WELCOME to the debut of “The Truth Is!”, a blog of reporting and commentary that aims to be informative, thoughtful and provocative. At least initially, the blog will have a strong heartland flavor by virtue of the connection of a number of us to Cowles family journalism. I am former editor of the Des Moines Register’s opinion pages. Another contributor, Michael Gartner, is former editor of the paper; he later served as president of NBC News. Another former Register editor who has agreed to contribute, Geneva Overholser, is director of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg school of journalism. Followers of the blog will have access also to the work of Herbert Strentz of Des Moines, a close Register and other newspaper watcher who once headed Drake University’s journalism school. Bill Leonard, a longtime Register editorial writer, will add insights.

“The Truth Is!” will be supervised by my daughter, Marcia Wolff, a communications lawyer for 20 years with Arnold and Porter (Washington, D.C.). Invaluable technical assistance in assembling and maintaining the blog is provided by my grandsons Julian Cranberg, a college first-year, and Daniel Wolff, a high school senior.

If you detect a whiff of nepotism in this operation, so be it. All of it is strictly a labor of love. —Gil Cranberg

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Say what you will — and we all have — the lead-up to the 2016 election so far is….is….is?

Well, maybe Shakespeare characterized much of the give-and-take among presidential candidates in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Or maybe he caught the spirit of today’s political rhetoric in Macbeth:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

When it comes to the “sound and fury” of presidential debates, consider a quote attributed to both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

And some 270 years ago, Thomas Gray explained why Republican and Democratic candidates ignore obvious and well-founded truths and instead play to the misguided, and even false, beliefs of their base. Gray wrote, "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise." (So GOP candidates question the worth of vaccines, ignore climate change and defy anyone to mention evolution.)

Linking any one of the Shakespearean or other insights to a specific episode in today’s campaign entertainment is frustrating, however; the flow of charges and counter-charges, slogans and sound bites is halfway around the world before you can sort things out.

Better to focus on something relatively stable in the 2016 campaign — Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” and the other candidates who say our nation is a basket case sorely in need of their quack remedies.

The line “Make America Great Again” scores at least a hat trick by being much ado about nothing, full of sound and fury and appealing to a blissful base. It’s the sort of political and mindless manipulation that George Orwell warned about in his essay “Politics and the English Language.”

“Make America Great Again.” What does that mean? At Fourth of July commemorations three months ago and for at least a century Americans have heard speakers say America IS the greatest nation on earth. That declaration Fourth after Fourth goes unchallenged — at least until it suits today’s candidates to resort to Halloween and horror stories instead of flag waving.

In a few ways we’re better than ever. The Affordable Care Act has extended medical insurance coverage to several million of our fellow citizens. Court decisions have extended human rights to people other than white men. Few of us desire a supposed return to be “great again” if that “again” means subservience to white males with everyone else in the back of the bus.

Besides, an agenda for greatness must look forward, not backward.

Look forward to actions and not just talk about serving the millions of armed forces veterans so long neglected in actions, but well-supported by bumper stickers. Look forward to dealing with our prison incarceration rate, the worst in the world. Look forward to enhancing, not debasing, women’s reproductive rights and health care. Look forward to making college education costs manageable and encouraging, not prohibitive. Look forward not to cutting or raising taxes, but to giving citizens a better return on the taxes they already pay. Those and other steps to greatness are all but ignored in the “Much Ado About Nothing” and “sound and fury” approach.

Further, what does it mean to be a great nation? Is that a goal simply to talk about, after which we can lean back and relax? Or maybe strut about, having achieved greatness? Or is national greatness always more of a starting point, a challenge to continually extend freedom and the fruits of greatness to others in our nation and beyond, rather than building walls?

Sadly, we remain far short of the nation that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and others envisioned in their grand experiment. Rather than yearn for a return to a delusional past, however, we should accept the challenges and opportunities in the years ahead. That’s what elections are supposed to be about — despite Trump and the debates.


Offered below is an Iowa newspaper's editorial endorsement of Gov. Jimmy Carter of Georgia for U.S. President. It likely was the first-in-the-nation endorsement for a candidate then known as “Jimmy Who?”

But the endorsement resonates today because of Mr. Carter’s recent diagnosis of cancer and because the qualities ascribed to him in the endorsement differ so markedly from what candidates claim today.

The endorsement was from John McCormally, editor of the Burlington Hawk Eye from 1968 to 1979; before coming to Iowa he was editor of the Hutchinson, Kansas, News, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1965 for news and editorial coverage of the need for legislative reapportionment. John died of cancer in 1993 at the age of 71. A grandson, John McCormally, is an Iowa assistant attorney general.

The Burlington Hawk Eye

Jimmy Carter For President ...

December 20, 1974

By John McCormally

I reserve the right to change my mind several times between now and November 1976, but as of now, I'm for Jimmy Carter for president. And if I had to decide today, I'd round out the ticket by teaming the outgoing governor of Georgia up with the in-coming governor of Connecticut, Ella Grasso, for vice president.

That gives you a ticket nicely balanced, north and south, male and female, with executive experience, the right touches of liberalism without being suicidally radical. Best of all, neither of them has ever given the impression they thought they were God Almighty.

That's why neither of them has impressed you much. They haven't yet been remanufactured by the media and put on sale as the saviors of mankind and leaders of the free world. How faithful I remain to them will depend a lot on how successfully they resist the determination of the icon makers to turn them into plastic persons.

Liberals will consider Carter's first liability his southern address. I shared that bigotry once myself, distrusting anyone from the South. But if recent events have taught us anything, it is that, block for block, there are more rednecks in Boston than there are in Atlanta.

The other thing that disenchants the kingmakers is that Carter just doesn't look like king making material; it is safe to say that most people still have never heard of him. He doesn't give any assurance of "generations of peace" or that his administration will produce the greatest events since creation.

Which is all in his favor. If there's anything we don't need, it's another superman. We need to start out with the premise - which we abandoned with Coolidge - that all we need for president is someone capable of managing one of the three branches of government for four years, with the generally accepted minimum of honesty and ability that is expected of all of us on our jobs. If we luck out and do better than that, it's a welcome bonus. In fact, the less we expect of the president, the more attention we will pay to the performance of the congress and judiciary and the state governments and the business conglomerates that own the country, all of which affect our daily lives far more than any president.

Still, we want a president who sets an acceptable tone. If he is too obviously a charlatan, like Johnson, too obviously a crook, like Nixon, or too obviously a dodo, like Ford, he detracts from the overall performance.…

Carter's an appealing fellow. There's an air of decency, a disarming simplicity, about him that's long been lacking in Washington. He has a varied background: Annapolis graduate, practicing scientist, peanut farmer, and politician.

He still needs to be measured against whoever else, in either party, comes on, but for now, I think he's the man to beat.

And for the benefit of the female chauvinist piglets, I wouldn't care if the ticket were reversed.