The other day I was watching “Morning Joe,” the early-morning political talk show co-hosted by Joe Scarborough, former conservative congressman from Florida who now leans further left than right.
Scarborough was talking about the problems of the Minneapolis police department and said that apparently, “Iowa nice” has not made its way north to Minnesota.
Never mind that a former southern politician who now hosts a television show in New York probably knows little about life in Iowa or Minnesota – but television these days is filled with people who talk endlessly about things they know little about.
What struck me about this is the notion of “Iowa nice.” What is it? What does it mean? To Iowans, it means immeasurable friendliness: church suppers and parades, farmers giving each other the two-finger wave as they pass each in their vehicles; farmers helping ailing neighbors bring in their crop; everyone knowing everyone on a first-name basis; having entrance signs at state borders that read, “The People of Iowa Welcome You”: and of course, the Field of Dreams and the classic line from the move: “Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa.”
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That’s how we view each other in our state and it all adds up to “Iowa nice.”
But people in other states, including former Iowans, don’t see it quite that way. For many, we are the land of hogs and corn and we’ve screwed up the Iowa caucuses three times in a row.
NBC newsman Harry Smith, a graduate of Central College in Pella, once did a commentary on traveling by car through the state and described the scenery this way: “Sometimes the corn is on the left, sometimes it’s on the right.”
Former Iowan Maria Reppas, who grew up in Cedar Falls and now lives in Virginia, recently wrote an op-ed for the Iowa City Press-Citizen in which she said “Iowa Nice” disregards the fact that Iowans are generally complacent white people who would rather avoid conflict than take courageous stands on righteous issues. She points to two words that she says demonstrate the oxymoron of “Iowa Nice” – Steve King.
Let’s not forget the controversy in Mason City a few years ago over the proposed building of a hog-processing plant. There was much opposition to it because of environmental concerns, but there was an underlying concern about immigrants infiltrating our community – alleged racism even confirmed by a City Council member at the time.
I mentioned in this space a few weeks ago the sighting of a “F*** Biden” banner on someone’s home. In fairness, it should be pointed out that not far from that banner is one on someone else’s property that says, “F*** Trump.”
Iowa nice, indeed.
The lesson from all of this is that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
And, just to rub a little salt in the wound, some researchers say that the slogan “Iowa Nice” is a take-off of a phrase that originated in Minnesota.
In other words, we stole it. That’s not nice.
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John Skipper retired from the Globe Gazette in February 2018 after 52 years in newspapers, most of that in Mason City covering North Iowa government and politics.