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How To Keep The Faith When Religion And Politics Divide Us

In a recent phone conversation — a catch-up during COVID isolation — a longtime friend talked of a memory that seemed especially relevant these days. A fellow cradle Catholic, whom I met at a Catholic university, she recalled how startled she was on entering my childhood parish for my decades-ago wedding and finding herself surrounded by statues of the saints and Christ on the cross, familiar to her but so very different. The faces and hands and pierced feet were painted black, so unlike anything she had experienced growing up.

It stopped her, until she realized how appropriate the scene was. Of course, these representations would be reimagined in the image of those who gathered and worshipped in this particular holy place, located in the heart of West Baltimore.

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In Defense Of Iowa

We have reached that time in every presidential nominating year when distinguished, national opinion leaders beat up on Iowa and that admirable state’s influential role in determining the two major parties’ eventual presidential nominees and, therefore, the next president. The USA Today editorial board indicts Iowa for being “one of the least ethnically diverse states in the country” and its status as the first-in-the-nation presidential test every four years as ” un-American,” while Paul Waldman writes in The Washington Post that the Iowa caucuses “are a crime against democracy.”

It is time someone stood up for Iowa and Iowans. It’s true that Iowa is neither very representative of the entire nation nor very average. Scholarly studies have ranked Iowa as tied for first place in percentage of the adult population who are high school graduates. Iowans are fourth highest in access to health care (more “representative” Florida and Texas rank 46th and 47th respectively in citizens’ access to health care); first in broadband access; and third highest in public libraries per capita. True, the Hawkeye State leads the nation in production of corn, soybeans and pork, but Iowans are at the top of the nation in literacy, and the state has the U.S.’s 14th lowest murder rate.

But Iowa remains a small, rural state in the middle of the country. How representative can its voters be of the nation at large? The answer: amazingly so. In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton won 43 percent of the national vote and the White House; in Iowa, Clinton won 43 percent of the vote. In 1996, winner Clinton carried 49 percent of the national vote and 50 percent of the Iowa vote. In 2000, Democrat Al Gore won the national vote by one-half of 1 percent and Iowa by one-third of one percent. Republican George W Bush won reelection in 2004 with 51 percent of the national vote and 50 percent in Iowa. Democrat Barack Obama, in 2008, got 53 percent of the national vote and 54 percent of Iowans. In 2012, Obama was reelected nationally by a margin of four percent and in Iowa by five percent. In 2016, the exception: Donald Trump, who lost the national vote by two percent to Hillary Clinton, carried Iowa by a solid ten percent.

Yes, Iowa’s 2008 Democratic caucuses were 93 percent white, and those mid-American Caucasians made history by giving legitimacy and momentum to a freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama. In Iowa, the African American underdog won an upset victory over the heavily favored former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and was propelled to the top of the national polls.

In fact, the rest of us owe Iowa our thanks. Iowans faithfully and earnestly fulfill their civil responsibilities by showing up at campaign town halls and listening and questioning the men and women who seek the White House. They take their responsibility seriously and then, on a cold winter night, hundreds of thousands of Iowans leave their homes and go to the local church hall, firehouse or school gym and spend a couple of hours declaring and defending their presidential preference openly in front of neighbors and friends. In the caucus, firefighters join shoulder-to-shoulder with nurses, teachers, retirees, students and small businesswomen in truly vibrant democracy. Here in Iowa, because Iowans give them a full and fair chance, the underfinanced, underdog candidate has a real chance. It was in Iowa that Jimmy Carter broke through and where George H.W. Bush’s upset win would lead to his being chosen vice president.

Thank you, Iowa, for serving the nation so well.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

Why It’s Time To Kill The Iowa Caucuses

“It is quite astonishing to see with what deadpan and neutral a tone our press and television report the open corruption — and the flagrantly anti-democratic character — of the Iowa caucuses.”

I quote the late Christopher Hitchens because I couldn’t put it better.

In a primary, eligible voters can show up anytime while polls are open, cast anonymous ballots and go home. In the caucuses, they must show up on a winter night and spend several hours jostling with neighbors and strangers as they show support for one candidate or another.

This setup favors activists who are not deterred by snow, cold and the dark. They tend to be educated and have the luxury of free evening hours. They’re also aggressive and skilled in working the intricacies of the caucus process.

The caucuses disfavor working people who must juggle two children and three jobs. Add to that anyone who works nights at McDonald’s or drives an Uber after hours. Or who depends on a public transportation system that slows down in the evening.

The obvious winners in this unfair setup are candidates with passionate followers. Bernie Sanders has notably been a beneficiary. In 2016, he did better in the caucuses, where his activists could exert control, than in the primaries, where a wider electorate cast simple ballots without pressure.

Caucuses routinely suppress voter participation, according to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. In 2016, turnout at the Iowa caucuses was under 16 percent, whereas the New Hampshire primary attracted 52 percent of eligible voters.

Washington state, which held both a caucus and a primary in 2016, offered a real-world contrast of the two. In March that year, Sanders swept Washington’s Democratic caucus, walking off with 74 delegates to Hillary Clinton’s 27. When Washington held a primary two months later, Clinton won by 6 percent.

Only about 26,000 people “voted” in the Democratic caucuses, while more than 660,000 voted in the primary. The state Democratic Party is switching to a meaningful primary in 2020.

Were caucuses how conservative state runs a general election, liberals would rightly accuse election officials of practicing voter suppression. The Supreme Court might even strike down its election laws as unconstitutional. But this is a party matter, and it is up to the Democratic National Committee to fix the problem.

In assessing a candidate’s ability to prevail in a general election, some members of the punditry put great importance on the level of voter enthusiasm. Should that matter? It shouldn’t, not in a democracy. Votes are supposed to be equal. A vote cast with mild affection or indifference — even with nose held — counts every bit as much as a vote made with thumping heart.

Some friends, particularly younger ones, worship the ground Bernie walks on. I back Joe Biden but don’t adore him. (I could be happy with another moderate, say, Amy Klobuchar or Pete Buttigieg.) To me, Biden is a solid progressive and, more importantly, the Democrat whom President Donald Trump most fears.

What excites me, though in a bad way, is the belief that a Sanders nomination — or his trashing of the actual Democratic nominee, as he did in 2016 — would deliver another four years to Trump.

Whatever the results in the Iowa caucuses, one can be confident that they will leave an exaggerated impression of the level of Sanders’ support. They will reveal the preference of a tiny slice of a tiny slice of the electorate and, in the Democrats’ case, of an electorate more heavily weighted toward the white liberal gentry than the party at large.

Only the Democratic Party can end this undemocratic means of choosing its nominees. And it should.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

In A Challenging New Year, Life Awaits Us

On Dec. 29, I became one day older than my mother on the day she died.

I did not go to bed until I could say this out loud.

At the stroke of midnight, I turned to my husband and said, “Today—”

He finished my sentence, in the softest tone. “You have outlived your mother,” Sherrod said. “Here’s to many years to come.”

Our daughter-in-law, Stina, had stayed up with us, reading on a nearby sofa. She set down the book and walked over to me, her arms open wide. “I love you,” she said, holding me tight. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Of course, they knew. Everyone who loves me knows I’ve been anxiously counting the days, even though I’ve always known it was a deadline only in my mind, and in my heart. I’ve never heard a moment’s judgment from any of them, even though they wished I hadn’t obsessed about running out this particular clock. I can hear their silent collective sigh of relief, not for my milestone, but for my acceptance that it’s time to move on.

Life awaits.

It is New Year’s Eve as I write, and I am ready to welcome 2020 with open arms. I am leaving more than that personal milestone behind. This year started as one thing and ended as something much worse. Even as I think through this next sentence, I worry that some would like me to get over it by now and stop bringing it up, but this is as much as part of me as the creases in my face and songs spooling in my head. Twenty days before my birthday, my brother killed himself. This is who I am now, too, and pretending otherwise only delays the grief I must claw my way through.

I’m getting there. I am.

So, here’s to you, 2019: can’t wait to let you go.

On Monday, “The Hoarse Whisperer,” a popular anonymous account on Twitter, asked, “What is the one (non-political) thing you want to do or accomplish this coming year?”

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I disappoint myself on a regular basis. The last thing I need are goal posts to mark my poor finishes. And yet there I was, responding with the speed of a cook racing to the nearest counter space after scooping a hot casserole out of the oven with threadbare mitts:

I want to double down on making my home a nurturing and fun place for family and friends. More crockpot meals on weeknights, more spontaneous gatherings. I love the music of laughter and clinking dishes at our table. Vacuuming can wait. We need one another.

We do, you know.

More than ever, we need to know the comfort of normalcy in a time when virtually nothing is working the way it’s supposed to, starting with the presidency of the United States.

Lately, I am obsessed with the notion of “shrinking the change,” which I first learned about after reading former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power’s memoir, “Education of an Idealist.” We can’t fix everything that is wrong with the world, but we can improve the world in our immediate orbit.

Every time I set my table and leave the door open for invited friends or family, I feel a sense of mission. My homemade cornbread and vegetarian chili won’t stop Donald Trump from demonizing migrant children and their families, but our conversations over dinner can help us brainstorm ways to help them. As I’ve learned over hundreds of meals in our home, the most fruitful endeavors often begin with a ritual of the most reliably ordinary.

Dinner, for example.

Time with those we love, for another.

We are embarking on the 2020 campaign year, which will be the worst we’ve experienced because the man running for reelection is the most dangerous president in American history. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic because most people love this country more than Trump, including you.

None of us knows how much time we have on this earth, but each of us gets to decide how we will use what’s left of it.

I have now lived three days longer than my mother on the day she died. Every day is a gift, and just like you, I have to figure out how best to use it.

We’re alive, my friends. Happy New Year.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. Her novel, “The Daughters of Erietown,” will be published by Random House in Spring 2020. To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.