Blum's hall howls, and he ducks

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It seems like any account of 1st District U.S. Rep. Rod Blum’s town hall in Cedar Rapids Tuesday night should be written in ALL CAPS. Lots of exclamation points. Maybe some of those symbols cartoonists use for swears.

It was very loud in the Johnson Hall gym at Kirkwood Community College, and that’s allowed by the First Amendment. No one screamed “fire” from the packed bleachers, but there were howls both incendiary and profane. I thought about those kids in the crowd, learning a brand of politics where the loudest taunt wins. And I took no pleasure in watching the congressman repeatedly heckled, hounded and interrupted, no matter how much I disagree with him.

That said, in many instances Tuesday, civility crumbled only in the face of remarkable inanity.

Confronted loudly over the just-passed, widely derided American Health Care Act, or Trumpcare, Blum insisted he’s one of the biggest critics of the process used to push it through the House. He decried the lack of hearings. He panned the prohibition against offering amendments. He criticized a rush to passage, before even knowing how much it would cost and who it would affect.

He told the speaker. He told the president. And then he voted for the bill. That’ll show ‘em.

“This is government, you can’t have everything you want,” Blum told the crowd, filled with folks getting plenty of what they don’t want from government since January.

Blum, in one of his strongest moments, detailed his full-court, but frustrated, efforts to gain long-delayed funding for Cedar Rapids flood protection. Then, minutes later, he insisted scientists sounding the alarm on climate change can’t really know how our 4.5 billion-year-old planet heats and cools. The crowd erupted.

It seems like the case for local flood protection could be greatly enhanced by sound science explaining why more frequent, excessive rainfall makes flooding more likely. Instead, Blum shrugs off that science. Maybe we can build our levees from coal. Blum called for “more freedom, more individual choice, smaller government and lower taxes.” Perhaps to illustrate, he staunchly defended President Donald Trump’s freedom to hide his tax returns from the American people. There’s no law, after all, so it’s Trump’s individual choice. Four decades of presidential transparency be damned.

And Blum didn’t seem keen on expanding government by hiring a special prosecutor to independently investigate the Trump campaign’s disturbing Russia ties. He twice ducked the question. Even after the stunning firing of FBI Director James Comey, even with evidence mounting a foreign adversary meddled in an election, Blum was mum.

Blum did smartly advocate a loosening of marijuana laws, particularly for medical purposes. He stuck up for arts funding, declaring Trump-backed cuts “DOA.”

Those moments were few. Booing ruled. But like the old Aesop’s fable about the wind and the sun, the more critics howled, the more tightly Blum clung to the Trumpian party line. Persuasion left the building very early, or wasn’t allowed through the door. Must not have been a resident of the district.

l Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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