Commentary

Lawmaker flips the bird at the Capitol. I’m all out of (you know what).

January 31, 2022 8:00 am

(Photo illustration by Iowa Capital Dispatch. Capitol dome photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A fellow journalist, whom I greatly respect and admire, urged me last week to respond to a crass display by a state lawmaker in the Capitol rotunda.

I sighed and wondered if I had any effs left to give.

For those of you who have wisely stuck to your New Year’s resolution to stay off social media, here it is, courtesy of WHO-TV.

In case you can’t tell, the blurred-out gesture is state Rep. Bobby Kaufmann holding up the middle finger of each hand.

Speaking at a rally calling for a U.S. constitutional convention, the Republican from Wilton said that was his message to “gun-grabbing, freedom-hating, over-regulating, civil liberty-violating tyrants” in the federal government.

Iowa Capital Dispatch covered the rally on Tuesday but did not report on Kaufmann’s display. We were busy that day writing about issues that affect Iowans’ lives: a court ruling on school mask mandates, state-funded grants for private school students, workplace protections for pregnant workers, ethanol mandates and more.

Still, my journalist friend, as he always does, went right to the heart of the matter. Leadership, he wrote, “requires comment, and no comment is, actually a comment in a situation like this.”

So, after trying unsuccessfully to get him to write the column instead, here are a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I can’t pretend to be shocked or even particularly offended by Kaufmann’s gesture. It’s all over social media these days. Parents even gleefully post photos of their infants inadvertently flipping a tiny bird to the camera, as if it were the cutest thing ever. (I always wonder how precious it will seem when the little darling directs the same finger to her Sunday school teacher.)

After all the signs I’ve seen at Trump political rallies spelling out the F-word in large scrawls for all to see, and people on the other side flipping off Trump’s motorcade, it’s yet another example of how coarse and profane our discourse has become. I fear it’s a dire omen for our democracy, which depends on people working together. But finger-wagging from the press only spurs these people to escalate their behavior.

It no longer amazes me that some adults who will parade around wearing T-shirts emblazoned with profanity in front of TV cameras are so very indignant when some of the same words show up in books their teenage kids are reading.

Double standards and hypocrisy are the bread and butter of politics these days. Gov. Kim Reynolds was so shocked and outraged by a passage in a book that is available in some high schools that she read aloud a passage about oral sex during a television interview, where it could be viewed by children whose reading hadn’t progressed beyond Dr. Seuss. I’m pretty sure these books aren’t on the elementary school reading list.

Ultimately, Kaufmann’s gesture is an expression of contempt for people who disagree with him, including some of his constituents. That, unfortunately, is also not a new development in politics, although I’ve never seen it so graphically displayed at a public event in our State Capitol.

Not so many years ago, people working in that most public of buildings were expected to treat others with respect, even if they disagreed about everything else. Those days are gone, even though most of our elected officials still demand to be treated with respect when they are out in public. Good luck with that, Bobby. I’m all out of pearls to clutch.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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