Thursday, November 29, 2007

This Seed Hat Wearer Is Not Offended

So I'm just minding my own business in my little corner of heaven out here in the country, and all of a sudden I hear there's some kind of dust-up about something Barack Obama said in regard to rural Iowans. It had something to do with seed hats, so of course I was interested.

As a rural Iowan who is rarely seen in public without a seed hat planted firmly on his head, I needed to learn what disgusting derogatory comment was made so I could take action against this outrage. So I did some digging.

They say it all started with Obama's appearance on Nightline a few days ago. Strange, I thought. I'd watched Terry Moran's Obama interview on Nightline, and heard nothing to which a rural Iowan should take offense. Maybe I just missed it, maybe I dozed off.

A look at the transcript would reveal it, I thought. Here's what I found:

MORAN: Do you think Americans are challenged by voting potentially for a presidential candidate who didn't have an American boyhood?
OBAMA: Oh, well, I think that it is both a challenge and an opportunity. I think there's no doubt that the fact that my name is Barack Obama and that my father was from Kenya and that I grew up in Hawaii that there's that whole exotic aspect to me that people, I think, have to get past. But they also, surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa, recognize the opportunity to send a signal to the world that, you know, we are not as ingrown, as parochial as you may perceive or as the Bush administration seems to have communicated, that we are, in fact, embracing the world, we are listening, we are concerned, we want to be engaged. We want to be safe. We want to be treated fairly. We want to make sure that, whether it's on trade relations or dealing with terrorism, that our national interests are dealt with. But we also recognize that we're part of the world community. And I think it was interesting, just here in Dunlap, you notice that some of the biggest applause was when I talked about wanting America to be respected again in the world. People understand this in a very significant way.

Still nothing about seed hats. But apparently I'm supposed to be irked about the "surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa" phrase. That's what bloggers in Los Angeles are saying, anyway. They're saying I should be steaming mad about this.

As I sit here and think about it, I actually don't take offense to that comment at all. To the contrary, I fully agree with Obama on this point. I've always been bothered by the stereotype of rural America that's been pushed by George W. Bush and many Republicans. This idea that we all ascribe to the Bush view of the world, the cowboy diplomacy, the "with us or against us" attitude of addressing world affairs.

Obama's right. Even in places where you wouldn't expect it, people are deeply concerned about America's standing in the world.

I've seen this concern throughout the past year at the dozens of political events I've attended. And like Obama, I've been surprised as well. People out here in the small towns are not asking the candidates much about corn, or soybeans, or hogs. I even wrote a story about that very subject a couple weeks ago. A candidate can do a major policy rollout on agricultural issues and people say "ho-hum." People out here are worried about Iraq, and terrorism. And they talk about torture. They're upset about our porous borders and they wonder why Bin Ladin got away. And they're asking candidates about gas prices and our dependence on foreign oil.

They want America to be seen once again as the respected leader in the world.

Just last Saturday, Joe Biden came to Albia and took questions for more than an hour from local residents. There wasn't a single question asked about agriculture. Not one. A young woman sitting behind me asked Biden about how he would prevent further genocide in Darfur. Her question was thoughtful and informed, and she asked it boldly. Biden looked very surprised to hear such a question from such a young Iowan, but I must say I was surprised as well. And I was proud of the fact that folks in my hometown take their role in the Iowa caucuses so seriously.

So anyway I still needed to get to the bottom of this Obama seed hat business. Here's where it came from, in an appearance on the Tonight Show.

JAY LENO: Let me ask you, you've been campaigning for quite a while now. Anything surprised you? Obviously they brief you. You get out there and you think -- I don't know if you saw our Jay Walking how amazing what people don't know. Is there anything you go, "Do people even know what we're talking about?"
OBAMA: You know, folks in Iowa are really well informed. I'm spending a lot of time there.
JAY LENO: That's really good.
OBAMA: I'm just telling you, you go to some barn somewhere and some guy in overalls and a seed hat, he's say, "What is your policy on Burma?" And it turns out I think people are a lot more plugged in.

I know a lot of guys who wear overalls and seed hats, and I'm sure none of them would be offended by that. They would nod and agree.

Now, if I could just get the candidates to answer some questions about farm programs...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Joe Biden Visits Albia

Joe Biden paid us a visit today in Albia. Here's a photo of him with my son, Aidan, and my wife, Steva.

The Delaware Senator is working very hard to break into the top tier, and if he can continue to connect with one voter at a time like he did today, he will get there soon.

Biden is very good at connecting with people in these small settings. It's events like this when he has the time he needs to go into great detail about his views on major issues. His deep experience really shines through.

As I've written on this blog before, I believe Biden is going to be one candidate that will surprise people on caucus night.

Update: Had a couple more photos sent to me today. I added them on Aidan's blog. Click here to check them out.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Agriculture and the Caucuses

The national media tends to perpetuate a myth that presidential candidates are always pandering to Iowa farmers. As I have followed this campaign very closely throughout the year, I've found that is simply untrue.

With a few exceptions, it's been tough to catch a candidate talking in depth about agriculture. They just don't talk about it or get asked about it very much.

Yesterday I interviewed Iowa Farmers Union president Chris Petersen for an article on Iowa Independent. Petersen has generally been disappointed with the discussion of ag issues during the campaign, but says some of the candidates are now starting to see the light. Here's a link to the article.

Friday, November 16, 2007 Democratic Candidate Power Rankings

Iowa Independent has a new feature starting today. It's called the Power Ranking, and it explains how we believe the Iowa caucus races are shaping up at this moment.

Check it out, and be sure to share your ideas over there at Iowa Independent in the comments.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

CNN Las Vegas Debate Reactions

Who was the winner? Who was the loser?

Not sure if there was a winner. The loser was CNN. Wolf Blitzer had zero command of the stage as moderator. There were technical foul-ups throughout the evening. Post-debate analysis was virtually unwatchable.

Tonight's effort by CNN should be studied in a new college course: How Not To Run A Presidential Debate 101.

Farm Bill Cloture Vote Possible Friday

The 2007 Farm Bill is still stuck in the U.S. Senate, and Democrats and Republicans have been trying to blame each other for the impasse for almost two weeks.

On Friday, a key vote to break the deadlock is likely to be held. Senators may have the opportunity to vote on a motion for cloture, a procedural move that would limit debate on the bill and finally get the ball rolling.

One problem: Cloture motions in the Senate require a 60-vote majority to pass, and a small gang of senators are currently on the other side of the country having a debate in Nevada.

Sens. Biden, Dodd, Clinton and Obama, along with the rest of the Democratic presidential candidates, are all mixing it up right now in Las Vegas. But we know those senators will all soon return to Iowa and continue asking us to support their candidacies.

For Iowans, especially rural Iowans, the Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation that the Congress will debate this year. This is a vote that those senators should not miss.

Luckily they're in Las Vegas, where it's always easy to catch a flight.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Questions About Planting

Considering the regular agriculture-related content of this blog, you might think by reading the headline of this post that it's going to discuss questions farmers may have about planting corn or beans.

But of course this isn't about that.

As regular readers of this blog know, I had the honor of welcoming a presidential candidate to my community last week. You can read all about it here. And as I've said before, I'd be happy to show off my beautiful community with any other presidential candidates who'd like to pay us a visit. I think it's fun and it's good for Albia to get the attention it deserves.

I did in fact visit with some reporters that day, and lo and behold, I was quoted in a story that appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times today. Unfortunately, the story is sorta screwy.

No offense is intended to Ms. S. Jennifer Hunter, the author of the article, who I must say was genuinely affable and professional that day. And she was also quite cordial on Saturday, when I ran into her again at the Iowa Farmers Union event in Des Moines.

But the point of her article...well, it's way off the mark. Ms. Hunter attempted to use my comments to prove a point that is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Basically, Ms. Hunter says, a camera-ready moment created by the Obama campaign in picturesque Albia is no different from Hillary Clinton's campaign planting questions at public forums.

This assertion is as amazing as it is illogical.

Was the Obama stop in Albia pre-arranged? Sorta. They called my brother Joe beforehand and asked him to meet Sen. Obama on the square in Albia and give him a brief tour if they had enough time between scheduled events. Joe is the Monroe County Democratic Party chair, and an Obama precinct captain.

I was asked to tag along, and I thought it would be fun.

From my experience on political campaigns, a certain amount of planning must be done for every little moment. And we know how things have to be checked out and cleared in advance with the Secret Service. Reporters at the Chicago Sun-Times ought to know that, too. Campaigns have to plan ahead for things like this.

I don't know all of the details about what kind of planning went into the Obama stop in Albia. I was just asked to go meet him on the square in Albia. But I do know the stop was not part of their official schedule, and it was only going to happen if they had enough time. And, just an hour before the stop was supposed to happen, they told Joe that it could be called off at any minute if they were running late.

I think they just wanted to stop in Albia so they could cross Albia off the list of places they needed to hit before the end of the campaign. No problem here. I think all presidential candidates should come to Albia, and only a few of them actually have made it here so far.

Anyway, the Obama stop in Albia was certainly a well-orchestrated campaign moment. But that's all it was.

As far as I know, my brother and I were the only people in town who knew about it in advance. And it was totally obvious to everyone there that day -- we knew Obama was coming. We were standing there on the street in Albia waiting for him to arrive.

Here's my point: In this instance, the Obama campaign wasn't trying to trick anybody.

Is this kind of photo-op moment the same as getting someone at a public forum to ask a pre-arranged question all while pretending like it's an impromptu question?

Nope. It's not.

Farm Bill Action Expected This Afternoon

I'll be watching the U.S. Senate closely this afternoon, as debate on the 2007 Farm Bill is expected to soon resume. We might actually see some votes on key amendments to the bill.

I'll be posting Farm Bill stories regularly on Iowa Independent, so check it out over there.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A Few Campaign Photos From the Past Week

I've been to several different campaign events in the area over the past week. I took lots of photos, and here are some of them.
This was at a Joe Biden event in Osky on Sunday. Biden is welcomed to town by Rep. Eric Palmer.
The Biden event at Taso's in Osky was quite full. He is a very engaging campaigner, and I think everyone who attends a Biden event will give him very serious consideration as their choice in the caucuses. His strength is definitely growing, even though polls don't show it. He is the kind of candidate that will surprise people on caucus night.

The next set of photos are from a Hillary Clinton event in Oskaloosa last Saturday. Her events are very impressive, and it's easy to see why she's the front-runner. She clearly has the support of many of the traditional Iowa caucus constituencies. And as you can see below, she actually does take questions from the crowd. At this event she took at least five questions from people in the crowd. She'll even hold the microphone for you.

Obama Makes Unscheduled Stop in Albia

Yesterday was definitely one to remember. Most importantly, it was my wife's birthday. After a hectic day we were able to sit down and have some birthday cake to celebrate the occasion.

But something else happened here yesterday that sure doesn't happen everyday. Barack Obama was traveling from Ottumwa to Chariton, and he stopped halfway in Albia for a quick unscheduled visit to our beautiful community.

My brother Joe is a big Obama supporter. Joe asked me to go with him up to the square and meet Obama and show him around town a little bit. Being the total political junkie that I am, I jumped at the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with the Senator from Illinois. And I've always been eager and happy to show off our town to people from other parts of the country. We really have a wonderful, beautiful town square and people are always surprised to see it.

The whole afternoon was kind of a surreal experience. I've witnessed tons of these kinds of moments, but this was different.

The whole gaggle of press photographers and reporters were snapping photos of us the entire time. As is always the case with these kinds of things, the Obama campaign had basically choreographed the whole thing. But things didn't exactly follow the plan.

We walked across Albia's historic square and Sen. Obama asked us questions about Albia. I told him about Robert T. Bates and the Bates Foundation, which has helped to maintain and restore the historic buildings on the Albia square.

Joe, who is a teacher at Albia Community High School, talked to Obama about the schools and students.

We continued down the street to Smitty's Sandwich Shop, a local fixture in Albia, famous for their home-made tenderloins. We go into Smitty's and there are probably 25-30 reporters and photographers and campaign workers and Secret Service people all elbowing their way into the small restaurant.

We continue our chat as the photographers snap away. I talked briefly with Obama about the Farm Bill and rural Iowa and stuff.

We get our tenderloins (Obama takes his tenderloin to go) and make our way out of the restaurant. And then Obama decides to walk over to Vitko's service station. I guess this was not part of the plan, because I hear Secret Service guys saying "What, where's he going?"

He's starting to draw a crowd as he visits with people at Vitko's, and then he goes in and meets Ray Vitko Sr. and chats with folks there for a few minutes before walking back to the bus.

It was a great opportunity to show off our town to such a large audience. I'd be very happy to welcome any of the presidential candidates to Albia. We haven't seen Hillary in Albia yet, or Joe Biden or Chris Dodd. And on the Republican side we've only had visits from Tommy Thompson and John Cox. I'd certainly welcome any of them to Albia and I'd love to show them around town.

Here are a few photos:
My brother Joe with Sen. Barack Obama in Albia, just outside of Smitty's Sandwich Shop.

Obama visits with Sally McDonald at Smitty's. Sally has worked behind the counter at Smitty's for many years. Her daughter owns the place.

Smitty's owner Shari Lepley, Obama and Sally McDonald.