Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Charles Grassley, Charles Grassley

Some time before 40-plus years in Congress
Charles Grassley and I go back a long way. I don't know Senator Grassley personally, but I've known of him for a long time. My acquaintance goes back to the late 60s or early 1970s when I was still an ardent young Republican. Grassley began his career as a politician in 1959 (when I was six years old), serving in the Iowa Legislature from Bremer County and surrounding regions. Grassley quickly became a prominent voice in the Iowa Republican Party, which was divided between moderates, such as Bob Ray and Fred Schwengel, and conservatives like the incumbent Congressman from Grassley's part of the state, H. R. Gross, and Gross’s protégé, Charles Grassley. Gross and others like him (such as ol’ Ben Jensen in my Seventh District), had served in Congress since the New Deal and were still busy trying to repeal it. They were known for their staunch anti-government and anti-Communist agendas. (Well, anti-government unless it involved farm programs.) This split in the Republican Party between moderates and conservatives had festered for a long time, but the split became acute in 1964 when Barry Goldwater wrestled the nomination away from moderate Republicans, which would have included even Richard Nixon, who seems almost a Communist by current Republican standards.

I recall making some disparaging or belittling remark about Grassley in front of our family friend, Bob Tyson, who had served in the 1960s as the executive secretary of the Iowa Republican Party, and who later served in Bob Ray's gubernatorial administration. Bob knew pretty much everyone and everything about the Republican Party in Iowa. He cautioned me against taking Grassley too lightly. Remarking that while Grassley may appear simply as a bumpkin just off the farm, in fact, he had a master’s degree in political science from UNI and had begun work toward a Ph.D. at the University of Iowa (which I was attending at the time as a political science major). Well, I’ll be darned!  Grassley never played that up. As most Iowans know, Grassley has a friendly, awe-shucks demeanor with a voice and delivery that comes awfully close to that of mimicking Huckleberry Hound.

Fast forward now to 1974, when just married, I was living in Cedar Falls and the off year elections were just coming up. Richard Nixon had just resigned as president, and it was not looking to be a good year for Republicans. H.R. Gross decided to hang it up that year, and the Republicans nominated Charles Grassley to replace him. On the Democrat side, they nominated a bright young attorney from Waterloo, Stephen Rapp, who, as I recall, was reported to have shared rides with Grassley down to legislative sessions in Des Moines. By this time, I was starting to wander around a way step-by-step and vote-by-vote away from the Republican fold (and not because I had just married a pretty Democrat). So this election gave me my first opportunity to vote against Charles Grassley, and I did so—to no avail. And not for the last time. Grassley eked out a very narrow victory over Rapp and began his stint in Congress that has now run over 40 years.

Eventually, Grassley moved on to the Senate, where he initially served with a guy named Roger Jepsen, a vain and unimaginative senator, and together they were dubbed “Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dumber. However, based on the insight from many years before that I'd received about him, I knew this was an unfair assessment of Grassley, as many have learned since. Charles Grassley is dumb like a fox. Anyone who is survived in politics as long has knows how to do things right [sic], at least in the minds of Iowa voters. During his time in the Senate, I heard Grassley speak both in person and in the media, and his low-key demeanor—if not persuasive—is at least not off-putting. Also, I had the opportunity to observe him in casual situations. On trips to visit our daughters living on the east coast, we would see him at the Cedar Rapids airport flying back and forth from Washington DC. He traveled alone, without an entourage, without flourish, and he could have gone totally unnoticed but for the occasional newspaper and television images of him that would have tipped off an observer that a member of the Senate was amongst them. Also, because we had a daughter who played on the club volleyball circuit in high school, we saw Grassley at a large tournament one weekend in Cedar Falls. One of Grassley’s sons is a prominent volleyball coach in the area, and there was Senator Grassley tootling around the gymnasium complex just as if he was another grandpa to watch a granddaughter's matches, quietly shuffling along with the crowd. (Maybe he had a granddaughter playing, I don’t know.) I have to admit that no one could accuse Grassley of putting on airs.

Also in the early 1990s, Grassley surprised a lot of other people and me when he voted against President George H.W. Bush’s resolution to attack Iraq to take back Kuwait from Saddam Hussein. Of course, Grassley was on the losing end of that vote, but it seemed to me a courageous thing to do, bucking the trend that a majority of Republicans and Democrats, along with his Republican president. It suggested to me that Grassley had a genuine streak of independence and judgment about him.


But now we come to recent time. After his election in 2008, President Obama looked to the Senate Finance Committee in an attempt to work out a health care reform proposal that could gain acceptance from at least some on both sides of the aisle. He hoped to work with Grassley. After all, Obama knew that his plan was essentially that of the conservative Heritage Foundation and Mitt Romney, who sponsored a similar program when he was governor of Massachusetts. But when the Obama Administration came knocking on Grassley's door, Grassley refused to answer. Indeed, virtually all Republicans refused to answer, apparently taking their cue from Mitch McConnell, who described their job as one of making sure that Obama would only be a one term president, (That worked well, didn’t it?). I'd never call Charles Grassley enlightened, progressive, or nonpartisan, but I thought he would negotiate to reach some agreement on this important issue. Instead, Grassley went on the hustings and countenanced talk about “death panels”.  My begrudging admiration for Grassley took a plunge equivalent to that of the stock market in 2008. Grassley was now displaying the type of partisanship that has destroyed the public's confidence in Congress, which currently receives a whopping single-digit approval rating. This same extreme partisanship continues to poison the well of political debate. I was disappointed with his intransigence, especially because Grassley had never lost an election and seemed more than safe to keep his seat until he retires or croaks (at age 82 you need to be frank about this possibility). But I underestimated his attachment to keeping a Senate seat and the fear that he developed about the growing Tea Party (or alt-right) wing of the Republican party that was taking down incumbent senators and representatives— some dyed-in-wool conservatives—as too moderate. The extremists were on the move, and they obviously scared Grassley.

During the Obama administration, Grassley has only grown worse. Now as chairman of
The Grinch of the Supreme Court
the Senate Judiciary Committee, he’s shirking his constitutional duty to act upon a presidential nomination to the Supreme Court. Grassley has refused to do his job. His excuses for doing so, including “leaving it to the people" by shunning his duty until after the next election. The argument is weak to the point of being farcical. It is an unalloyed act of partisanship that indicates he wants Donald Trump (more on this guy later) to fill this current Supreme Court vacancy. Despite the unimpeachable credentials of President Obama's nominee Merrick Garland, a moderate and sensible jurist praised by Grassley upon his approval for the US Circuit Court of Appeals, Grassley actively collaborates with the obstructionist leadership of the Republican Party to keep the Court partially vacant rather than approve another Obama appointee.

I thought my estimation of Senator Grassley could not go lower, but I learned that it could. He supports Donald Trump. And he has attempted to excuse Trump's racist remarks about a U.S. District Court Judge (Curiel). Of course, this is only the one instance of a non-stop eruption of offensive and demagogic nonsense that issues from Trump’s mouth (or Twitter account). Grassley, seeking re- election this year, is buying into it, excusing it, and even promoting it.

The term “Vichy Republicans”, which alludes to the French government that collaborated with the Nazis, has become a hashtag on Twitter and represents the attitude of Republicans who know (and admit to knowing) a demagogue when they encounter one. One can argue that this is an overblown metaphor, but it captures the level of capitulation that Republican leaders, which ought to include Grassley, have sunk in accepting the demagoguery of Donald Trump. It’s obvious that more than the welfare of the Republic, Grassley wants reelection. He believes that by joining in the politics of resentment and nativism cultivated by Trump, Grassley can avoid the wrath of the extremist right and win reelection. He’s counting on his good name and reputation—and the lassitude of most voters—to overlook his bargain with the devil. Damn the consequences of a demagogue like Trump to the nation, damn the judgment of some courageous Republicans like Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Max Kirk of Illinois, who have repudiated Trump—to retain his position and power for another six years, Grassley is willing to aid and abet the politics of Trump. Charles Grassley wants reelection at age 83 more than he cares about the integrity of our politics. He’s sold us out.

So again in 2016, I’ll vote against Charles Grassley, as I have on every occasion available to me since my first effort in 1974. Senator. Grassley has always been able to convince a majority of voters that he's the better choice, but now it’s no longer simply a matter of likeability, “common sense”, or sound judgment. Charles Grassley's has destroyed our ability to attribute those virtues to him. He no longer deserves to serve in the U.S. Senate.


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