Iowa City, Iowa, Wednesday, March 24, 2010 — When President Barack Obama decided to take what Brian Williams referred to on the evening news as “a victory lap” after the 56 aye, 39 no vote that (finally) passed Health Care reform, he selected Iowa City’s University of Iowa to make his first speech. A graduate of the school, I decided to travel to my alma mater to check out the protesters and Obama supporters that historic day.
I drove 60 miles to Iowa City to hear him speak. Before the speech, I drove another 21 miles to the Ely airport, outside Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to see Air Force One land and perhaps catch a glimpse of the president as he deplaned at 12:05 p.m. There was a feeling of excitement in the air, not unlike the day of a Big Ten football game.
As I approached the airport the line of cars waiting to take the airport exit and then turn left towards the field was so long that it blocked the far right lane of the highway (I380). Overhead, helicopters hovered, blades whirring, part of the security team. Knowing that I could drive further on into Cedar Rapids and take back roads to get to the airport, I did. But I missed the photo op of President Obama’s departure from Air Force One and the motorcade 21 miles to Iowa City and had to content myself with pictures of the plane as it sat on the tarmac awaiting his return.
On to Iowa City and the old Fieldhouse, which was the only sports arena when I was in college. It has long since been replaced by Carver Hawkeye Arena for Iowa basketball games, but it would be used today for Obama’s speech concerning the historic legislation just passed.
As I walked towards the Fieldhouse, I could see approximately 300 protesters. The Obama supporters had gathered on the west side of the street outside, holding signs of approval and, in some cases, derision for the Tea Party representatives on the east side of the street. There is a median down the middle of the road. The policeman on duty told me to “Keep moving, Ma’am” when I attempted to stand on the median and shoot pictures, telling me that a fight had broken out earlier at that spot.
I walked to the protesters’ east side of the street, first, where a man in a bandanna named Larry Aden of Jolley, Iowa, a farmer and manufacturing engineer, was wielding a bullhorn. He held a sign that said, “It’s not a right unless you were born with it.” The man from Jolley told me had had taken part in other Tea Party rallies in Washington, D.C. For a guy from a town with a name like “Jolley,” he didn’t seem very jolly; he was angry and loud.
A little to the left of Bullhorn Guy were other protesters, holding signs accusing Obama of being a dictator and referencing health care “czars.” There was even a woman who had brought a baby carriage with small dogs inside, and had dressed them up and then labeled the occupants of the baby carriage as Obama, Pelosi, Reid. She had proclaimed them all to be Communists on her sign. [She must at least have had a sense of humor to think that Communists are dogs or dress their dogs.]
Guy Williams’ sign proclaimed, “Iowans don’t want it either. Why here?”
On the west side of the street were students who admitted that they had come out expressly to make fun of the Tea Party crowd. One young man held a sign that said “Generic Protest Sign.” Another had one that said, “Don’t Sell My Grandmother Into Prostitution.” Although I didn’t quite get the connection between his grandmother and prostitution, I wondered if it was a reference to Charles Grassley’s (R, IA) comments about “pulling the plug on Grandma,” made at informational meetings around the state.
I asked the students holding three signs for their names, and Gabe DeJong, a Journalism major at Iowa, was the proud holder of the “Grandmother” sign, while his companions were Tom Cigrand, an informatics major and Elliott Benk, a mechanical engineering student.
Meanwhile, people like Sheila Murphy from Missouri Valley, across the street to the east, were organizing other sign-holders like Guy Williams, a fireman about to retire in 3 months, as he held his sign, which read “Obama = Dictator.
In the speech inside the Fieldhouse, Obama said, “It began when folks wrote letters about how premium hikes of 40%, 50% to 100% were forcing them to give up their insurance. It began when countless small business owners and families and doctors shared stories of a health care system that works better for the insurance industry than it does for the American people. So this is your victory. Now, it’s gonna’ take about 4 years to implement this plan, because we want to do it responsibly and we want to do it right. So, I just want to be clear, that health care costs won’t go down overnight. Not all the changes are gonna’ occur overnight, there are still gonna’ be aspects of the health care system that are very frustrating for the next couple of years. But because of you, this is the place that change began, and because of you, this is the law of the land.”
Outside, however, ignorance reigned supreme, which, according to Timothy Egan in a piece for the New York Times Opinionator (8/27/2010, “Building A Nation of Know-Nothings”) seems to, more and more, be the case.
The amount of ignorance abroad in the land is staggering. Facts about Obama’s life are readily verifiable, but as Egan notes, “The astonishing level of willful ignorance has come about largely by design, and has been aided by a press afraid to call out the primary architects of the lies.” Egan went on to point the finger of blame at media darlings like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.
Supporting Egan’s contention is a recent (Aug. 19, 2010) Pew Opinion Poll from the Pew Research Center, showing that a growing number of Americans believe, among other things, that Obama is a Muslim. (“Religion, Politics and the President”). When I journeyed to the Field House in Iowa City, Iowa, last March 11% of Americans believed that Obama was a Muslim. Now, that number is up to 18%, fueled, no doubt, by Obama’s remarks that we are a nation that honors freedom of religion, in regards to the Ground Zero Mosque flap.
In 2009, 48% of Americans believed that Obama was a Christian, but that number has shrunk to 34%. And, even more surprising, Kim Lehman, one of Iowa’s two Republican National Committee members, expressed public doubts about Obama’s Christianity.
If people who should be in the know (like Lehman) express such outright untruths, how can anyone expect the likes of the bullhorn-waving Larry Aden, “the man from Jolley,” to know what he’s shouting about? And why would anyone expect the man from Dubuque who identified himself only as “Tom” and held a picture of Obama depicted as Hitler to be informed and/or accept the truth? Polite debate seems to have gone the way of manners; the Tea Party crowd is long on bullhorns and short on polite discourse.
There is an old saying that, if we do not pay attention to the past, we are condemned to repeat it. However, as Timothy Egan contended in his opinion piece in the New York Times, “A growing segment of the party poised to take control of Congress has bought into denial of the basic truths of Barack Obama’s life.”
What are we, as a nation, to do about those who, out of willfulness, stubbornness, bigotry or ignorance refuse to comprehend or accept the truths of the present? Spend a day with them, as I did last March and consider that Newt Gingrich, a Tea Party booster, has raised more money than all other potential presidential candidates combined. Hot on his heels are Sarah Palin, Rand Paul (for Senator) and other Tea Party loyalists, and you get a sinking feeling about the presidential election of 2012. If the McCain/Palin ticket seemed ill-chosen and often uninformed to you in 2008, wait until you see who’ll be leading the pack in caucus season (and beyond) in Iowa in 2012, jockeying to become the Republican candidate for President of the United States.
(SOURCES: March 24, 2010 appearance of President Barack Obama in Iowa City, Iowa at the University of Iowa Fieldhouse, to celebrate passage of the Health Care Reform bill; New York Times “Opinionator,” 8/27/2010, “Building a Nation of Know-Nothings,” by Timothy Egan; Pew Research Center, 8/19/2010, “Growing Number of Americans Say Obama Is A Muslim”).