Oh, there's nothing halfway
About the Iowa way to treat you,
When we treat you
Which we may not do at all.
-- “Iowa Stubborn,” Meredith Willson.
Thank you, Iowa (as the politicians say.)
One of the best movies ever made about America -- right up there with Brooklyn movies and LA Noir movies and Deep South movies - - is the musical "The Music Man," written by the great Meredith Willson (two Ls, cantankerously), originally from Mason City, called River City.
The movie is about another time and place and a flimflam man carrying a cheap suitcase, alighting from a smoky passenger train.
Somebody asks where he is going and he says, "Wherever the people are as green as the money."
Now they come on chartered jets, but they still want something, in this case votes,
from clusters of Iowan in gyms and halls, earnest and dressed for winter (with the occasional Bernie t-shirt.)
I recalled covering a few stories in Iowa (including Pope John Paul II’s visit to a heritage farm, charming Lutherans) and for one of the rare times since I retired I actually wanted to be working, talking to people in those clusters.
I kept thinking of wily Robert Preston, calling himself Prof. Harold Hill, and heartbreakingly lovely Shirley Jones as the librarian, and Buddy Hackett, for goodness’ sakes, settled down in Iowa, and all the characters, the puffed-up men and hormonal teenagers and cackling wives who were smarter than their husbands, of course.
And there was Trump, roaring in on his own jet, selling hot air out of an empty suitcase and empty mind. The Iowans asserted themselves in a few directions, going for Sr. Canada first and El Joven third and leaving Trump in a very loser-like second. (And what about his bluster that he can get things done?) He got on his plane and went east, unlike The Music Man, who…but heck, rent the movie.
The Iowans also went 50-50 for Clinton and Sanders, now joined at the hip like the couple in the Grant Wood painting, “American Gothic.”
All those people, coming out on a wintry night, did not settle much, but they did firmly establish that Trump did not get the girl in River City.
For a different metaphor of Trump, the pro-wrestling bozo, I urge you to read David Brooks’ brilliant column in the NYT.
I loved watching Iowans in their clusters – the Iowa-stubborn female vet who cursed the VA live on MSNBC, the Iowa-stubborn young man who held out for Martin O’Malley in his final hours as a candidate, the Iowa-stubborn voters who cheered Cruz and Rubio and Trump and Clinton and Sanders as they vanished into the night, leaving Iowa to Iowans.
And we're so by God stubborn
We could stand touchin' noses
For a week at a time
And never see eye-to-eye.
-- "Iowa Stubborn," Meredith Willson.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)