June 20, 2014



I consider Facebook in much the same way I do public restrooms.

Yes, I could make other arrangements, but in modern America, with all the travel, and the necessity of employing millenials, I'm going to have to use both. I just try and get in and out of the social-media site and highly trafficked toilet facilities as quickly as possible.

No lingering. Limited eye contact.

So I'm not on Facebook much. A few times a week to check messages from friends and newspaper readers or to scout possible story ideas for our publications.

But in that time, because of the way The Zuckerberg Empire codes and queues my "friends," I am well aware of what family members are posting on Facebook, whether it's birthday photos of my nephews or odd jokes or rants from other relatives, left and right in their political leanings.

And as a newspaper family we are public, so in the event of an errant comment, or thoughtless post, I'd be on the phone with the offending parent or sibling with a plea, or demand, for a quick stripping of the distasteful ditty from the Facebook news feed, an open source for billions of the world's citizens.

Which makes me wonder about the Ernst family, what passes for routine around the house in Red Oak. Why did it take Democratic-operative spurred media accounts to reveal U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst's husband's intellectual meanderings on "skanks" and "hags," his unabashed giddiness on Facebook at the imagery of an "ex" girlfriend or wife going from wounded to dead in the front yard via gunshot.

On April 19, 2013, according to The Des Moines Register, Gail Ernst shared a photo of Janet Napolitano, then the secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with the comment: "And am I suppose (sic) to give up my guns? As if! Traitorous skank!"

In a Facebook post on March 2013, a couple months before his wife announced her candidacy, The Register reports that Gail Ernst wrote: "What do you do if you see your ex running around in your front yard screaming and bloody? Stay calm. Reload. And try again."

It keeps going. National media organizations have reported that Gail Ernst termed Hillary Clinton a "hag" in a Facebook post in May 2013.

Heaven forbid this guy was ever trotting out his takes on MySpace back in the day.

At the time of Gail Ernst's publication of such views on Facebook his wife served in the Iowa Senate and was very much in the discussion as candidate for statewide office.

So why didn't his wife, or one of his three daughters (two adults and a high-schooler), or another family member or friend, see these posts - like maybe the first one so there weren't repeat keystroke performances from Gail - and urge him to kill the tasteless (and dull-minded, cliche, parroted) comments?

It's fair to wonder about the company the Ernsts keep, who they are? No one intervened with a lesson on having some class? Did these comments get overlooked because they reflect the tone and tenor of normal conversations and collective worldview in the Ernst orbit?

To be sure, Joni Ernst is a skilled weaver of nostalgia, rural imagery. Like her, I'm in my mid-40s and can recall going to grade school in the 1970s Iowa winters with used bread bags - in my case Wonder Bread bags - wrapped around my shoes to keep feet dry and extend the durability of the footwear.

There's lots of talk of such charming pluck as well as church and family in the now-roaring Ernst publicity machine.

"It's really been quite a family affair," Ernst said of her candidacy in a speech after winning the GOP nomination on June 3.

When Gail is on stage, a man standing quietly by his woman (perhaps with daydreams of an ex and ammo reload) we are to consider him a public figure, you know, for the photo opportunity.

But if he thinks aloud on Facebook?

"I've addressed this issue with my husband and that's between us," Ernst said.

Between us? Sure, and anyone with a smartphone who has ever signed up for Mark Zuckerberg's little invention.

Like the Ernsts, I'm a rural Iowan. We may wrap our feet the same way to guard against the slush of March. But we don't all think alike.

Ernst, with her Christmas-card-friendly, church-potluck posturing, has effectively linked her biography to the memories Iowans have of years past. She's no doubt a real hit at 50-year high school reunions for pre-consolidated Iowa schools.

But is Joni Ernst, the company she keeps, the voice of the emerging Iowa, those of us living in the here and now in our small towns and rural reaches?

You know, the way to truly appreciate a small town in Iowa is to see beyond the obvious, to appreciate the layers, the rich deepness, the full tapestry of its life. The people I know in western Iowa who do that - who live that ethos - wouldn't dream of calling a woman a skank or casually roll out a deeply troubling domestic violence joke.