Beset by nonstop stories about Iowa’s worsening budget crisis, Governor Kim Reynolds has been looking for a way to change the discussion in local political news. So on Monday she took a page out of her favorite racist president’s playbook and criticized the players who were participating in kneeling protests at NFL games.
“While I respect the First Amendment, I just think it is so disrespectful to the men and women who have served,” Reynolds said. “And I would encourage them to get out there and do something. Don’t take a knee, get out there and make a difference. Engage. Go into these cities. Run for office. Support a candidate that you think stands for your beliefs. But let’s not disrespect the men and women who have served to allow us to have the freedoms and liberties we have every day.”
“I would encourage them on their own time to go out, to get engaged,” she added in response to a separate question.
Reynolds got the inquiry unprompted by reporters at her weekly press conference, but it appeared like her team had already discussed her potential response to the controversy, as her staff immediately started promoting her quotes on Twitter. And her campaign quickly pushed out her comments the next day in a fundraising email.
“Here in Iowa, we are proud to call ourselves Americans,” read the fundraising email. “Both Governor Reynolds and Lt. Governor Adam Gregg are proud of the men and women who serve our country and grateful to them for standing in harm’s way to defend our values and our way of life. Honoring the American Flag is a way to pay tribute to these brave men and women, as well as their families.”
Now, it’s not like anyone was expecting the very conservative Reynolds to suddenly embrace the Black Lives Matter movement or to praise the athletes’ actions. But would it really have killed her to mention in her comments that she understands why the players are protesting, or that she appreciates their passion for fixing racial inequality, even if she disagrees with their tactics? Maybe so. Because she just did what all the other race-baiting and racist politicians are doing these days – ignoring the actual intent behind the protests and trying to make it out that they’re attacking soldiers.
And then to double-down in that by fundraising off of it is particularly troublesome. Her campaign falsely frames it as if athletes are intentionally disrespecting soldiers with no other purpose, which is utterly ridiculous and intellectually dishonest. And her suggestion that black Americans should only protest inequalities in the country “on their own time” shows she has no respect for the First Amendment rights that she claims that she cares about – or at least not for people who aren’t white.
With Steve King representing part of the state, it’s not like we haven’t seen a lot of blatant racism and racist dog-whistles in Iowa politics. But for the most part, other leading Republicans and the party have tried to distance themselves from King-like words and controversies. They certainly have had their share of questionable moments on racial issues, but not to the extent where they’re sending out mail ads like their counterparts in Kansas that warned that the Democratic candidate would relocate turban-wearing ISIS terrorists into their neighborhood.
It’ll be interesting to watch how far Reynolds’ campaign is willing to take this in the future. Will they make race-baiting and white resentment a key part of their campaign strategy like Republicans in the Deep South do? It seemed to work to a certain extent for Donald Trump here in 2016. Hang out in Eastern Iowa for a bit and you’ll be all too familiar with people’s charged opinions on “those Chicago people.”
It may depend on just how desperate they get. It’s not like the budget disaster is going to improve anytime soon, and all of next year’s session will focus on painful cuts to key programs, along with more and more debt and borrowing. Most Republicans in Iowa have had the decency to not engage fully in that kind of racial nastiness (they’ve simply lied on other topics like unions, government spending and abortion to get elected). Maybe Reynolds won’t care about the divisiveness and racial strife she causes. Or, perhaps given her comments about NFL players, she has the same dark thoughts and intent that Trump had when first inflaming the issue.
Also, in an unrelated note, Reynolds made a factually incorrect statement immediately after her quote on the NFL.
“I just got back from Israel, and while I was over there, I was over there during 9/11,” Reynolds said. “And it’s the only other country in the world that has a memorial to pay tribute to the men and women who lost their lives due to the terrorism attack on 9/11.”
There’s also 9/11 memorials and statues in Italy, London, and New Zealand. Given that many other countries lost citizens that day and that the world reacted in solidarity with America after the attacks, that seems like an improbable claim that Reynolds just accepted as fact, likely from her Israeli tour guides. Kind of weird.
by Pat Rynard