The Whiff of "Manure is in the Air" in Iowa

Spring draws nigh and in Midwestern states like Iowa, in which I have spent a considerable amount of my adult life, the sweet smell of cow manure, is in the air. It is time to fertilize those grain fields in the biggest chunk of prime prairie farmland in the world. The smell of manure hangs heavy in the Great State of Iowa and the smell is, well, pungent. Which jogs my memory of something that is happening in Iowa this spring, the start of the presidential campaign.

I heard this on the radio the other day, a rather cynical comment, but probably fairly true: “All politicians are bought by special interests, and because they are bought and paid for one should vote for the candidate who has been bought by the interests you agree with”. Of course, theoretically, politicians will vote their conscience and not be solely motivated by pleasing their contributors and supporters. If the first observation is too cynical the second is probably extremely naïve.

The comment did start me thinking. We all know that money plays a huge role in national politics. As the presidential campaigns start gearing up in Iowa political pundits are already predicting that for the first time a candidate’s campaign will top one billion dollars in individual contributions. And even on the State level, Legislative races that were funded by twenty or thirty thousand dollars many short years ago are into the hundreds of thousands. We Americans have been trumpeting the need for campaign finance reform for many years, probably back to the 1950’s or before, yet the dollars just get bigger every year. It seems that Americans somehow, for all their complaining, really like the fact that if one has enough money a politician can be owned. So why should one even listen to the campaign rhetoric? All that needs to be done to make an intelligent voting decision is to obtain the list of donors and vote for the candidate whose list most matches your own interests. There is a grain of truth in that.

In education the special interests are gearing up once again to raise huge amounts of money to buy not just one, but several politicians. The teachers’ unions are pitted against the “standardizers” i.e. the people who want standard tests, standard curricula and standard teacher evaluation, probably even standard uniforms. The special interests break down pretty much along party lines; the democrats are backed by the underpaid, over-worked and much maligned teachers and the republicans are backed by the corporate behemoths that need employees with the skills required to generate ever greater profits for CEOs and other high level corporate fat-cats. Or is it the other way around? Doesn’t this seem to fit into that category of “same old, same old”, or “SSDD, Same Stuff, Different Day”? Which gets me back to that sweet smell of cow manure.

The fact of the matter is that there is not all that much cow manure spread on Midwestern farmland each year. That is because the agriculture industry has modernized! Amazingly, farmers now put nitrogen and other chemicals on farmland, and they take advantage of genetic engineering of grain seed to produce higher crop yields. But politicians are stuck in the cow pies of yesterday. They still feed the country, on the one hand, whatever pile of fertilizer the teachers’ unions dish out, and on the other hand whatever cow manure big business comes up with for “educational advancement” in the increasingly competitive global quest for the almighty dollar.

I for one will be attempting at every level of the political spectrum from national to local school boards to identify those few candidates (believe me there are only a few) who may not have been bought and paid for, who just might attempt to infuse some new concepts such as common sense into the equation and not be governed by who paid for their campaign. In other words candidates who will take the risk of being one-termers to put students first over special interests. In simple terms, people who are not slinging the same old cow manure. And the issue of the Common Man? Who is the common man? Who do the politicians think the common man is? That is another story. There is a whiff of manure in the air in Iowa, but very little of that whiff is coming from farmers.

Dr. Carolyn Koos