Opinion: In mocking Sen. Joni Ernst’s ‘bread bags,’ aren’t liberals being hypocritical?

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst has not ruled out working alongside Donald Trump.
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst has not ruled out working alongside Donald Trump.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press )
Guest blogger

It’s hard to say what coastal liberals think is funnier: the fact that Republican Sen. Joni Ernst’s thrifty mother tied bread bags over her little girl’s feet to protect her shoes on muddy days -- or the fact that Ernst comes from Iowa, where the untutored rubes do things like that.

Here’s what Ernst said in her rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday:

“You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.”


Those dopey Iowans! Just one good pair of shoes! Let the mockery begin!

Bien-pensants from Seattle to La Jolla and from Boston to Charlottesville, Va., stayed up all Tuesday night and most of Wednesday to crack jokes in blogs and on Twitter (#breadbags) about just how backward Ernst had to be. This from the people who claim to be unlimited in their compassion for the poor -- except if the poor happen to live in a flyover state and vote Republican.

Iowa-trashing has been a respectable pastime among the big-brained ever since University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom wrote a 6,000-word article for the Atlantic in 2011 complaining that Iowans were “culturally-challenged,” and that the state contained too many cornfields, church steeples and white people.

Some of the sophisticates on the Internet claimed to know more than Ernst herself about life in southeastern Iowa farm country.

Here, for example, HonestyinGov tweeted: “If Joni grew up on RURAL farm -- wouldn’t they bake their OWN bread.”

Bustle’s Keertana Sastry snarkily asked: “Has anyone tested out Ernst’s routine shoe-protection out yet?”

Sarah Jones of PoliticusUSA cracked this funny: “The question is, was Ernst wearing bread bags on her feet during the SOTU rebuttal?”

Even the supposedly more sober and respectable media got into the jocularity. Here’s a tweet captured on Twitchy from Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak, for example: “Snow and rain forecast for tomorrow. Better double-bag those boys’ feet in the morning.”

The Huffington Post displayed New York Times-syndicated columnist Jeff Danziger’s cartoon of Ernst grinning like Goober Pyle on Mayberry RFD and wearing a T-shirt saying, “Je Suis Breadbags.”

Taking the … bread, however, for combining heavy-handed satire and tired social-justice haranguing was Paul Waldman at the American Prospect:

“[A]nd it’s inspiring that someone like Joni Ernst can start life in the most modest of circumstances, fitted as a baby with tiny booties made from Hostess Twinkie wrappers, then graduate to bread bags as she learned to castrate hogs (they do help keep the blood off your one good pair of shoes), and eventually grow up to do the bidding of the nation’s noblest plutocrats.”

That “castrate hogs” is a reference to a campaign speech of Ernst’s in which she joked about some of her other experiences as a farm girl. You see, coastal intellectuals were shocked when they heard that speech and learned that Iowa farmers actually raise pigs. Did they think bacon grew on the bacon tree at Whole Foods?

The point of all this was apparently to demonstrate Ernst’s hypocrisy as a Republican, because the rural poverty of her childhood was supposed to be all the fault of Ronald Reagan. Maybe so. According to the Census Bureau, in 1984, when Ernst was 14 years old, the median annual U.S. family income was $47,181 in today’s dollars. In 2012, the last year for which the Census Bureau has figures, it was $51,017. So Americans were $4,000 poorer back then -- even though housing and college cost less than half as much in today’s dollars. Furthermore, U.S. census figures don’t say much that’s positive about the Obama era either: They show U.S. median family income declining steadily during the Democratic president’s first three years in office: from $53,285 in 2009.

If I were a Democrat seeking public office in Iowa, I’d be dissociating myself like crazy from those oh-so-clever wits in the media.

Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.

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