Governor follows an ill wind

(Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)
(Stephen Mally/The Gazette-KCRG TV9)

Our weather vane governor always knows which way the political wind is blowing.

So it was no great surprise last week when Gov. Terry Branstad swiftly slammed the state’s door on the idea of sheltering any of the undocumented immigrant kids who have been pouring across the U.S.-Mexican border.

And on Monday, he doubled down.

Branstad insisted that these kids, including many fleeing mounting violence in places such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, aren’t at all like the refugees from war-torn Southeast Asia Gov. Bob Ray once welcomed to Iowa, with open arms. Those families came here legally, the governor said.

“They came from countries where they were being killed,” Branstad said.

“We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” the governor said. It might just encourage more of them to leave horrible places in search of safety. But, hey, at least he remains “empathetic.”

And, always, above all, this is somebody else’s fault, mainly the Obama administration, which failed to secure the border. Why should Iowa help?

The Republican governor and his re-election campaign likely know this is a winner with his party’s outraged base. Branstad isn’t going to go squishy like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said he’d consider shelter requests on a case-by-case basis. You can’t take any chances, even 15 points up.

But it’s not leadership. And some Iowans are noticing. The usually mild-mannered Mason City Globe-Gazette, which circulates in Branstad’s North Iowa homeland, said the governor should be “ashamed.”

“We look at pictures of kids sleeping on mats in chained rooms and wonder how a leader boasting true Iowa values can reject helping these kids,” the paper wrote.

But Branstad and his allies don’t want us to think of these kids as individuals. They want very much for us to think of them as a vast army of thousands, the threatening horde, an invasion force menacing American sovereignty. Dehumanize, and then politicize. It’s all about “illegals,” not children.

Think of a teenage girl forced into prostitution by a drug cartel, or a boy facing all but certain death in some Honduran gang, and Branstad’s not-really-refugees routine rings very, very hollow. Picture for a moment your own kids sitting, frightened and confused, in a crowded detention center, and consider whether you’d want them to have a decent place to stay and a fair hearing, and the governor’s rigid stand becomes more and more callous, and un-Iowa.

Individuals, I read someplace, are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. So let’s not treat these kids like a shipment of bad fruit that can swiftly and simply be returned to sender.

Branstad could have acknowledged that although many should be returned to their home countries, some of these kids have endured the sort of dire circumstances that allow them to stay here legally. He could have, at least, welcomed those kids, if shelter in Iowa is needed.

Instead, he chose the least he could do. Nothing. Instead of leading and doing the right thing, he stuck his finger into the air and followed an ill wind.

l Staff Columnist Todd Dorman appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Comments: (319) 398-8452; todd.dorman@thegazette.com.

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