Editorial: Joni Ernst's problematic politics


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Iowa politics got a nod on the front page of Monday’s edition of the Washington Post in an article tracing the rise of Joni Ernst, a Republican candidate for the Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin in January.

Ernst, the article notes, has infiltrated the national consciousness with her March ad “Squeal,” which featured Ernst discussing her hog-castrating experience (and how that experience might carry over in Washington) over some b-roll of adorable piglets. The ad, as an unhip observer of the Internet might say, went viral. A further analysis of Ernst’s newfound popularity by the Post-affiliated blog the Monkey Cage showed that her appearance in the news media has been dozens of times more frequent since the ad’s premiére.

The advertising has lifted Ernst to front-runner status in the Republican primary race, which will be settled on June 3. Unfortunately, the mechanism by which Ernst has achieved national fame has cast her as little more than a caricature of rural arch conservatism. Her quirky ads have lifted her to the top of the field despite her support for the same conservative, oft-debunked canards peddled by candidates across the country cast from the tea-party mold.

She’s adopted the familiar “repeal and replace” doctrine on Obamacare, even as the good news about the law continues to shrink the already minuscule chance of a repeal. Enrollment numbers beat expectations, and the number of enrollees actually paying their premiums looks promising as well. Early data seem to show that insurance costs aren’t increasing as much as opponents suggested they might. The window for repeal, it seems, as closed, but Ernst still says she supports replacing the current law with “free market alternatives.” A platitude, of course, is not a plan.

She also says she hasn’t seen convincing evidence that climate change is “entirely man-made,” in direct contrast to the consensus of the scientific community, which was re-established earlier this month in a massive report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that states unequivocally that climate change is caused by human activity. The question is whether Ernst’s standard of proof is simply much higher than that of the scientific community or if her hubris merely precludes her from rational assessment of information that contradicts conservative dogma.

Ernst is a supporter of a balanced-budget amendment, a particularly common manifestation of conservative fiscal quackery that would destroy the government’s ability to exercise the most basic form of economic stimulus — deficit spending — in times of stagnation. Under such an amendment, an economic downturn would mean decreased tax revenue, which would have to be met by commensurate cut in spending, causing a spiral into depression.

On judicial confirmations, she said would value strict adherence to the Constitution but also a strong moral basis in Judeo-Christian religious values, a troubling, even paradoxical prospect, considering the part in the Constitution that says “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

She’s even adopted a sort of revisionism on Iraq, in which she served in 2003. In an interview with the Des Moines Register last week, Ernst said, “We don’t know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in; however, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.” That Ernst hangs on to such a belief in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, years after it was abandoned even by the Bush administration, speaks again to her insulation from reality.

Her new popularity is undeniable, but Joni Ernst offers Iowa nothing new. Her policy positions are little more than retreads of already worn-out conservative clichés.

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