Thursday, November 1, 2012

Western Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King is a master at finding or manufacturing controversy, issuing provocative statements, and reveling in the national media attention that follows.

The Book of King is an ever-expanding collection of often incendiary and generally artful political barbs. King is nothing if not a prodigious producer of these outrages, which are by equal measure eagerly swallowed by his wide-eyed supporters and gobbled by the mainstream media and ideologically fueled websites. The undeniable result: national profile.

King’s provocations, he admitted in a Downtown Sioux City Rotary Club meeting a few years ago, covered by Bret Hayworth of The Sioux City Journal, are carefully contrived for maximum effect.

According to King, he plans everything he says. It’s weighed ahead of time, never off-the-cuff and designed to stir discussion of key issues.

The founder of a construction company, he knows the ways of rural Iowa and how to connect with a crowd. He got himself elected as a state senator in Kiron before winning the 5th Congressional District seat in 2002. But with his conservative base seemingly locked in, King is eschewing the traditional path of conservative Iowa Republicans like Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad, who rose in popularity as they migrated from the right wing toward the political center.

At one point in his seventh and final debate with Democrat Christie Vilsack in Mason City on Tuesday King produced a comment that ran afoul of a decade-long career we’ve cataloged.

“I think it’s important to keep the message positive,” King said.

This from a man who called Howard Dean a “coward” in a news release and described his concerns with a “big, powerful, angry, black man” protesting the war in Iraq.

And later, he offered this contention, “I don’t do things for political purposes.”

OK, you be the judge. The following is a list of some of our congressman’s rhetorical highlights over the past decade. Let’s call it “Steve King’s Top 10 Greatest Hits:”

1. He idolizes Joe McCarthy

In the fall of 2005, King referred to widely disgraced red-baiter U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy as a “hero for America” and continues to defend the statement.

Joseph McCarthy is the political leader who cried wolf in the 1950s and nearly cost us the Cold War. He’s the inspiration for much of the movie “The Manchurian Candidate,” for heaven’s sake.

Most Americans see footage of the McCarthy hearings or remember the era and shudder at the thought of what the censured senator represented.

Not King. He sees a role model, a political jukebox hero.

“It’s extraordinarily bad judgment or he’s historically illiterate,” Art Neu, a Carroll attorney and former Republican lieutenant governor, said of King’s 50-year retroactive McCarthy endorsement.

2. King makes fun of an old lady

In 2006, King suggested that iconic journalist Helen Thomas, then 85 years old, was ugly in a joke about radical Islam’s belief that martyrs will be rewarded with virgins in the afterlife.

“There probably are not 72 virgins in the hell he (Abu Musab al-Zarqawi) is at,” King said at the Iowa GOP State Convention. “And if there are, they probably all look like Helen Thomas.”

3. King likens illegal immigrants to animals

In July 2006 King went to the House floor to display the model of a wall the Kiron Republican said he personally designed for the U.S. border with Mexico.

“We need to do a few other things on top of that wall, and one of them being to put a little bit of wire on top here to provide a disincentive for people to climb over the top or put a ladder there.” King said in explaining his design. “We could also electrify this wire with the kind of current that would not kill somebody, but it would be a discouragement for them to be fooling around with it. We do that with livestock all the time.”

4. King compares homosexuals to unicorns and leprechauns

In a Dec. 12, 2003, news release about Sioux City Judge Jeffrey Neary’s decision to grant two lesbians a divorce King said the following: “Unless I am mistaken it was in Vermont, not Iowa, that Howard ‘The Coward’ Dean slyly signed midnight legislation making same sex unions legal. Unicorns, leprechauns, gay marriages in Iowa — these are all things you will never find because they just don’t exist. But perhaps Judge Neary would grant divorces to unicorns and leprechauns, too.’”

5. The “Big, powerful, angry, black man” remark

Because of his concerns about the impact of war protests in America, King went to get a firsthand view of the anti-war demonstrations and speeches in Washington, D.C., just after the war in Iraq started in 2003.

The congressman spent about 90 minutes among war protesters around the Washington Monument and other places in the nation’s capital. One episode stood out to King, and he described it to me during an interview.

“I saw a big, powerful, angry, black man come up to the flag, the flags that were held along the streets by the ‘Support Our Troops’ people, and he was just screaming, ‘Burn that racist flag! Burn that racist flag!’” King said.

6. Congressman claims John Kerry would have lost World War II

In the summer of 2004, King issued a statement about the just-dedicated World War II memorial in Washington, saying, “Can you imagine if John Kerry had been president during WWII? We’d all be speaking Japanese and German right now!”

It would have been interesting to hear King say that at the dedication of our Veterans Memorial monument here in Carroll. Would you be OK with politicizing such an event?

7. King defends “hazing” at Abu Ghraib

“The dismembered and charred corpses of American contractors dangling over the Euphrates River in comparison to the abuse committed by a few soldiers at Abu Ghraib are like the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer compared to those of Heidi Fleiss,” King said in a statement. “What amounts to hazing is not even in the same ballpark as mass murder.”

8. King says Iraq is safer than Washington, D.C.

In the summer of 2006, on the floor of the U.S. House, King says it’s more perilous for civilians in Washington, D.C., than Iraq.

9. King endorses back-seat babymaking

When discussing potential solutions to concerns about Iowa’s population during a Carroll Rotary Club meeting, King singled out Singapore’s plan to increase pregnancies, which he said included the injunction, “put newspapers in your car (windows) to get more privacy.” Added King, “I remember those things when I read them. They kind of stand out in my mind.”

10. King defends the widow penalty

King uses a preposterous hypothetical that characterizes our servicemen as booze-hounds prone to one-night stands and black-out drunk marriages. “A soldier, man or woman, could get drunk in Bangkok, wake up in the morning and be married, as will happen sometimes in places like Las Vegas or Bangkok, be killed the next day, and the spouse who was a product of the evening’s celebration would have then a right to claim access to come to the United States on a green card,” King said during debate on the widow penalty, according to The Des Moines Register.