iowa nice

Here’s the thing—I like Iowa. I really do. I was born here. It’s true that I’ve spent most of my life living elsewhere, but I’ve always had affection for the state and its people. Iowa is an odd place—not at all the way it’s portrayed in the news and entertainment media. But then, how many places are?

However, Iowa is afflicted by the Iowa Caucus—which has traditionally been the first contest of the U.S. presidential race. That means every four years presidential candidates swarm Iowa like spawning salmon. It also means every four years we have to endure the news media talking about Iowa like the entire state is comprised of ultra-religious corn-fed, cretinous hicks.

We certainly have some of those—but they’re not the majority. They’re not even a significant segment of the population. They’re just noisy and annoying, like those locusts that crawl out of the soil every thirteen years and make life miserable for a bit.

But overall, that’s just not Iowa. So I was delighted to see the following video become something of a hit on YouTube and elsewhere.

I like it. But he had to leave a lot out. Like the fact that the very first case heard by the Iowa Supreme Court was In Re the Matter of Ralph. Ralph was a slave owned by a man in Missouri. The Iowa court ruled that the moment Ralph set foot on Iowa territory, he became a free man. This was 1839—that’s 22 years before the U.S. Civil War.

And he didn’t mention that one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most important free speech rulings was a result of Iowa high school students protesting the war in Viet Nam. In 1965 a group of students wore black armbands to school. They were abused by pro-war students (who were in the majority in 1965), insulted by their teachers, and expelled for refusing to remove their armbands. After their expulsion ended, they returned…without the armbands, but dressed entirely in black clothing.The Supreme Court ruled that students (and teachers too) do not “shed their constitutional rights at the school house gate.”

Which reminds me—Iowa is almost always at the top of the list when states are ranked by literacy. Nearly 70% of all Iowans own a library card. Iowans read a lot—and they’re not just reading the Bible.

I could go on. I could mention, for example, that when same-sex marriage came before the Iowa Supreme court, the judges ruled unanimously that it was unconstitutional to deny members of the same sex the right to marry. That’s right…unanimously. The fact is, Iowa is a pretty liberal state. Most Iowans are pretty open-minded. And they really are, for the most part, nice. Seriously. If you drive down the road and wave to the stranger in the oncoming car, they’ll wave back. And smile. It’s a little weird until you get used to it.

I’m in Iowa again, and it seems I’ll be here for the foreseeable future. But this is the first time in my life I haven’t felt a compelling need to be someplace else. I think I’ve grown into Iowa.

Addendum: Let’s not get carried away by the fact that Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney received the most support from Iowa Republican Caucus voters. There are more than 2,100,000 registered voters in Iowa, about evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and Independents (with a slight edge to Democrats). Santorum and Romney each received around thirty thousand votes out of a voter population of more than two million. It doesn’t mean Iowans are generally supportive of either of them.

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2 thoughts on “iowa nice

  1. It is indeed a great video… and yeah, it would have been that much better had he included (particularly) In Re the Matter of Ralph.

    However (and I don’t know if you’ve seen me make note of this elsewhere—if so, please excuse the redundancy), according to Gail Collins, Iowa is one of only two states to have never elected a woman as governor or to Congress. The latter was somewhat surprising to me.

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    • It IS an odd aberration, no mistake. But I think it is an actual aberration, not an artifact of native misogyny. Women have held almost every other elective office in Iowa.

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