Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Of Bread Bags and Piles of Shoes

Some of the (many) shoes in our house.  Photo by J. Berta

Greetings All:

Last week, I wrote about that uniquely American tradition known as "The State of the Union Address."  I thought President Obama gave a solid speech.  I also thought he won the "zinger" award of the night when he quipped, "I know, I won both of them." This was to the some grumbling by "The loyal opposition" regarding his comment about being done with elections.

We then moved onto the Republican response.  There were a number of them given.  The official one came from Iowa's own, Senator Joni Ernst.  There is almost a "Hunger Games" quality to the response to the SOTU address.  It's way shorter, given to an empty room sans staff and teleprompter and its watched only by the media, the other party's fans and political junkies (like me). 

Senator Ernst gave, in my opinion, a very good and sincere response.  One part of her speech stuck with me.  Here it is:

"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."

My opinion was not universally shared.  Peggy Noonan has a cleaver blog post calling out the "eye-rollers" who took issue with Ernst's tales of her youth.  I've got the link to her blog post in the credits below, it's worth a read.

As someone who worked in New York City slinging permanent life insurance (er, I mean, being a "financial consultant") and hailing from "flyover country," I can understand their point of reference.  After all, who'd do that?  Wear bread bags on their feet?

People in Iowa, that's who.

I think I might have even done that as a kid myself.  However, I cannot recall.  Truth be told, I had plenty of shoes growing up.  Now, even more so.

I remember as I watched Senator Ernst give say the line about her " good pair of shoes," I looked over at the assortment of shoes gathered in our living room.  For our family of four, we're all good, really good with shoes.

We are truly fortunate.

I don't know why, but for some reason as she told her story of the bread bags keeping her one pair of shoes dry, I thought of a pile of shoes.  Not the small collection in my house, but the mountains of shoes many miles away in D.C. and in Europe.

Those piles reside at the National Holocaust Museum in our nation's capital and throughout Europe in the museums that were once killing factories.  

Those piles are shoes, countless shoes!  When I see photos of the piles of shoes, I cannot help but think that the last living person to wear them had but minutes of life left before the steel door slammed shut to the gas chamber.

My God, the horrors man can do.

A pile of victims' shoes, fair use claimed,

Now, lest anyone think I'm now on the Joni Ernst bandwagon from a policy standpoint, I am not.  In her speech, she touched on a number of issues, many I clearly disagree with her on, with a bunch of separation.   Come to think of it, with the exception of her pledge to support Veterans, I probably am on the other side of just about everything else she said last week.  Yet on her story of the bread bags, I believe her, I take her at her word.  

And to those who would mock that story, think about this:  Are you mocking her because you think she's a hick or you just don't like her politics?  Either way, you're befalling a stereotype.  

Stop it.  Please, I'm asking nice.

By all means, challenge her on policy issues.  Get informed, get active, vote, volunteer, read, write a blog (it's easy, even I can do it) and advance your agenda.  Register folks to vote and help them get whatever ID they need to vote (interesting the Constitution says nothing about state-issued proof of ID to vote, yet I digress) and whatever else you can think of.  But please, do not succumb to cheep shot attacks against someone you don't even know.

Here's why:  When people make generalizations, come to assumptions without the facts, or just engage in snarky comments, it does not help our society move forward.  

And we need to move forward, like now!

A few days' ago (January 27th) marked the liberation of evil personified, Auschwitz.  Although this was sadly not the only crime scene of the Third Reich, it is the best, most chilling, ugly image of the Holocaust.  When I hear, "Never again," I shake my head.  Since 1945 there have been plenty of atrocities across the globe.  The grandmother of the last perpetrator of "Walmart-scale" evil has not yet been born.

So if I might suggest, let us all endeavor to look for the sincerity in what others say, offer them the benefit of the doubt.  Let us focus on all we have.  Let us shamelessly and joyfully practice audacious acts of gratitude for that plenty.  Let of never forget that the stiff arm salute became the ashes of Auschwitz.  It didn't happen overnight but happen it did.  

When people ask me, "Could something like that (the Holocaust) happen here, in America?"  I answer, "No."  I say, "no," not just because I'm a perpetual optimist, but because we have systems in place strong as a Spartan shield wall to protect others.  Specifically,  the minority, from the whims of the majority.   I also answer, "No," because unlike the bully regimes that infected the decades of the 20th Century, we respect the rule of law and right to hold both beliefs and memories...including rides on school buses with bread bags strapped to one's legs.  

Be well my friends,




  1. 1. Rows and rows of kids with bread bags ON their shoes -- never happened.
    2. The rest of her speech = Koch Brothers and ultra-right-wing agenda. Repeal Obamacare. (We didn't have no fancy health care for all when I was a kid.) Build the Keystone XL Pipeline (official estimates of 35 permanent U.S. jobs after construction -- endangering environment, running roughshod through Native American lands and over key aquifers, doing little for the wealth and long-term stability of this nation.

    Ernst might be earnest, but she's a mere shill reading whatever is put on a TelePrompter. That's the type of Congress a Koch Bros. would like to see. It's happening at the state level as well.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I presume your comment under 1. is your opinion or did you attend school with Senator Ernst?

      More importantly, I am respectfully asking that when you comment to please provide a name or at least initials. I almost deleted your comments as they were anonymous and this is often spam. I am posting it and hope it spurs some debate. Respectful debate folks, please.