Watchdog Blog

Herb Strentz: Iowa Politics and Press, Bachmann, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Posted at 12:27 pm, September 23rd, 2011
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Inquiring minds may want to know how Iowans feel now that Rep. Michele Bachmann has dropped sharply in the GOP presidential derby. After all, the Hawkeye state often fashions itself as a presidential kingmaker, and it was Iowans — well, right-wing, evangelistic Iowans — who had crowned Bachmann as a frontrunner for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. She managed to buy more votes than any other contender for the nomination in the Iowa Straw Poll/party fundraiser in August.

The short answer is that Bachmann is alive and well in Iowa, and the Iowa Straw Poll and Iowa Caucus follies continue — imbuing Iowa with even more importance when it comes to choosing a GOP presidential candidate.

Consider this headline in the Des Moines Register: “Bachmann’s fall in polls makes Iowa essential.”
The logic of the headline and the accompanying news story is that given the widespread perception that she is now an also-ran, Bachmann needs the right-wing Iowa more than ever to testify to her ability to win a national election.

If that were not folly enough, Iowa appears to be moving even farther to the political and evangelical right than the tilt that gave the initial impetus to Bachmann’s candidacy.

For example, GOP state legislator Rep. Kim Pearson says she will recruit candidates for 2012 to purge her party of incumbents who are not ideologically pure. And in other politics, a Democratic seat in the state senate, where the Democrats hold a slim 26-24 edge, is up for grabs this November — giving hopes to the GOP that it can advance its social-issues agenda in early 2012. (A number of those issues, including some likely unconstitutional, had been bottled up by the Democratic majority leader in the Senate.)

All this may be irrelevant in the national scheme of things today, but it won’t be when the 2012 caucuses roll around and the press no doubt finds Bachmann making a stirring comeback.

The political follies in Iowa call to mind comments by Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer about folly.

“Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force… Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions.”

Bonhoeffer’s observation helps clarify why we have presidential candidates who consider evolution to be on par with flat-earth theories and who think of climate change in terms of adjusting the thermostat — all at relatively no political cost.

The follies continue in news coverage, too. As noted by Gil Cranberg in a post on this site, the Iowa press still ignores the bizarre Iowa GOP Party Platform. Even when covering Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s damnation of Social Security, the Iowa news folks do not mention that Perry is right in step with the Iowa GOP platform.

Meantime, remember that despite Bachmann’s relative disappearance in the polls, Iowa is essential when it comes to selecting a GOP candidate. You have the Iowa press’s word on that. 

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