This is a good day, with the snow starting to come down heavy in storm-braced New York, to look at the only memorable image to come from the State of the Union address. That image came from the response, by Joni Ernst, Iowa’s new U.S. senator.
She spoke, at the top of the speech, of her childhood in Red Oak, the
town in southwestern Iowa where she grew up: “As a young girl, I plowed
the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To
save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardee’s. We were
raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught
me every rainy morning. You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of
shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags
over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed. Because the
school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread
bags slipped over their feet. Our parents may not have had much, but
they worked hard for what they did have.”
Ernst had referred to the bread bags before, most notably on the
campaign trail last summer when she was running against a wealthy
Democratic trial lawyer. What she was saying was: I live in the real world, I came from modest circumstances like most of you, I’m not fancy.
Nothing new in this approach, it’s as old as Pat Nixon and her
Republican cloth coat. Also, to a Republican Party increasingly
interested in class tropes, Ernst was saying: I’m not some scared secret
liberal from the suburbs who’ll throw you over once I get to
Washington, I’m a real conservative.
Leftism too has its class tropes, only they come from the opposite
angle. Response on the left to Ernst and the bread bags was snobbish,
superior and dumb to the point of embarrassing. First, they couldn’t
believe it—no one wears bread bags on their shoes in a storm, how
absurd, she must be developmentally challenged. Then they denigrated
what she said, putting pictures on Twitter of themselves wearing bread
bags on their feet, accompanied by comments that had all the whiff of
the upper class speaking of the quaint ways of the help. Andy Borowitz,
surprisingly, wrote a dumb, leaden spoof in the New Yorker that seemed a
companion piece to Politico’s earlier use of a photo of
Ernst that gave
her crazy eyes.
I liked what Ernst said because it was real. And it reminded me of the old days.
There are a lot of Americans, and most of them seem to be on social
media, who do not know some essentials about their country, but this is
the way it was in America once, only 40 and 50 years ago:
America had less then. Americans had less. (Continues)