No Obamacare for him. (Copyright Brian Duffy)
How Iowans are looking at Grassley
COMMENTARY | September 01, 2009
Back home, the five-term senator is regarded as a hard worker, likeable, and a person of integrity. But his actions and statements on health care reform are drawing sharp rebukes.
By Herb Strentz
Charles Grassley may be longing for the days just short of 30 years ago, when as a newcomer to the U.S. Senate he was dismissed as a country rube, a hayseed or hick. He benefitted from those low expectations, rising to heights of Senate power and even respect. His five-term tenure led to chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee when the Republicans controlled the Senate, and now he is the ranking minority committee member. With Democratic Chair Max Baucus of Montana, Grassley is among the senators challenged to fashion a bipartisan proposal on health care reform.
But now Grassley, who has pledged to defeat
what he calls Obamacare, suffers from charges on the left that his aim is to obstruct reform and alarm from some on the right that he even dares to be seen with those considered socialists determined to ruin the country. At this point he seems totally safe for re-election next year, but criticism of him is growing and getting sharp.
It’s one thing for the likes of economist and columnist Paul Krugman
to call Grassley despicable or a “coward” but quite another to survey recent fusillades in Iowa — many triggered by his ill-advised line that proposals for health care reform might create “a government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on Grandma.”
Glancing through the state’s larger dailies in recent weeks, outside of some supportive letters to the editor, one is hard pressed to find a kind word for Grassley. Des Moines Register political columnist Kathie Obradovich
said flat out that “Grassley misled Iowans” in giving credibility to misplaced fears about proposed legislation.
The Ames Tribune
declared, “We’re disappointed, Senator” that Grassley joined in fear mongering.
The Quad City Times
of Davenport chastised Grassley, too. When Grassley defended his bi-partisan efforts by saying, “I am negotiating for Republicans,” a newspaper editorial declared, “Iowans, not Republicans, elected Grassley.”
For its part, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald
declared that Grassley “fed into the scare tactics” that have replaced reasoned debate.
And perhaps the most derisive of Grassley cartoons was penned this week by former Register cartoonist Brian Duffy
and published in Cityview, the Des Moines alternative weekly.
All this might be pretty tame stuff, given the rough-and-tumble nature of politics, but it is difficult to recall a time when Grassley has been so castigated.
After all, his credentials and down-home approach as a state legislator and three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives helped him defeat Democratic incumbent Sen. John Culver in 1980. In the years since, Grassley, who will be 76 Sept. 17, has tended to the homefolks as a U.S. Senator just as he did for a smaller constituency as a state representative from Butler County. His U.S. Senate re-elections since 1980, his rising well above low expectations and, for the most part, his surviving the “hayseed” image have served him well, almost to the extent that his fund-raising success makes him virtually independent of the state GOP, now controlled by the religious right.
What’s going on here? Well, listen to David Yepsen
, the long-time political reporter and columnist for the Des Moines Register, now director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University; and to Eric Woolson
, a well-respected and candid player in Republican politics, who ran the successful Huckabee campaign in Iowa in 2007 and early 2008.
In an email to me, Yepsen offered these observations:
Grassley did benefit from low expectations. Liberals…were apoplectic when he beat big John Culver and many in Washington thought he was some kind of hick. Yet many in Washington were impressed by his hard work and integrity. I think one of Grassley’s big turning points was when he voted against the first Gulf war. As I recall he was only one of two and took a lot of heat from Republicans over it. [That vote was in January 1991 and the other Republican voting with Grassley was Mark Hatfield of Oregon.] Democrats and the left were pleasantly surprised and started viewing him in a different light.
As for the religious right, Grassley is a real social conservative but he just doesn’t wear it on his sleeve or talk a lot about it in public… Instead Grassley’s focus and profile has been on economic questions and farm questions. Religious conservatives know he is a reliable vote and his fiscal conservatism wears well with all Republicans.
Also, Grassley gets around Iowa a lot and just is personally likeable. He’s civil to everyone and that counts for a lot. Over time, it’s built him a little bit of a firewall. When Iowans see someone yelling at Grassley, Grassley wins…
Grassley is in a box on health care. I think he’s well aware of the fact many Iowans want some kind of health care reform. He sees the rise of Democratic power and the left in the state. In addition, he and Baucus have long had a good working relationship so it was natural that he try to work with Baucus in trying to put something together as they have in the past. As it got more partisan, he started taking heat from the right. Now that it is clearly a partisan deal, Grassley may soon do what [Utah’s Orrin] Hatch did – throw up his hands and back off. Let the Democrats do this on their own.
Woolson, who wrote a 1995 biography of Grassley, agreed with Yepsen’s thoughts and added in his email:
Ironically, an added challenge for Grassley with health care is that conservatives – not just in the GOP – but the rising number of non-party/Tea Party, mad-as-hell, motivated-by-what-they-see-despite-the-Democrats-saying-it’s-an-organized-GOP-movement, everyday citizens are suspicious of Grassley. Bipartisanship used to be encouraged but this new group of activists is suspicious…of all government and they’re mad [at] what they see as Grassley going along with the Democrats.
In some sense, it’s a return to the 1964 Goldwater movement of ‘I’d rather be right than win.’ They view any compromise as wrong, perhaps even immoral, and that just doesn’t take into account the reality that the Democrats could steamroll Grassley and the Republicans if they really want to and that we DO (at least, I do) want our senior senator to have a place at the table when 16 percent of our GDP is being discussed and reshaped.
So, he is in a real box – Democrats and conservatives/Republicans are criticizing him but for opposing reasons. D’s think he’s too conservative and not doing enough; R’s/conservatives think he’s gone soft and is doing too much to help the administration lead us to socialized medicine. On one level, it’s only appropriate this happen because Grassley truly has run as an independent for years. Republicans have been jealous and angry that he raises a lot of money but they don’t see it coming to them or Grassley spreading the wealth as Harkin does.
As Barry Sussman
noted on this Web site, Grassley's "wealth" includes sizable contributions from industries that are part of the health care complex he is supposed to be regulating. Questions about those contributions were raised in the Des Moines Register
on Aug. 31, and Grassley said he has been critical of campaign contributors from time to time--sounding the line that his votes are not for sale.
A sampling of reader comments to the article for the most part scoffed at Grassley’s defense. In a relatively small state of 3 million people, however, where face-to-face contact with public officials is part of the landscape, voters usually have more faith in their firsthand impressions of “Chuck” than they do in concerns expressed by others or by reports in the news media.
Grassley’s down home approach to working with Iowa constituents may have contributed to his hayseed image over the years, but it also may stand him in good stead come next year’s election when he may need it.
Grassley, Health Care Reform
09/05/2009, 02:42 PM
If we look into ALEC.ORG,(and google ALEC watchdog groups)
American Legislative Exchange Council and the letter signed by Grassley, Baucus, several Blue Dog Dems and several hundred Repub,
regarding NO Health Care reform
(addressed 7/29/09) to Pelosi & Reid. Start googling these "pay for play" organizations that our elected officials and all the major healthcare industry corporations belong to - then we as American citizens will start to realize that our elected officials are putting their profitable interest and those of major corporations before yours and mine.
Check into OpenSecrets.org. look into what corporations contributed to the politician who represents you. You may be surprised. If they received large donations from Pharma & Health care, they are not going to stand up to them, and stand up for reform.
Many Congressmen & Senators really don't want to get between their wallets and the healthcare industry. Don't be fooled when they use the excuse they do not want to get between you and your Doctor.
America needs health care cost reform more than ever. Don't expect it to come out of Washington. If we are left on the short end of the stick, then we need to wipe the slate clean on both sides and start over.
People stop listening to what your are being told and start searching out the truth.