Friday, January 4, 2008


I spent three years in Iowa, from the Fall of 1966 to the summer of 1969. I lived in Iowa City with my first wife, Lee, while I attended the University of Iowa on the G. I. Bill, where I received a BA in English Literature (minor in Asian Studies) and an MFA in Poetry.

I also ran for office on The Peace and Freedom ticket, for sheriff of Johnson County, in 1968, and did pretty well, despite my shoulder-length hair and radical positions. Hearing Johnson County mentioned by Jeffrey Toobin last night on I think CNN, brought back a lot of memories, which I’ll save for the memoir I’m working on.

But for now, I just wanted to share that Iowa is not, as the Republican commentator on PBS said last night, devoid of “bohemians” or “radicals.” Iowa, actually, has a history of radicalism, and “bohemianism.”

When I was there, Iowa City was known as “the Athens of the Midwest” —a label probably other college towns claim as well. But Iowa City deserved it in many ways. The University faculty was full of some of the most accomplished and celebrated artists and writers and playwrights and poets and scientists etc., and for a reason.

During the McCarthy scourge of the mid-century, most universities, even some of the most liberal on both coasts, began requiring “loyalty oaths” from faculty members, as proof, supposedly, that they weren’t “communists.” As you can imagine, some scholars and artists and such, refused to take the oath.

Many of them discovered that the University of Iowa refused to require it, so they transferred there. It was during this period that the Writers Workshop began to gain the fame that led other universities to copy the original graduate school writers workshop, but few could attract the name writers Iowa did, because of that independent streak that led to their refusing to require “loyalty oaths.”

There was an organization of radical farmers—socialists and anti-agribusiness folks— that had its headquarters in Iowa, as well as other radical groups and individuals, descendants of 19th-Century populist and progressive movements, and Depression era radicals and revolutionaries.

“The Wobblies”—the International Workers of the World organization that was more anarchist than socialist, in many ways, had strong chapters in Iowa. By 1966 when I arrived, some of the older folks from these older organizations were ready to make common cause with young people fighting for civil rights for “Negroes” and against nuclear weapons.

As the Vietnam War heated up, these groups melded into what became known nationally as “the movement”—meaning the movement for civil rights, nuclear disarmament and an end to the war in Vietnam, which many Americans were still almost unaware of. But that changed rapidly.

At any rate, I just want to make the point that Iowans were never, and I suspect still aren’t, the local yokels the media make them out to be. Yes there’re a lot of pigs in Iowa, and unfortunately agribusiness has a toehold there, especially the government subsidized corn industry that fuels the energy-inefficient ethanol industry, etc.

But there’s a strong streak of independence and radical and progressive thinking there as well, which is why, I believe, Obama could get as many people to come out for him, especially those who identify themselves as “independents,” and why John Edwards’ populist anti-corporate message could garner a big slice of the caucus-goers as well.

And although Hillary is now being written off to some extent, or dismissed, or criticized for blowing Iowa, let’s not forget that no one candidate won a majority, and that as a female candidate for president, no matter how strong the Clinton political machine might be, she still made a kind of history herself last night by getting almost a third of the pie that Edwards, the traditional white Southern male Democratic candidate, no matter how populist his message, and Obama, another male, though impressively non-white (and hopefully putting an end to these stupid racial terms, and proving at least in this case that “black” men are now ahead of women of any race at least in the political arena), also only got more-or-less a third of.

Frankly, I’ve seen and experienced enough to appreciate that any of the Democratic candidates would be better than any of the Republican candidates. Someone at a New Year’s Day party asked what the difference was, implying that had Gore been sworn in as president, as he was elected to be, instead of Bush Jr. it wouldn’t have made a difference.

But as I, and others at the party, pointed out: there’s plenty of evidence that a Gore administration would have been more alert to the 9/11 attack planning and perhaps have thwarted it. But even if those attacks had gone through and been as devastating (military planes might have been scrambled sooner, cutting the losses, etc.) the response would have been different.

We still well may have gone to war in Afghanistan to catch Bin-laden, and there’s a good chance we would have gotten him, under a Gore administration, and turned that country into an example of "freedom and democracy" for the Middle East. But we certainly would not have invaded Iraq, not even other Republican administrations would have been likely to have done that, unless they had exactly the same configuration of neo-conservatives behind the scenes.

And therefore we would not have squandered the good will so much of the world had toward us on 9/11, nor would our government be more deeply in debt than ever before in our history, nor would we be so indebted to China financially, etc. etc. etc.

So even if Gore wasn’t your choice, or you voted for Nader because it seemed like a more ideal and pure expression of what a progressive might believe, any vote that took away from Gore having a more decisive win that couldn’t have been ultimately decided by a Republican-leaning Supreme Court, was a vote for Bush junior and the terrible plague his administration has been on our nationa.

Same goes in ’08. I believe Hilary is the smartest candidate out there, period. And possibly the most competent, in terms of politics and actually getting things done. She has proven that in the Senate. But she has also proven, in her Iraq war vote and in her Iranian Revolutionary Guard “terrorist” vote, etc., to be either more militaristic than I truly believe she is, or to be more hypocritical than I would like to believe she is.

But Obama and Edwards are smart too (as are Biden, though not tactful, and Dodd and Kucinich etc.). And any one of them will do a lot to reverse the downward slide, or rather, avalanche, into ruin that Bush junior’s administration has created for our country.

As for the Republicans, Huckabee has a lot of good populist positions, and some unbelievably backward conservative ones. But it’s his likeability that comes across most in his public appearances, and, unfortunately, as we saw with junior, a lot of the electorate responds to that personality thing more than to a candidates positions and accomplishments.

McCain too is a mixed bag of beliefs, some progressive, some conservative, but his willingness to cave in to people he once saw clearly for what they were (like the folks at Bob Jones University who up until, and well into, Bush junior’s campaign still had the late Pope on their website as the “anti-Christ” and representative of Satan etc. and which did not allow non-whites into its fold until recently and still proselytize against “mix-race” dating and marriage etc.) and flip positions to garner the support of the most rightwing fundamentalist wing of his party makes him highly suspect in my eyes.

Romney is way too phony and a fundamentalist in a religion that has beliefs that are even more farfetched than those of fundamentalist traditional Christians and Muslims. And Guilliani has the same bullshit macho phony pose that junior used to impress people who couldn’t see him for the spoiled Yalie cheerleader bully he so obviously is.

Guilliani proved, as mayor of New York, that what mattered most to him was personal loyalty, to him, not to an ideal or the people or the constitution, etc. Just like junior. And he’s a total liar, trying to avoid blame for putting the city’s anti-terrorist headquarters in the World Trade Center, even though it had been attacked before, successfully, and there were tons of warnings that it was a primary target for terrorist attacks in the future.

After 9/11 he said he was against putting it there, though memos and notes of meetings and eye witness testimony have since shown that he was advised against it and ignored that advise. The man’s a meglomaniac with obvious self-image and relationship issues.

And Ron Paul, though refreshingly honest about some things others are too scared to even talk about, has other beliefs that are just plain scary.

So, I’m glad the Democrats came out in such numbers last night in Iowa, double the Republican numbers, and that so many Independents decided to go for a Democrat. As for the top three winners so far:

I like Edwards anti-corporation stance. But though someone has to take on the corporations that rule our world, who can actually do that successfully? I doubt Edwards actually can. Obama might have a better chance, as a totally new face with an almost clean slate, he could use his capacity to inspire (though from his speeches that seems sporadic to date) and the office of the presidency to confront corporate power, and if the Democrats can take back the Senate (with a majority that can actually pass bills), where Hilary could be a very effective bi-partisan leader as she has already proven to be there, corporations might lose some of the government welfare and other privileges smaller businesses and individual citizens don’t have.

Hey, whatever happens, it’s the most interesting and unpredictable election of my lifetime, at this point, as well as the most historically precedent setting. An African-American is a viable candidate, not a protest candidate (as Jesse Jackson was in many ways, and certainly Eldridge Cleaver was, on that same 1968 Peace and Freedom ticket I was on), as is a woman and a Hispanic (though a far-behind fourth place, nonetheless, I believe Richardson is the first Hispanic presidential candidate to make it this far and to do this well), as well as a Mormon and an Italian.

'Bout time.

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