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Shooing them out in Iowa

Shooing them out in Iowa

There hasn’t been much in the way of snow over the past several weeks, and right now in northwest Iowa the ground is the same dull brown it’s been for months – the same brown it turned all the way back in July, when it stopped raining here. This morning I looked outside and by some trick of the imagination, thought momentarily, I really need to get my seeds in the garden bed. That was the right half of my brain. Not yet, said the left hemisphere, a few more months. See that Christmas wreath? But hang in there.


We’ve needed a change of pace for a while now. The level of political invective has been soul-crushing. So apparently, if we aren’t getting snow or even rain, the world around us does still feel a little fresher this morning, because after months of encampment and backbiting, the world’s strangest circus has left town. Bye-bye to the politicians and pollsters for the moment.

It’s odd to have grown up in Oklahoma (forgotten politically, lumped in with Dallas), lived around some, and ended up in a place like this. I was unprepared for the force and the urgency of the candidates, of the pure logistical inconvenience of the democratic process, and of the way in which I would see religion appropriated and portrayed.

Off the top of my head,

…Romney’s Mormon faith made him strangely alien to many in this, the land of Catholics and Lutherans;

…Santorum’s “values I learned from Jesus” speechifications played well here but won’t in other places;

…Michele Bachmann’s faith was easy for her to talk about but left doubts precisely because what she saw as unassailable others saw as canned, ironclad, too highly polished;

…Gingrich’s mild use of religious imagery in commercials never really got unpacked for us; and

…Perry’s stab at homosexuals serving openly in the military – made, it seems, out of the well of his faith but really nothing more than the shotgunning of a desperate campaign marketing design team – will be long remembered for its hamfistedness. (Is that a word? It should be.)

In other words, if the political process is partly about seeing a reflection of oneself and one’s commitments and priorities in another, and responding with votes for that person, at least as far as the politics of faith fall, each candidate fell spectacularly short of any reasonable expectation.

Speak to me about doing justice, loving mercy, walking humbly with your God, and you have my attention. Tell me about Matthew 25, Hosea 6, the spirituality of subtraction and humility, selfless service, ideals derived from something other than test-marketing, and I’ll sit up straight. Describe a narrative of a lifelong faith journey (even if it took you nowhere for a long time) filled with God speaking and cajoling and teasing you into public service however and whenever it happened, and I’ll listen.

Keep on doing what you’ve done, however, and expect more of the same.

Oh, and just this one other thing. I’m pretty sure “going negative” isn’t necessarily the card Jesus would have played first. Sure he had names for members of certain political parties and segments of society (“whitewashed tombs,” “brood of vipers,” and “hypocrites” come to mind) but these folks weren’t misappropriating his image to sell their stuff.

It’s too bad Jesus can’t sue for copyright infringement or slander. With the money he’d make, you could buy enough airtime to convince people that something more than flattery matters in the electoral process.

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Ann Fontaine

2 images of the Iowa Republican caucus spectacle –1. whack-a-mole but where the moles pop up and hit each other. 2. clown car – Romney ended up in the driver’s seat this time — but the circus moves on to NH.

Bill Moorhead

Good article, Torey. I’ve been in Iowa for over thirty years (the Iowa caucuses began only 40 years ago), and I’ve never seen anything like this year’s appalling spectacle. One of the candidates said in one of his TV spots, “I’m not ashamed to talk about my faith.” I looked at my wife and protested, “If I had his faith, I’d certainly be ashamed to talk about it!”

Randall Balmer has a very good related article: http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/5541/how_iowa_became_a_stronghold_of_the_religious_right

Leslie Scoopmire

I love your comments about Matthew 25 especially.

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