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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016


With the praise lavished upon the Iowa caucuses as grassroots democracy and the
attention that supposedly makes Iowa “the center of the political universe,” perhaps it is
worth hearing from a few who would see the Feb. 1, 2016 caucuses as counter to the
American dream.

No, they are not the sore losers in previous years. Nor are they those who gripe about
Iowa being the first in the nation to have a say as to who will hold “the most important
office of government in the history of the world” — as Harry Truman characterized the

They are, however, people with credentials to assess the 2016 caucus, particularly the
GOP version. They include George Washington, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin and
America’s poet and prophet, Walt Whitman.

All warned about the “spirit of party” and the fear “factions” would put ideological
concerns above the “common good,” sacrificing what is best for the nation to serve the
agendas of the few.

Welcome to Iowa and the 2016 GOP caucus campaign, where open minds and
compromise are verboten — just like in Congress these days.

Consider, however, George Washington in his 1796 farewell address: “Let me warn
you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party…”
His warning: “The domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of
revenge natural to party dissention, which in different ages & countries has perpetrated the
most horrid enormities is itself a frightful despotism… It agitates the Community with ill
founded Jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another.”

Ill-founded jealousies? False alarms? Animosity? Sounds like Washington was
commenting on GOP candidate debates.

James Madison, in the Federalist Papers, 1787, defined factions as “a number of
citizens adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of
the community…A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government,
and many other points…have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with
mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other
than to cooperate for their common good ….”

Vex? Oppress? Might add fearmongering to the list.

Benjamin Franklin at the 1787 Constitutional convention feared, “We shall be
divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves
shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age(s). And what is worse,
Mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by
Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.”

Government by chance, war and conquest? So much for “government of the people,
by the people and for the people.”

Walt Whitman in Democratic Vistas (1871) encouraged young Americans to “enter
into politics,” but cautioned against “these half-brain'd nominees, the many ignorant ballots
and many elected failures and blatherers…. For America, if eligible at all to downfall and
ruin, is eligible within herself, not without; for I see clearly that the combined foreign world
could not beat her down But these savage, wolfish parties alarm me. Owning no law but
their own will, more and more combative, less and less tolerant of the idea of ensemble and
of equal brotherhood.”

From a current perspective, philosopher Jacob Needleman put it succinctly in his
2002 book, The American Soul: “…the founders of our country did not fight and die for the
right to be selfish and self-involved, nor did they make holy cause of the childish impulse to
have no constraints upon ourselves, to get just what we like or want whenever or however
we want it. They did not risk so much just so that a man or woman could live and act
independently of obligation to society.”

One wish is that the 2016 caucus will not only weed out candidates, but also weed
out the worst aspects of spirit of party and factions that Washington and Madison worried
about and that dominate caucus rhetoric.

It’s not about civility, as the conventional wisdom would have it — even duels to the
death have civil ritual. It’s about finding a common ground to best serve our nation,
appealing to the highest common denominator. Not the lowest.


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