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August 13, 2014 5:08 PM False Equivalency in Iowa

By Ed Kilgore

Regular readers know how highly I esteem Slate’s Dave Weigel as a reporter and as a political analyst (not to mention as a prolific Twitter-Master!). I quote from and link to his indefatigable work all the time.

But I do think some campaign fatigue may have tricked Dave into a rare “false equivalency” mistake in a post referring to the Braley/Ernst battle in Iowa as “America’s Dumbest Senate Race.”

After extensively defending Bruce Braley against efforts to turn an old “liberals are perceived as elitist” comment into some sort of talking-down-to-Iowans scandal, Weigel kinda throws up his hands:

The individual attacks on Braley, at this point, aren’t individually important. They’re important as bricks in a wall. Democrats are pursuing a similar strategy, plunking down tape after tape of Ernst, who spent a long time as the right-wing candidate in the primary, sounding like a … well, right-wing candidate. Meredith Shiner has the latest example, a debate clip in which Ernst promised that she would oppose the threat posed by the U.N.’s Agenda 21 to suburbanites and farmers. Democrats seek to make voters see Ernst as a Sarah Palin golem; Republicans seek to make voters see Braley as an unrelatable, lawsuit-happy snob. It’s all very inspiring.

Well, sorry, but noting that Joni Ernst clearly and explicitly and repeatedly campaigned on the insane Agenda 21 meme is not at all the same as torturing an unobjectionable Bruce Braley comment about using “words [voters] can understand” into an expression of Liberal Arrogance. Here are some of Ernst’s statements about Agenda 21, from Meredith Shiner of Yahoo’s report on the subject:

Yahoo News has obtained video showing Ernst at a January GOP forum in Montgomery County, Iowa, warning that Agenda 21 could force Iowa farmers off their land, dictate what cities Iowans must live in, and control how Iowa citizens travel from place to place.
“The United Nations has imposed this upon us, and as a U.S. senator, I would say, ‘No more. No more Agenda 21.’ Community planning — to the effect that it is implementing eminent domain and taking away property rights away from individuals — I don’t agree with that. And especially in a place such as Iowa, where we rely heavily upon our agricultural community, our rural communities. We don’t want to see things like eminent domain come into play,” Ernst said in response to a question about Agenda 21 at the forum.
“We don’t want to see a further push with Agenda 21, where the Agenda 21 and the government telling us that these are the urban centers that you will live in; these are the ways that you will travel to other urban centers,” Ernst continued. “Agenda 21 encompasses so many different aspects of our lives that it’s taking away our individual liberties, our freedoms as United States citizens. So I would adamantly oppose Agenda 21. I don’t believe it is responsible, not for United States citizens.”
It wasn’t the only time Ernst addressed the topic or raised such fears during her primary campaign. “What I’ve seen, the implications we could have here, is moving people off of their agricultural land and consolidating them into city centers, and then telling them that you don’t have property rights anymore,” she told a crowd in rural Ida Grove in November 2013, in response to a general foreign policy question and in remarks first reported by the Associated Press in June.

Even now, when Shiner figures Ernst is executing a general election move-to-the-center, it’s not like she’s discounting Agenda 21 as a legitimate “issue”:

“I don’t think that the U.N. Agenda 21 is a threat to Iowa farmers,” Ernst said in an interview in her Urbandale campaign office. “I think there are a lot of people that follow that issue in Iowa. It may be something that is very important to them, but I think Iowans are very smart and that we have a great legislature here, we have a very intelligent governor, and I think that we will protect Iowans.”

In other words, thanks to Terry Branstad and the patriots of the Iowa Legislature, the evil plan of the UN to destroy farming and private property rights just won’t get traction there.

The “Agenda 21” meme, largely invented by the John Birch Society, is a lie, a crazy lie, and a slanderous lie, all in the service of resisting good-government impulses that until recently were unobjectionable in America, in both political parties, like sensible land-use policies. Any candidate who so much as gives it lip service deserves a pounding. Yes, anyone who, like Weigel or yours truly, spends a lot of time following conservative political candidates has gotten over the shock value of hearing about Agenda 21, but that’s no excuse for treating those who expose this outrage as purveyors of “dumb” politics. It is truly an important civic exercise.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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