The Wonkeye State: How Centrist Reporting Fails Iowa
In an internet era in which information is instantaneous and media is mass produced with spectacle in mind, content is incentivized to be rapidly devised and posted; that is to say, writing is incentivized to be hastily written by rudimentary writers in all domains of public life everywhere.
Very little conveys the niche mediocrity of the internet blogosphere better than Iowa Starting Line, a political news outfit with a noble mission of covering Iowa politics in between rehasing the genteel fuss of Washington Post editorials. Created by former campus Democrat Pat Rynard, Iowa Starting Line is essentially a reimagination of Vox at a localized level, retaining the pedantic Ezra Klein wonkishness and, in true Iowan fashion, eschewing the aesthetically agreeable web design and general awareness of popular culture.
Iowa Starting Line (ISL) at its best offers obvious and unarguably humane liberal-left talking points: GOP healthcare plans will leave millions to suffer, racism is bad, etc. At it’s more typical worst, ISL is a distillation of the feckless and historically oblivious liberalism of 2017. Take the (yes, all caps) headlines of two of its more recent posts:
“WHAT IF DEMOCRATS HAD THEIR OWN TRUMP? HOW WOULD WE HANDLE IT?”
“GEORGE W. BUSH REMINDS US OF AMERICAN DECENCY”
It is truly a feat how well ISL embodies the incompetency of a craven Democratic establishment, an enclave more concerned with the leftward mobilization of the beleaguered bases it has neglected than the imperialistic implications of celebrating the hollow rhetoric of a warmonger responsible for the deaths of thousands across Afghanistan and Iraq.
A quick perusal of ISL’s prosaic two year archive imparts just how firmly entrenched the blog is in the centrist tradition of fundamentally ahistorical political analysis. Rynard, once an acolyte of the indomitably popular Kerry and Clinton campaigns, has published a sizable collection of tepid liberal takes ranging from the habitual chastisement of Democrat infighting to the more offensive paternalism intrinsic to the Democrat’s internal hierarchy. One of the more concerning expositions of ISL’s comfort with the American sociopolitical hierarchy was expressed in Rynard’s own July 2016 op-ed,
“WELL, THAT WAS INTERESTING. BLACK LIVES MATTER RALLIES IN DES MOINES.”
Translated from Iowan to English, “That was interesting” means “I actually fully disapprove of this, but I’m going to vaguely articulate that as to avoid being blatantly racist.” Black struggle is interesting to the quietly haughty liberal observer. This passive condescension becomes Rynard’s instinctive tone of critique.
The article’s pov, almost anthropologically removed, seeks to examine and evaluate the goals of local Des Moines BLM activists, a task that he at least acknowledges his white masculinity separates him from. Despite his basic understanding of privilege and class disparity, his status quo assessment and ultimately reactionary criticism is undeterred. Rynard, echoing the detached objections of liberal bourgeois commentators from decades past, wonders “where this is all going. What’s the end goal here? Is there specific legislation they want enacted? Do they want mandated body cameras? Better police training? Gun control measures?” Rynard concludes his private contemplation, that for some ill-advised reason was made public, with a platitudinous vision; “Would it not be better to attempt a dialogue with the police? And sure, if they don’t change after that, then go the more forceful route of mandated laws and civil disobedience.” Yes, if only those marginalized people murdered by state apparatuses would converse with and petition the apparatuses and the state that kills them, then their issues would surely be addressed.
Based on Rynard’s utmost faith in the liberal mythos of reformative policy, one would assume that he does not understand superstructure and the inherent white supremacy of American governance. This makes a lot of sense considering the useless pragmatism of his Clintonite allegiances. Communities lessening crime through local dual power, a radical expression of autonomy that has been achieved by systematically disenfranchised minorities across the world, is too far-fetched and idealistic, but relying on legislative machinations structurally designed to fail black Americans is the proper strategy.
Rynard and his contributing writers, like the politicians they feature and fawn over, don’t have a teleological conception of politics. They fetishistically admire governmental norms, bipartisanship, and other propaganda of the Democrat leadership post-Bill Clinton. They fail to reckon with the political reality that in order to work towards an egalitarian society, one has to meaningfully challenge oppressive power, even on a journalistic level. How does a writer reject injustice and inequality? Firstly, it would help to stop lauding war criminals.
Additionally, actually reporting on discrimination and infringement would be a positive development. Black wealth inequality is staggeringly vast in Des Moines (as high as 3rd nationally based on certain orgs analyses http://www.bleedingheartland.com/2017/10/04/twelve-depressing-facts-about-racial-disparities-in-polk-county/). ISL appears to be too busy giggling over local city council campaign ads to further the discussion. What about the housing crisis in central Iowa? Des Moines’s affordable housing is particularly lacking (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/may/26/des-moines-iowa-affordable-housing-brooklyn) Again, ISL’s attention remains firmly fixed on steak fry shenanigans and other campaign gossip anecdotes.
I’ll give ISL a little credit, the blog does periodically post an informative, and maybe even social democratic-y, article. But for every bearable piece there is about 5 more questionable columns on how “better worker skills will reduce economic inequality,” or how congress “doesn’t get anything done because of partisanship,” the standard opining of the technocratic center.
Iowa news outlets are becoming steadily more worthless. Local newscasts are reserved for what country superstar is playing at the Wells Fargo Arena. The Des Moines Register is about 6 months away from publishing only clickbait about river snakes and illegible editorials written by the dumbest libertarians this side of the Mississippi. Smaller projects like Bleeding Heartland and the Iowa Informer offer more astute commentary, but are largely relegated to contained groupings of left-leaning people. Resisting the abuses of onerous classes will require the unified efforts of an organized and confrontational leftwing. ISL, and the local Democratic establishment that furtively funds it, only hinder the most disaffected in our communities by publishing cowardly tripe and cringeworthy misinformation.
Politics is not a race as Iowa Starting Line’s brand (and extremely cheesy twitter banner) suggests; it is a conflict of resources and power between the bosses and the working, the dominant and the vulnerable, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It’s time for the wonks of Iowa, and all of America, to accept this.