Mr. Kaufmann, That’s Bullying

Prairie Dog

Reprinted with permission from the January 2017 issue of  The Prairie Progressive.

 – Prairie Dog

Much has been written about Bobby Kaufmann’s latest foray into school-yard bullying. The State Representative for Iowa House District 73, is ‘annoyed’ by high school and college students who feel vulnerable, threatened, and fearful following the November election (known in Prairie Progressive dens as The Night of the Living Dread).

Casual observers may not know that Bobby’s ‘Suck it Up, Buttercup’ proposal is classic Kaufmann. It’s not the first time that he’s been annoyed by young people who don’t have the platform bequeathed to him by his father, former state representative and current Iowa Republican Party Chair Jeff Kaufmann.

What most distinguishes Bobby as a legislator is that he, like all bullies, tends to punch down. Bobby the Bully is Bobby the Brave when he goes after the Governor’s Conference on LGBTQ Youth, or the tiny and universally scorned Westboro Baptist Church.

That LGBT Youth conference, funded privately (despite the word Governor in its title) and coordinated by Iowa Safe Schools, drew over 1000 people in 2015 to listen and talk to local and nationally-known speakers. Bobby, hearing rumors of ‘X-rated’ content, sought to investigate the conference with subpoenas by the House Oversight Committee, which he chairs.
Attempting to use the power of a government committee to intimidate private citizens not involved in a government activity? Mr. Kaufmann, that’s bullying.

We all abhor Westboro’s publicity seeking strategy of desecrating the American flag outside of funerals for veterans. Burning and otherwise defacing the flag are legal acts fully protected by the US Constitution, but once again, Bobby puffed out his chest over a straw man (even the pro-constitutional amendment group Citizens Flag Alliance can count only a handful of flag burnings every year). Seizing another chance for his own publicity, Kaufmann the Younger announced in Letters to the Editor in small-town newspapers that he wasn’t sure what he could do specifically, ‘but count on me to fight with a fiery passion to defend the honor or our flag and our fallen soldiers.’ Those of us who have been targets of Westboro thuggery over the years have learned that they revel in attempts to censor them. Thanks, Bobby, for giving them exactly what they want.

Bobby’s claim that he “value[s] our First Amendment rights” is a joke. Freedom of speech is the same in Washington, DC, in Ferguson, Ohio, and in Bobby’s home town of Wilton, Iowa. Without the freedom to be offensive, it ceases to exist. A protest that fails to annoy or inconvenience may as well not occur. Bobby doesn’t understand our Constitution, or he willfully exploits it for his own self-aggrandizement. Worst of all, Bobby’s faux patriotism is insulting to ‘our flag and our fallen soldiers’ that he pretends to defend ‘with a fiery passion.’ Maybe he is unaware that American soldiers take an oath to protect the Constitution, not the flag.

What also distinguishes Bobby as a legislator is that he, like all bullies, slinks away when he loses control of a situation. Recently Bobby bragged about how many “buttercup” interviews he had done, until he appeared by phone on the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s As it Happens (similar to NPR’s All Things Considered). Bobby obviously relished the attention, talking confidently about a school that had brought in a ‘therapy pony’ to ease students’ anxieties, until host Carol Off politely but firmly pressed him to tell her listeners where the therapy pony had appeared. [Editor’s note: this question is an example of what was once known as ‘journalism.’] After three squirming attempts to not answer, Bobby simply hung up, like a buttercup.

All of this punching down on weaker targets by a privileged son could be excused if he occasionally showed the courage to go after people or groups with genuine power. Bobby’s silence is deafening on the abuse of power by the Board of Regents, the Governor’s trial balloon of cutting IPERS benefits to thousands of working Iowans, the payday loan companies, the nursing home industry, the pharmaceutical lobby, and the countless corporate interests that align themselves against our most defenseless citizens.

Bobby ran unopposed in the last election, in a district that includes a chunk of the People’s Republic of Johnson County. It’s time we challenge Bobby to be a big boy, not a bully, or find someone to take his place.

–Prairie Dog

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