican Party and liberals with Democrats, if the discussion can gravitate away from partisan bias and toward a more genuine understanding of Conservatism and Liberalism…maybe this could become a more civil political climate….and beyond that, maybe we can start to get better things done in the interest of all Americans.

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Well, it’s my birthday, too – yeah!

I’m 59 years old today. 59.  18% of half a century beyond a half century.  A mere picture-of-a-birthday-cake-with-lots-of-candles1% of a century short of 60.  60!  Holy cow!  That’s when life expectancy gets real, man!!

Yet, I don’t feel a day over 23.  People tell me that I look young, but I’m pretty sure that it’s not 23 that they’re thinking.  I must admit to feeling my age for about 20 minutes every morning or the day after my sons are with me for a weekend; aging muscles can only take so much football and basketball and football and more basketball.  But, for the most part I still feel as if my adult life has just begun.

FB_IMG_1448492742310-1At this stage of my life, I’ve been a son and a brother for all of those 59 years and I’ve been a father for 17.  I was in school for 18 years, a professional actor for 21, a television producer for 1, and a game show host for 2.  I’ve been writing for 18 years, was a restaurateur for 4, married for 14 of my years and have been a creative director for 13.  And I’ve now been a candidate for public office for one year.

I’ve known my longest friend for over 50 years.  I can remember the day we met in school and so I have an actual sense of what five decades feels like.  If I back up five decades from the day I was born it is 1907.  That’s a noodle twister!  Less than my lifetime before my lifetime Theodore Roosevelt was President, movies were silent and the average life expectancy for an American male was 46 years.  I’d be 13 years in the grave already.

So, what’s the point of this birthday diatribe of marginally depressing information?

Well….I’m not depressed, for starters. I am living a good life.  I’m nothing special, but I was given something that sometimes seems unusual.  It is an inherited motivation to stay positive and to keep moving; to define the space I occupy with energy.

I’m not pretending to be altruistic, my motives are to find gratification like anyone else, but this innate impulse to constantly discover new horizons is most satisfying when my efforts bring something positive to others.

59 years from now I’ll be 118. I intend to get there, by the way.  That will require a lot oWrinkled old man smoking a cigar - Lonely Planet here we come!f yogurt, I would imagine.  Yogurt and an occasional cigar.  The occasional cigar and a glass of wine relax me and I figure that small vices can be life sustaining.

profileI’ve learned a lot. I mean a LOT, yet I know so little of what there is to know.  I can hold my own at cocktail parties, no matter the topic, but I can’t fix your plumbing or make a new cabinet for the living room.

They say that you have to do something 10,000 times before you are an expert at it.  Well, my eyes have opened to see a new day 21, 535 times….I’m an expert, twice over, at living.

That’s the point of this.  I know how to live and I’m damned proud of that.

A Job Worth Doing!

For most of my life I have been involved with programs that deal with poverty.  My mother was a Head Start teacher and I helped her during semester breaks in high school and college, as a professional actor in Los Angeles I helped raise funds for Homeless Health Care.  Since coming back to Iowa I have been proud to work with a number of charities and service clubs and recently my Rotary Club was introduced to an organization called “The Job Foundation.”  That’s a long “o” in “Job” (the Biblical name).

The-Job-Foundation-

The Job Foundation is a Not for Profit organization in Waterloo that operates on the premise that “economic empowerment for financially disadvantaged children” is the key to ending the perpetuation of poverty.

It does this by promoting financial stewardship to students through education and mentoring designed to teach impoverished children how to save money, how to become leaders, the importance of academic success and abstinence from illegal activities.

Please visit their website: www.thejobfoundation.org

Their paradigm to end poverty is to give impoverished children the tools to end the cycle of poverty that they inherited.  In my view-  THAT is the answer that has eluded the political debate.

What I love most about The Job Foundation is their philosophical reason for existing: ”It’s just the right thing to do.  The success of even one child benefits us all and the continuation of financial disadvantage, in even one child, harms us all.”

I have made many arguments (on this blog and elsewhere) regarding what I consider the myths about welfare that stall our budget debates and diminishes the help America is capable of giving, and Jennifer Brost, the founder of the Job Foundation, enlightened me with her unique and very honest perspective.  She said this in regard to criticism of people who receive assistance:

“It simply is not true that people who receive assistance are not working.  They are working.  They are working 12-15 hour shifts 6-7 days a week for a yearly salary of $24,000.  Their kids only eat at school and their parents go hungry on a regular basis.  It seems no one wants to believe this is happening in Waterloo but it is and it is very traumatic and costly.”

That perspective resonates because it isn’t a sheltered or filtered perspective built from hyperbole or conjecture, it is based on experience.  Jennifer even chose to live in an impoverished building with people struggling to survive in order to discover the truth about their challenges.

I believe that the model that has been created by the Job Foundation of financial stewardship through education and mentoring could be a template to fight poverty throughout the state of Iowa.  In fact, I believe that national recognition of this paradigm of economic empowerment could go far toward providing a measureable result from social spending.

Meanwhile, we can put our trust in people like Jennifer Brost and the Job Foundation and let’s rally, individually, to give them what they need.

“Silly, flat, dishwatery, utterances”

politicsI spend a lot of time thinking about how our government does business.  I also think about the way the public debates the issues and how we are informed (or become uninformed).  And I think a lot about how bad things have gotten and how they are getting worse.

Several times I’ve said or written:  “This is the most contentious time in history.”

Never has anyone disagreed with that statement no matter which side of the political fence they stand.

Sit down for this.

What if I said….our dialogue is not getting worse?  The political climate that we are living in today might even be better than it was.

What on earth am I talking about?

I enjoy reading history, but find myself having to look a little farther than the conventional history books that have, for over two centuries, woven fairytales around the creation of America.  From what we’ve been taught in school and from the traditions and ceremonies we’ve brought into American life, we’ve come to believe that stories and those who created them were beyond reproach and that their vision was clearly defined.  But as I dig deeper into autobiographies and historical records, a more interesting perspective begins to develop.

No less than Benjamin Franklin expressed his regret for the growing animosity and “false accusations” that Americans have toward each other, toward their government Benjamin_Franklin_Portraitand even toward “our best national allies.”

While we have myriad resources today to retrieve or disseminate information and ideas, the central theme of our most contentious debates is the same.  Franklin wrote 250 years ago:  “In the conduct of my newspaper (Poor Richard’s Almanac) I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

At the founding of our country and for nearly the century that followed, states bargained with other countries, and fought over where state borders should be.  Not with rhetoric and loquacious debate, but with muskets, swords and pistols.

Much has been written about the contempt that our present Congress appears to hold for members from the other party, but they seem to draw the line at verbosity.  150thCA381G1T years ago as Congress debated the Kansas Territory’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, a Pennsylvania Republican and South Carolina Democrat exchanged insults, which soon turned into a brawl.  More than 30 Congressmen from both sides joined the melee until the combatants were arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Contempt was so high in the 19th century between states that actual border wars broke out.  Do you know why Michiganders are called “Wolverines”?  Because people from Ohio found them to be no different from the angriest, most foul tempered creature of the forest.

wolverine5As they argued violently over a ribbon of land at their border called the Toledo Strip, blood was eventually shed and state militias were called to quell the dispute.  A simple border between Americans, living no more than a few miles apart, led them to view each other as fundamentally different human beings.

Things were no different west of the Mississippi when the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise.  The Missouri Compromise created verbal and physical warring in territories where a line divided the north from the south, allowing slavery to be legal in new states below the line, and illegal above.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a compromise of that compromise and stipulated that the issue of slavery would be decided by the residents of each territory (known as popular sovereignty).  After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to have been the greatest President in our history was reviled by both sides of this dispute.

lincoln_gettysburgaddressPosters calling him a “tyrannical dictator” and a “traitor” were not exclusive to the South.  One Chicago Times writer even reviewed Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address thusly: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

I have no delusions that we have solved our dialectic dysfunctions and that gentle decorum is the order of the day, but today as we argue, yell, accuse, castigate, belittle, and protest each other, it would behoove us to consider220px-PreliminaryTreatyOfParisPainting what we don’t do any more in the practice of our political debates.

We don’t fire across our state borders at each other over land disputes.  Our states no longer act as sovereign entities, negotiating with foreign powers, to bolster their own interests against other states.

And while it is true that many people, along with pundits and politicians have said nasty things about speeches our President, the Speaker of the House, candidates, or any number of representatives have made, have any been more insulting than “silly flat dishwatery utterances”?

At the very least, this historical realization can bring us hope.

It’s No Laughing Matter

It has been 11 months since I declared my candidacy for the United States Congress.  With a good staff, I ran hard and our message was heard, but momentum was never our ally in a crowded primary and I withdrew from that race last month.

Today I will file to run for the Iowa State House to represent the people of my diverse district.   I have learned a lot over this course and I believe that I have shown Iowans at events, committee meetings, and backyard barbeques that I study the issues and have ideas committed to improving our quality of life by expanding our economy, advocating for our senior citizens, farmers and veterans, protecting our environment, and educating our youth.

Yet, I am still faced from time to time with a comment that more or less goes like this:  “Gary you were a comedian, how do we know you can be taken seriously?”

needlemanI cannot (nor do I have any desire to) deny that I was once a satirist on Saturday Night Live; that once I made my living looking for laughs, whether as a performer, a writer, or even as a game show host.  The truth is, those experiences lend themselves very well to the business of politics.

The job of any artist, whether a comedian, a painter or a novelist, is to look at life with the deepest, most clarifying lens possible to reveal the idiosyncrasies, the contradictions and sometimes hypocrisies of the human condition and bring them to light.

Is it really any surprise that Senator Al Franken has been such an effective voiceal franken?

Yes, I have in my career poked fun at the way things are done in Washington, because business as usual in the District of Columba (and Des Moines) is laughable at times.  But I can easily make the distinction between those political dysfunctions and the business of the people, because that is no laughing matter.

It’s no laughing matter when education budgets do not meet the standards our institutions require, and when student debt replaces our investment in them.

It is no laughing matter when the proliferation of deadly force extends to children, while homicides in our schools, churches, movie theaters and shopping malls become epidemic.

It’s no laughing matter when the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, or the LGBTQ community are compromised or denied in the name of religion, fear or the status quo.

It’s no laughing matter when hard working Americans with fulltime minimum wagegary speech jobs remain below the poverty line.

It’s no laughing matter when labor and unions are under attack and pension funds are at risk.

It’s no laughing matter when 7 billion tons of inorganic gas is pumped into our atmosphere every year without any compensation for the danger that is caused to the health of our planet.

It’s no laughing matter when the principles of a government of the people are twisted to deny access to medicine for all of the citizens it serves.

I loved being an actor, a producer, a writer and any other hat I may have worn in Hollywood, but I know the difference between the entertainment of laughter and when the serious matters of the people and our government are at hand.

I am very clear as to why I am running for public office: To serve the people, using common sense, logic, compassion and sanity in that pursuit.

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