Monthly Archives: March 2016

A Job Worth Doing!

For most of my life I have been involved with programs that deal with poverty.  My mother was a Head Start teacher and I helped her during semester breaks in high school and college, as a professional actor in Los Angeles I helped raise funds for Homeless Health Care.  Since coming back to Iowa I have been proud to work with a number of charities and service clubs and recently my Rotary Club was introduced to an organization called “The Job Foundation.”  That’s a long “o” in “Job” (the Biblical name).


The Job Foundation is a Not for Profit organization in Waterloo that operates on the premise that “economic empowerment for financially disadvantaged children” is the key to ending the perpetuation of poverty.

It does this by promoting financial stewardship to students through education and mentoring designed to teach impoverished children how to save money, how to become leaders, the importance of academic success and abstinence from illegal activities.

Please visit their website:

Their paradigm to end poverty is to give impoverished children the tools to end the cycle of poverty that they inherited.  In my view-  THAT is the answer that has eluded the political debate.

What I love most about The Job Foundation is their philosophical reason for existing: ”It’s just the right thing to do.  The success of even one child benefits us all and the continuation of financial disadvantage, in even one child, harms us all.”

I have made many arguments (on this blog and elsewhere) regarding what I consider the myths about welfare that stall our budget debates and diminishes the help America is capable of giving, and Jennifer Brost, the founder of the Job Foundation, enlightened me with her unique and very honest perspective.  She said this in regard to criticism of people who receive assistance:

“It simply is not true that people who receive assistance are not working.  They are working.  They are working 12-15 hour shifts 6-7 days a week for a yearly salary of $24,000.  Their kids only eat at school and their parents go hungry on a regular basis.  It seems no one wants to believe this is happening in Waterloo but it is and it is very traumatic and costly.”

That perspective resonates because it isn’t a sheltered or filtered perspective built from hyperbole or conjecture, it is based on experience.  Jennifer even chose to live in an impoverished building with people struggling to survive in order to discover the truth about their challenges.

I believe that the model that has been created by the Job Foundation of financial stewardship through education and mentoring could be a template to fight poverty throughout the state of Iowa.  In fact, I believe that national recognition of this paradigm of economic empowerment could go far toward providing a measureable result from social spending.

Meanwhile, we can put our trust in people like Jennifer Brost and the Job Foundation and let’s rally, individually, to give them what they need.

“Silly, flat, dishwatery, utterances”

politicsI spend a lot of time thinking about how our government does business.  I also think about the way the public debates the issues and how we are informed (or become uninformed).  And I think a lot about how bad things have gotten and how they are getting worse.

Several times I’ve said or written:  “This is the most contentious time in history.”

Never has anyone disagreed with that statement no matter which side of the political fence they stand.

Sit down for this.

What if I said….our dialogue is not getting worse?  The political climate that we are living in today might even be better than it was.

What on earth am I talking about?

I enjoy reading history, but find myself having to look a little farther than the conventional history books that have, for over two centuries, woven fairytales around the creation of America.  From what we’ve been taught in school and from the traditions and ceremonies we’ve brought into American life, we’ve come to believe that stories and those who created them were beyond reproach and that their vision was clearly defined.  But as I dig deeper into autobiographies and historical records, a more interesting perspective begins to develop.

No less than Benjamin Franklin expressed his regret for the growing animosity and “false accusations” that Americans have toward each other, toward their government Benjamin_Franklin_Portraitand even toward “our best national allies.”

While we have myriad resources today to retrieve or disseminate information and ideas, the central theme of our most contentious debates is the same.  Franklin wrote 250 years ago:  “In the conduct of my newspaper (Poor Richard’s Almanac) I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country.”

At the founding of our country and for nearly the century that followed, states bargained with other countries, and fought over where state borders should be.  Not with rhetoric and loquacious debate, but with muskets, swords and pistols.

Much has been written about the contempt that our present Congress appears to hold for members from the other party, but they seem to draw the line at verbosity.  150thCA381G1T years ago as Congress debated the Kansas Territory’s pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution, a Pennsylvania Republican and South Carolina Democrat exchanged insults, which soon turned into a brawl.  More than 30 Congressmen from both sides joined the melee until the combatants were arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

Contempt was so high in the 19th century between states that actual border wars broke out.  Do you know why Michiganders are called “Wolverines”?  Because people from Ohio found them to be no different from the angriest, most foul tempered creature of the forest.

wolverine5As they argued violently over a ribbon of land at their border called the Toledo Strip, blood was eventually shed and state militias were called to quell the dispute.  A simple border between Americans, living no more than a few miles apart, led them to view each other as fundamentally different human beings.

Things were no different west of the Mississippi when the Kansas-Nebraska Act repealed the Missouri Compromise.  The Missouri Compromise created verbal and physical warring in territories where a line divided the north from the south, allowing slavery to be legal in new states below the line, and illegal above.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act was a compromise of that compromise and stipulated that the issue of slavery would be decided by the residents of each territory (known as popular sovereignty).  After the bill passed on May 30, 1854, violence erupted in Kansas between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers, a prelude to the Civil War.  Abraham Lincoln, considered by many to have been the greatest President in our history was reviled by both sides of this dispute.

lincoln_gettysburgaddressPosters calling him a “tyrannical dictator” and a “traitor” were not exclusive to the South.  One Chicago Times writer even reviewed Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address thusly: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly flat dishwatery utterances of a man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

I have no delusions that we have solved our dialectic dysfunctions and that gentle decorum is the order of the day, but today as we argue, yell, accuse, castigate, belittle, and protest each other, it would behoove us to consider220px-PreliminaryTreatyOfParisPainting what we don’t do any more in the practice of our political debates.

We don’t fire across our state borders at each other over land disputes.  Our states no longer act as sovereign entities, negotiating with foreign powers, to bolster their own interests against other states.

And while it is true that many people, along with pundits and politicians have said nasty things about speeches our President, the Speaker of the House, candidates, or any number of representatives have made, have any been more insulting than “silly flat dishwatery utterances”?

At the very least, this historical realization can bring us hope.

It’s No Laughing Matter

It has been 11 months since I declared my candidacy for the United States Congress.  With a good staff, I ran hard and our message was heard, but momentum was never our ally in a crowded primary and I withdrew from that race last month.

Today I will file to run for the Iowa State House to represent the people of my diverse district.   I have learned a lot over this course and I believe that I have shown Iowans at events, committee meetings, and backyard barbeques that I study the issues and have ideas committed to improving our quality of life by expanding our economy, advocating for our senior citizens, farmers and veterans, protecting our environment, and educating our youth.

Yet, I am still faced from time to time with a comment that more or less goes like this:  “Gary you were a comedian, how do we know you can be taken seriously?”

needlemanI cannot (nor do I have any desire to) deny that I was once a satirist on Saturday Night Live; that once I made my living looking for laughs, whether as a performer, a writer, or even as a game show host.  The truth is, those experiences lend themselves very well to the business of politics.

The job of any artist, whether a comedian, a painter or a novelist, is to look at life with the deepest, most clarifying lens possible to reveal the idiosyncrasies, the contradictions and sometimes hypocrisies of the human condition and bring them to light.

Is it really any surprise that Senator Al Franken has been such an effective voiceal franken?

Yes, I have in my career poked fun at the way things are done in Washington, because business as usual in the District of Columba (and Des Moines) is laughable at times.  But I can easily make the distinction between those political dysfunctions and the business of the people, because that is no laughing matter.

It’s no laughing matter when education budgets do not meet the standards our institutions require, and when student debt replaces our investment in them.

It is no laughing matter when the proliferation of deadly force extends to children, while homicides in our schools, churches, movie theaters and shopping malls become epidemic.

It’s no laughing matter when the rights of women, minorities, immigrants, or the LGBTQ community are compromised or denied in the name of religion or fear.

It’s no laughing matter when hard working Americans with fulltime gary speech jobs remain below the poverty line.

It’s no laughing matter when labor and unions are under attack and pension funds are at risk.

It’s no laughing matter when 7 billion tons of inorganic gas is pumped into our atmosphere every year without any compensation for the danger that is caused to the health of our planet.

It’s no laughing matter when the principles of a government of the people are twisted to deny access to medicine for all of the citizens it serves.

I loved being an actor, a producer, a writer and any other hat I may have worn in Hollywood, but I know the difference between the entertainment of laughter and when the serious matters of the people and our government are at hand.

I am very clear as to why I am running for public office: To serve the people, using common sense, logic, compassion and sanity in that pursuit.









My Love/Hate Relationship

I love Politics.  I love the practice of influencing one another on civic and individual issues. I like the debate over what is best for the common good because it is from this politicsdialogue that we can emerge stronger and more secure in our pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

I hate Politics.  I hate the loggerheads created from opposing views and conflicting interests.  I hate the accusations that fly from having different perspectives and the castigation of individuals and groups of people that can be the consequence of our fear and misunderstanding.

I like Government.wordcloudgovfresh  I like the concept of representative democracy where power is held by the people themselves and they elect representatives to protect and improve their interests.  I like that we have a system of governance that is designed to defend the rights of even the least influential among us while protecting opportunity for all, predicated on principles of freedom and justice.

I don’t like Government.  I don’t like when it is corrupted by greed that panders to special interests.  I don’t like that it is imperfect and run by imperfect people who can be susceptible to the seduction of power.  I hate that its inequities can compromise the common good.

I like Big Corporations.  I like them because Big Business creates 50% of America’s Gross National Product and employs nearly half of all working Americans.  I like that the opportunity in America to be entrepreneurial and to expand with ingenuity literally created the world’s economy and the capacity to industrialize.thCAG9NPIW

I don’t like Big Corporations.  I don’t like them because without regulations mandated by the People they become a rogue government of their own, too often replacing morality and justice with margins and profit.  I hate when the strong arm of their influence contradicts the tenets of our Republic by serving the special interests of an elite-minority.

csp_savio-rallyI love Freedom of Speech.  I love that I live in a free country where I cannot be incarcerated for voicing my opinions and I have the right (Nay, obligation!) to protest and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  I love that I can openly influence others with ideas and I love that others can openly influence mine.

I hate that Freedom of Speech also allows for bigotry to have a forum and prejudices can bethCAW4UKDP shared which fan the flame of intolerance.  I hate that the free press, protected by our First Amendment, does not continually hold itself to standards of accountability and I hate that it can propagate misinformation as freely as facts.

I like and I don’t like some of the things that are sustained in the realization of our Republic; things that have been created from this grand democratic experiment to live with freedom and to be prosperous.  But, it is within this conundrum that we might find some of the solutions we are looking for.

There is nothing unusual about this polarity; I believe that every human being carries a duality where we struggle between light and dark; a fight in our souls between fear and faith and we conform our guiding principles to follow one direction over another so that we can give that conflict rest.  And so we take sides:  Republicans face off with Democrats, Liberals challenge Conservatives, and Bears battle Packers.

Taking sides, however, can make us feel threatened by the “other side” and so we digcalvin_arguing in deeper, creating wider separations to protect our ideals.  Perhaps, if we recognized this about ourselves and took time to realize that there are qualities we can embrace within some of the things that we dislike, and that there are ideas that we should question within some of the things that we cherish…

Maybe…we could start to move toward more shared values, greater tolerance and less fear of each other.  Maybe we could improve our conversations, our government…and ultimately our lives.

I’d love that.


“It’s YOU!”

beatlesThere’s an outtake from a Beatle recording session where they are trying to lay down vocal tracks for “One After 909” and someone keeps messing up causing them to start over.

Finally, after John Lennon stops one more time, presumably to correct the others, Paul McCartney jumps in (laughing), “It’s you, John, it’s YOU!”

The American public is similarly asking for Washington DC to start over in order to get things right by ending political deadlock and corruption.  It occurs to me, however, that a more critical evaluation of the problem might have us pointing at each other saying, “It’s you, it’s YOU!”

How many times have we heard a politician say, at their constituent’s behest, “I am going to change the way we do politics in Washington!”?

thCAFQQ4WWHow long have we been complaining about Washington corruption, or the inability of Congress to make progress?

How many times have pundits, columnists and voters said, “Let’s get rid of the b@$tards, give them terms limits and end career politics!”?

And yet…nothing changes.

Could it be because we are trying to change the wrong part of the equation?  Could it be…that we need to change, too?

The men and women in government are there because we put them there.  They rose from our ranks, and now that they are there they bicker, fight, stall, boast, cajole, bribe, and lie….just like the private sector.  Sprinkle in a little slanted messaging and we have a political conundrum we cannot seem to escape.

That was illustrated when a bill to require a background check regarding firearms fell just 6 votes short of passing the Senate, even though a clear majority of Americans were in favor of such a measure.  The deciding number of Senators were swayed by a very powerful gun lobby because the NRA made it clear that they would use their vast financial resources to defeat any Senator who didn’t.

The Senators (and the NRA) know that money buys media and media sways voters.

Media saturation works because many people have developed (over decades) a passive relationship with information, allowing their decisions to be swayed by repetitive, clever, even false, messaging.  Senators want to keep their job.  Understandable.  The NRA wants things their way.  Doesn’t everyone?  The public wants better representation in Congress but allows their votes to be dictated by whoever spends the most money to inform them of where they should stand.

tjRarely, is it necessary to go much further than Thomas Jefferson to find grist for the mill:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.”

“The most effectual means of preventing [the perversion of power into tyranny are] to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large, and more especially to give them knowledge of those facts which history exhibits, that possessed thereby of the experience of other ages and countries…”

“Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone.  The people themselves, therefore, are its only safe depositories.  And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree.”

What more needs to be said?  As we have evolved as a country we have transferred power onto representation, when, in fact, we, as an aggregate whole, possess the power in a Republic.  We are only capable of such leadership, however, when we are educated in the matters of governance.

Our Founding Fathers did not create a direct-democracy where the “majority rules,” rather their system of government was predicated on an informed electorate that chooses wisely from its ranks, the representatives, who are thereby empowered to collectively legislate for the Common Good.

So, how do we correct our faltering archetype?

We must have campaign finance reform.  We must do away with Citizen’s United and make elections publicly funded.  Each candidate receives the same budget and they debate, forum, talk, and listen among their constituents.  Unfortunately (and paradoxically), there remains political division on this issue, fueled by the very money that should be taken out of the equation.

There remains, however, a more fundamental first step that can override this dilemma:  We must prioritize public education.  We must appropriate the dollars toward education as in investment for our future, and reduce the burden of debt placed on our graduates.

Furthermore, the current trend toward specialization needs to include the foundational disciplines that were once part and parcel with developing minds.

franklinI just finished Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and Thomas Jefferson’s, as well, and I was consistently taken aback by what they would describe from their colonial educations; having learned Latin in order to translate many great works of literature.  Reading Virgil, Horace, Cicero, and Seneca and the principles of logic, along with math were part of Grammar School.

Sorry, Senator Rubio (who said, “We need more welders and less philosophers.”), but you have replaced the survival matrix of our Republic with a myopic monetization of reality.  Studying the “capital laws of this country” and philosophy were once part of basic education. The works of Aristotle, Hippocrates, Euclid and Ptolemy were recited by rote.  The curriculum was intended to expand the mind to critical thinking and analysis.

When public libraries came into existence, Franklin noted how many a poor farmer, who could not afford to go to school, would seek the knowledge contained, therein, and one grammarof the early principles of this country became to give every American child an education.

I support and respect our educational systems and the teachers who dedicate their lives to them, however, they are forced to pander to the will of a population that has evolved away from critical thinking.  As our country has expanded I find it ironic that our interest in it has diminished; a public Attention Deficit Disorder, perhaps.

It won’t be until we collectively realize where the process has derailed and rise to correct the misfire, that we will consistently find better representation.  Meanwhile, we will be condemned to repeat our mistakes.

“It’s you, John, it’s YOU!”



Make America great…again!

The line wasn’t coined by Donald Trump.  Every Republican who declared their candidacy for the presidency stated that we needed a president who will “make us proud again to be an American.”

It wasn’t that long ago when Democrats were rallying to “return America to greater standing in the world” and to find our “moral authority once again.”

I remember because I was one of the louder voices.

Only 8 years before that the battle cry was heard from a Republican running against Gore that we needed to “bring dignity back to the White House.”

Clinton, before that, ran against Bush Sr. and promised to return us to “a time when America was respected more than feared.”

A letter to the editor in the Des Moines Register criticized Obama’s foreign policies and finished with the proclamation, “We need to make America great again!”

Every time I hear that I ask myself, “What ‘great’ period are they referring to?”

I hear “return to greatness” from both sides of the political fence and I wonder, “What is the criteria for greatness?”

Apparently, the letter writer felt good about the way things were before Obama. Yet, the Bush era ended with economic catastrophe, and a foreign policy quagmire.

Maybe, they were referring to Clinton-era American pride.  Clinton did balance the budget and maintained an extended period of prosperity, but, something tells me that wasn’t the writer’s intention.

It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that many Americans wish for a return to the inspiration of Ronald Reagan and his “Shining city on the hill,” but, that was also when we first became a debtor nation from his fiscal inequities.  Not to mention that the “Trickle Down” revival of neoliberalism (not to be confused with liberalism) created a divide between the Haves and the Have-nots that still tangle the economic debate.

Many Americans think of the great moral purpose of World War II and the recovery from the Great Depression as the greatest time in the history of America. Although to hear the conservative revisionists speak of FDR today, you would think that every failure since, social and economic, was the result of the New Deal.

Lincoln, perhaps the greatest philosophical genius to ever occupy the White House, presided over the greatest socio/political divide in history.

There is no doubt that seeds from separatism still exist to this day as we continue to fight challenges of racism.

So…what is the period of greatness that we all, at one time or another, want to get back to?

There are two things that happen when we consider our historical greatness.  One is a natural human craving for nostalgia.  Nostalgia is not built upon a remembrance of how things were; rather it comes from what we remember about how we felt at a certain time.  We carry in our narrative the fact that we have survived, and we remember the moments of joy in the cracks and crevices of our struggles; we instinctively long for those feelings again.

Some of my happiest memories are from financially hard times long ago when I found laughs and inspirations in my journey.  I yearn for them even today.

And two, we have a collective historical consciousness about the legacy and promise of America. We are aware of the unique place in world history that our Republic occupies and we have been taught what our forefathers fought for in defiance of tyranny.

We are raised on the traditions of patriotism and the stories of struggle and triumph that define our realization of freedom and human rights.

While our history is undeniably peppered with stumbles and falls toward realizing those principles, it is still a timeline of relative progress. Together, nostalgia and patriotism conspire to give us a sincere sense of what makes this country great and we perennially long to restore her to something that we remember.

My challenge for all of us is to ask ourselves, individually:  “What is it that I believe in that makes America great?”

Does America follow the principles of freedom upon which a revolution was started?  Do we continue to define and defend human rights?

We make a mistake when we put the responsibility of America’s promise solely on to the shoulders of politicians before we answer those questions ourselves.  Only collectively, as citizens and politicians, can we define the moral directives that will restore our journey to freedom and guide us toward the realization of peace.

That will make us great.  Again.

The Current State of Affairs

If your aim is true as a politician, then you must be willing to go where you are needed most. For over a year I have dreamt of representing the people of Iowa’s First District in Washington and have worked toward that end every day and night. Along the way, however, I have become increasingly aware that the issues we’ve been talking about exist with the most relevance at the state level.

In every corner of the district Iowans have shared concern that our public schools have been given a low priority by our current Governor and complicit members of the Iowa legislature, as well as concern over the privatization of Medicaid, and a general neglect of essential infrastructure. Many legislators are more interested in giving corporate tax breaks to lure companies, rather than to create what companies actually look for: Quality of Life.

Quality of Life includes education, job opportunities, access to healthcare, and attention to mental health services. It is stewardship of the environment, also roads and bridges, 20140401_140344and the technologies that create new jobs and ease of commerce. In these areas, our state has gone from leadership to budget decay in order to appease an unnecessary austerity fever in Des Moines.

I believe that it is imperative to put more progressive legislators in the Statehouse in order to stem the tide of the Governor’s agenda that does not support working families, labor, students, or the infirmed. For that reason, I am ending my Congressional campaign and am forming an Exploratory Committee for District 60 in the Iowa House.

A lot of people have been enthusiastically supporting my Congressional bid, and I am eternally grateful to all of them. To those who may be bothered by the debate delays demgarythat precipitated this decision, I hope you can understand that this is not a compromise; it has always been my primary goal to do public service at whatever level so that people who need a strong voice to represent them, will get one.

I believe that good work radiates outward and that a stronger state of Iowa will, in turn, help to move America toward a better future.              

– Gary Kroeger