Gov. Terry Branstad couldn’t let his inner voice of reason override his political weather vane, even if it seemed on Monday we had one governor in the morning and yet another in the afternoon.
Morning Branstad was asked whether Iowa would accept Syrian refugees in light of horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. One assailant was found with a Syrian passport showing he passed through Greece, perhaps among refugee waves.
“I don’t know that the states have the authority to decide whether or not we can take refugees. This is a federal program,” Branstad said. He hoped federal officials screening refugees for resettlement would keep states in the loop.
Morning Branstad was right. Handling refugees is a federal ballgame. His call for transparency is reasonable, but also rich coming from a chief executive who shuts down facilities and privatizes Medicaid without warning.
But afternoon Branstad must have spent the day watching his fellow Republican governors, and one Democrat, proclaim they would not take refugees, along with presidential hopefuls clamoring to build walls, close mosques and smell the falafels.
So afternoon Branstad had to sound tougher.
“Today, Gov. Terry Branstad ordered all state agencies to halt any work on Syrian refugee resettlements immediately in order to ensure the security and safety of Iowans,” his office said in a late afternoon statement. “In light of the Paris attacks, resettlement of Syrian refugees in Iowa should cease until a thorough review of the process can be conducted by the U.S. intelligence community and the safety of Iowans can be assured.”
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Some cheered. Some jeered. But was afternoon Branstad really any tougher than morning Branstad? Not really.
No Syrian refugees were ever going to be resettled in Iowa without thorough reviews. So Branstad is demanding reality remain reality. We are many months away from any potential resettlement, and that hasn’t changed.
I agree, rushing to open our door without care would be a mistake. But rushing to slam it shut without all the facts is just as irresponsible.
It’s disappointing the longest-serving governor in our history, despite all his experience and wisdom, couldn’t resist chasing the refugees-are-really-terrorists bandwagon. After attacks calculated to spawn overreaction and fear, Branstad joined a chorus of fearful overreaction. The governor of a state with the nation’s oldest mosque wiped his feet on Iowa’s famous welcome mat for fear of looking insufficiently alarmed, or worse yet, soft on Obama.
Beat up the president on his lousy, listless Syria policy. He deserves it. But why beat up exhausted, desperate victims of the very terrorism we fear?
Probably because it’s popular. Using our fear and loathing to justify recklessly labeling groups as threats to our way of life or as undesireable always seems to poll well. And trading our moral compass for the guidance of public anxiety has led to some of the proudest moments in American history. You can look it up, and cringe.
In the meantime, my advice to refugees who want to come to Iowa is scrape together enough bucks to build a fertilizer plant. It worked for some Egyptians.
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