Letter from the editor

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

How Marty McFly stole the election

Remind me, if I should ever become insane and decide to run for some political office, to skip the mudslinging and get some cute and sympathetic figures to hang out with.

Because as near as I can see, it wasn't Chet Culver who won the election, it might just have been Marty McFly. Or Stuart Little, the talking mouse. Or possibly Alex P. Keaton. Or even that smoothie Mike Flaherty from "Spin City."

Yes, I do realize that these are fictional characters, and that you technically cannot vote for a talking mouse in the commonwealth of Iowa without raising eyebrows and earning an all-expense paid vacation to the cranial spa in Cherokee.

But Iowans do vote with their hearts.

Jim Nussle reached for the ultimate trump card and brought the President of the United States to Iowa. At the time he was trailing only slightly in the polls, you would have thought such a political coup would pull him even.

Chet Culver brought an actor - Michael J. Fox. What the heck does an actor from Canada know about Iowa politics?

Do you really think that it's issues that decided the race? That Culver's tax plan is that much superior to Nussle's, or that Nussle's hog factory stance is what engineered a big defeat at the polls?

Some of it is who you choose to party with. Just like your Mom always said.

Fair or not, George W. Bush has for an awful lot of people become a symbol of a war people have grown tired of. Of frustration. Of partisan politics. On second thought, it's not at all fair to the man. But a little of that may have rubbed off all over Nussle's crisp blue button-down oxfords here in Iowa.

Culver kept some distance from the Democrat heavyweights. I didn't see Clintons or Kennedys hauling in their baggage. Even when Gov. Vilsack came to town promoting Culver, old Chester was conspicuously somewhere else.

And Chet's biggest headline came when he rallied with Fox, a victim of a serious disease, sharing in a passionate plea for expanded stem cell research. Someone who to a lot of people stands for courage and hope. Guess that rubs, too.

We will never know how much the candidates' respective choice of invitations in the late running meant, but I suspect that it did in a way define each of them - one as a beltway insider and the other as socially compassionate. Fair? Forget fair - this is politics, and politics is about perception, image, gut feeling.

You could debate all day on whether the kind of stem cell research Fox is talking about could possible change the outcome of Parkinson's Disease at all, or whether it is even right to harvest such cells. But a little bit of hope is a darn powerful tool, maybe even stronger than the presidency.

Seeing such a familiar face speaking out for those who may suffer what he has suffered touches us - regardless of our party affiliation. When a biased media commentator blusters that the ill actor must have manipulated his medication for sympathy, we are repulsed at the meanness, politics aside, because this is Iowa, and we judge with our hearts.

Iowa is not the only race Michael J. Fox may have influenced. He is an impressive, heartfelt spokesperson for what he believes in, and we are hungry for that kind of realness, even when we don't necessarily completely agree.

And did I mention we are plain suckers for unbearable cuteness? That sqeaky cartoon mouse voice? That lopsided smile? Who wants to vote for the guy who might be killing Michael J. Fox?

If I ever run for office, I'd have Johnny Depp, Ugly Betty, Allie McBeal, the lady who does Bart Simpson's voice and Dakota Fanning around at all times. I'll have orphans and three-legged dogs and anything that doesn't smack of the tired partisan poltics - people have seen that show and sent the t-shirt to Goodwill.

And just this quickly, Jim Nussle goes on the scrapheap with K-Fed and Rummy and Dan McCarney. Nothing fair about it.

And suddenly Culver gets a chance to show that his compassion will be about more than a campaign gimmick. We shall see.

Some of you voted for Culver. And some for Nussle. Some were not stirred by either. And I guess more than a few probably voted for Marty McFly.

There has to be a lesson in there, somewhere...


A second proposed massive ethanol plant is planned for the county in the great derby to erect alternative energy plants while the erecting is good. That's good news for jobs, tax base and farm markets. Maybe we won't even need subsidies on corn any more. And yet, devil's advocates among us may wonder:

If the plant we are building at Albert City alone will take more corn than the whole county produced last year, where will the crop come from to run an even bigger one at Alta? Such plants springing up all around us that will demand corn too...

You might wonder what will happen to livestock feed prices for the same farmers and others. You might wonder what will happen to soil, pests and weeds if we stop rotating crops to take perennial advantage of higher corn prices. Or what might happen if government incentives for ethanol are ever withdrawn.

And mostly, you might wonder what will happen to a hungry world if all of our corn goes into gas and not into the food chain and its exports. In the development rush, nobody's asking.

Ethanol is a wonderful thing - a partial answer, and only partial, to our energy dilemma.

I hope both local plants are successes. But somewhere along the line, someone will need to consider when enough is enough.