If you're like me, and I know I am...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

10/25/10: Vote 'yes' to keep Iowa justice uncorrupted

Thinking about this week's election topic, I could not help but remember a touching, personal story. When I was 6, my grandmother pulled one of my teeth out. The tooth she removed, with surprisingly little effort on her part, was right next to the loose one she had intended to pull. There was much wailing and not so much with the gnashing of teeth. Within the hour, the loose tooth I had been "fiddling" with fell out on its own. This resulted in two very important lessons being learned, in a very visceral way, by me. The first lesson is to never underestimate an old woman with a powerful grip, a clean, dry handkerchief and no patience. The second is never trust an interloper.

Of course, my grandmother felt terrible about what would constitute torture under the Geneva Convention. I know her regret was earnest because back in those days you could just about smack a kid with a log chain at a grocery store in front of a cop and not get so much as a ticket for noise pollution. She never said as much and I may be reading into things, but I believe if she could remember the incident, she would say she acted rashly out of personal irritation as opposed to a legitimate interest in what was best for everyone.

So it goes. Every generation has growing pains, obstacles and noisome interference to deal with. In this upcoming election, Iowans are being bombarded by outside interests to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices for ruling unanimously a year and a half ago that the state has no vested interest in prohibiting same sex couples from entering into wedded bliss, such as it is. Having read the ruling and being a fan of well-written jurisprudence, I can find nothing particularly biased about the decision. In fact, it's a model of pure legal reasoning so airtight you could can tomatoes in it. It's probably the best written legal opinion since Brown v. Board of Education. It makes me emotional just thinking about it and the best part? It's pure Iowa values written by Iowans for Iowans with no interference from outsiders (http://www.politico.com/static/PPM104_090403_iowacourt.html).     

Agree or disagree, but in an impartial system you win some and you lose some. That's how you know it's impartial. If you get your way all the time, then something IS wrong.  

Do Iowans need help deciding Iowa issues from groups based, according to The Iowa Independent, in Mississippi (American Family Association), Washington, D.C. (Family Research Council), Arizona (Alliance Defense Fund), Georgia (Faith & Freedom Coalition) and New Jersey (National Organization for Marriage)? I don't think so, but then I have faith in Iowans to decide their own fate unlikepIpes Rep. Steve King who is happy to collaborate with interloping outsiders.

The most offensive piece of doublespeak being pushed this season is the "Vote NO to Activist Judges" campaign which would have us destroy our great tradition of a non-political judiciary in the name of keeping our courts "activist free" through political scheming which would virtually guarantee that any future judges would have to be political, partisan campaigners. The kindest thing anyone can say about this campaign is it's like pulling perfectly good teeth.

So let's set aside agendas for one moment and operate from a place of pure, unadulturated, utilitarian pragmatism. Let's use the kind of "enlightened self-interest" that would have made Ayn Rand smile quietly to herself.

According to Jennifer Merriman, communications/new media organizer for OneIowa, there are very good reasons of self-interest why no one should consider politicizing Iowa justices. They are: "Voting out the justices will not reverse the marriage decision. It will not change how justices are chosen. Voting out the justices will make them more likely to take popular opinion into account when making decisions. If one is opposed to gay marriage, one should know that popular opinion is weighing more and more toward gay marriage every day. Voting out the justices WILL make it more likely that a defendant will face a prosecution that's donated to the justice's campaign."

Connie Ryan Terrell of Interfaith Alliance Iowa offered good questions voters should ask themselves when deciding how to vote.

"Do voters really want to have this battle every two years? Do they really want to have to spend millions every two years? Do they really want judges who blow with the wind on whatever 'popular' opinion is every two years? Do they really want judges who are beholden to the other side’s special interest (whatever that happens to be) every two years?"

Greg Jerrett is a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He can be contacted at gjerrett@gmail.com.

Ignore the narrative, process is the point of elections

Possible column topics whirled around my head while re-organizing my library this week. There is something humbling about being the caretaker of many great volumes of philosophy, science, politics and literature. It's not just the dusting involved -- though I confess it can be tedious -- rather it is the sheer magnificent weight of great historical thinkers that makes one feel as significant as a dirty penny in a jar of new nickels. Especially when one lives in an age of spare change.

With a Templeton  Rye in one hand and a homeless copy of "Moby Dick" in the other, I was struck by the notion that no one knows ahead of time just how important their work will be when viewed in hindsight. Nor should we focus so hard on outcomes that we short change the process. Had someone told Melville he'd die broke, he might have chosen another line of work. Had he known his work's future worth, he might have written a sequel ("Moby Dick 2: They Still Call Me Ishmael") gutting our love for the original. 

We live inside the big picture we help to create. We spring from cultural traditions we maintain as much as change. For better or for worse, we build the future from the bricks of the past and the mortar of right now. The quality of our work will be judged by generations yet unborn to parents and grandparents yet to be. We have an obligation to do our best because the only condemnation the future can ever teally saddle the the pastwith is that "the people of that time didn't try hard enough to be better."        

So as we approach Nov. 2, I feel ethically, if not morally, obligated to discuss the election. First up, broad strokes. In bombastic times, I feel the need to make my positions as entertaining as possible without yielding too much dignity to populism. But then I remember that popularity, populism and politics are all rooted in the same notion of people-pleasing. It is no coincidence that people love to watch and vote for the next "American Idol" pop singer more often and more consistently than they pay attention and vote in boring local, state and mid-term national elections. These merely effect our lives. 

It's about perception, investment and return. Even if one pays each time to vote for the next "idol" and their choice doesn't win, most viewer-voters don't feel they've wasted their time -- ironic as this might seem to Ruben Studdard fans. This is because no one perceives that they've been robbed. They were going to watch anyway. No one lives or dies by the outcome and if their contestant wins, they feel a part of that success. A week later, they can forget all about it and move on to the next reality/talent show. 

Politics and talent shows can both be entertaining, but political contests rarely result in victory for the most talented participant. The only commonality between talent shows and politics is they both make good use of narrative to change the outcome.

"A narrative" is just a fancy way of saying "a story" without it sounding like a complete fiction. We all have a story, but how we tell it changes how we are perceived. Sometimes, people fudge the details, highlight their best points or just lie with varying levels of success. Sometimes, storytellers are so good at telling their story it doesn't matter so much what the truth is. Anyone who's read Hunter S. Thompson knows this.

An entertaining story overshadows dry issues and confuses voters. Political action groups depend on it to get their way. They're convinced of their righteousness so it doesn't matter if you are too so long as you vote the way they want you to.   

Political victories can be hollow ones. Even the best are about as hair-raising as paying your bills on time but the long-term goal of a stable democracy is worth our diligence. 

This election, please familiarize yourself with the issues. Vote your conscience, ignore the noise of outside influence and remember that process is the point with history our only judge.   

Greg Jerrett is a freelance writer, marketing consultant and not a paid spokesman for Templeton. He can be contacted at gjerrett@gmail.com. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sneak peak

I'm often fascinated by how parochial our coastal cousins appear when talking about those of us living in what they condescendingly refer to as "the fly-over states" and patronizingly as "Middle America." They mean "hicks," of course, but like to think we don't "get it." They know nothing of our ways and lump us all together. They don't appreciate the diversity out here or the complexities of our lives, which aren't mysterious or idyllic, just different from theirs. And only a bit.