Mr. Nussle Goes Back to Iowa
The Prairie Progressive
by Jae Retz
Remember that old Frank Capra classic about a man without a political bone in his body going to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Washington to replace a deceased senator?
A K-street hardened Jim Nussle coming back to Iowa to run for governor is about as far as you can get from the pure soul played by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Mr. Smith is head of a boy’s organization called the Boy Rangers. If it had been the Boy Scouts, we’d have at least one point of agreement between the 1939 movie and the 2006 campaign: neither the Boy Scouts nor Jim Nussle like being around gay people.
But Mr. Smith and Mr. Nussle go in opposite directions, Smith from a beautiful unnamed western state east to the nation’s capitol, Nussle from Washington DC back to Iowa. Since, as Nussle has sagely observed, Iowa has “no mountains, oceans or theme parks,” he suggests selling our quality of life. Indeed, a ban on gay marriage is a “quality of life tool,” and there are others: a ban on abortion, a ban on undocumented workers, a ban on stem cell research. He could run as the deodorant governor.
Were it not for that stench of corruption following him. While Mr. Smith wouldn’t have dreamed of leaving behind the roots of his home state, Mr. Nussle is striving hard to shake off the baggage of his years in Washington. But look! Here come the Swift Boat Boys of Texas and their smelly attack ads! And if he has his way on the issue of choice, he’ll turn Iowa into the next South Dakota. Since he is joined at the hip with a president who shoots from the hip, will we have to fear a governor Nussle invading those godless blue states Minnesota and Illinois?
The vast divide separating Mr. Smith and Mr. Nussle begins with their names. Jefferson Smith is named after a Founding Father who believed “Among the first of [nature’s] laws, is that which bids us to succor those in distress.” James Hoover Nussle shares a name with the man who could have ended the Great Depression, had he not feared making the people dependent on their government. (So instead he gave $25 million to dairy farmers to feed their cows).
The Lincoln Memorial plays a prominent role in the movie. Mr. Smith stands in awe at the feet of Lincoln,reading the highlighted words inscribed on the wall—“with malice towards none, with charity towards all”—and listening to a young boy recite the words “a government of the people, by the people, for the people.” Mr. Nussle sat at the feet of Newt Gingrich, Founding Father of electoral character assassination, the man who put out a Contract on America designed to eliminate the helping hand of government from people’s lives. Mr. Nussle has been a key player in the scheme to replace the Democrats’ safety net with a Republican cement slab.
Mr. Smith wears a trademark hat to set himself off from the other senators. Mr. Nussle became famous for a different sort of headgear. Back in 1991, ashamed that his colleagues were bouncing checks at the House bank, Mr. Nussle showed up on the House floor with a brown paper bag over his head. That’s back when he still cared about an overdraft, and before he would, as Chair of the House Budget Committee, give a new twist to that famous Hoover quote: “Blessed are the young, for they shall inherit the national debt.”
Natural disasters play an important role in each man’s life. Jefferson Smith becomes a public hero when he puts out a forest fire all by himself. Jim Hoover Nussle couldn’t stop the Great Flood of 1993, but he did try mightily to keep $3 billion of flood relief from flowing into Iowa and the Midwest, arguing that fighting deficits was as important as funding disaster aid. When all is said and done, couldn’t you say that Mr. Smith and Mr. Nussle are as different as fire and water?
But wait! Hold the presses! Mr. Smith and Mr. Nussle do have one thing in common—both fall in love with a secretary.
But even there we find a huge difference. Mr. Smith: eligible bachelor. Mr. Nussle: a wife and two kids back in Iowa. So, if by some grand perversion of justice, not to mention family values, Mr. Nussle moves into Terrace Hill with Newt Gingrich’s former secretary as first lady and sets about to do for Iowa what he and Bush have done for America, he should do so with that shame sack over his head. It would be a quality of life tool.
From the Fall 2006 issue of the Prairie Progressive, Iowa's oldest progressive newsletter, available only in hard copy for $12/yr. To subscribe, write to: PP, Box 1945, Iowa City 52244. Co-editors of The Prairie Progressive are Jeff Cox and Dave Leshtz