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Congressman Steve King’s Greatest Hits
Why the Provocative Pol Isn’t As Dumb As You Might Think
In six short years, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has cultivated a national reputation for attention-grabbing remarks that delight his conservative supporters and appall liberal critics. The latter find his rhetoric fanatical, nativist, and at times racist. But even constituents troubled by the congressman’s runaway mouth have to concede that King has become something of a voice for western Iowa in the 24-hour news world.
King’s recent rant that al-Qaeda would welcome the election of Sen. Barack Obama with “dancing in the streets” was heard around the world within 24 hours. The remark echoed other Kingisms in its fact-free content, its casual impugning of the patriotism of people who disagree with him and its careful delivery.
King’s provocations, he admitted in a Downtown Sioux City Rotary Club meeting covered by Bret Hayworth of The Sioux City Journal, are carefully contrived for maximum effect.
According to King, he plans everything he says, no matter how ‘provocative’ — it’s weighed ahead of time, never off the cuff and designed to stir discussion of key issues. ‘What kind of a nation are we if we can’t have open dialog?’ King asserted.
The disarming, if not disingenuous, plea for “dialog,” coming from a man not known for his civility, is another sign of King’s style. One on one, King can be quite personable, even with critical journalists or liberal Democrats. 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 tiny Kiron before winning the mostly Republican 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. Just weeks ago, King opted not to run against Sen. Tom Harkin, the popular liberal incumbent. But he is widely believed to be eyeing the Terrace Hill gubernatorial mansion now inhabited by Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, who will be up for re-election in 2010.
The question for King is whether his catalog of outrage can sell outside of his reliable conservative base in western Iowa.
“Steve King’s Greatest Hits — Volume 1″
1. He idolizes Joe McCarthy.
On Sept. 27, 2005, King referred to widely disgraced red-baiter Sen. Joseph McCarthy as a “great American hero” and continues to defend the statement — as late as this Monday at the Sioux City Rotary meeting in which he said forthcoming information on McCarthy will prove the Wisconsin Republican right — and by extension, King’s comments.
2. King likens illegal immigrants to animals.
In July of 2006 King went to the House floor to display the model of a wall he said he personally designed for the U.S. border with Mexico and likened illegal border crossers to the farm animals.
“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 displaying 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.”
3. The Obama slam
In an interview in Spencer, Iowa, King said, “I’ll just say this, that when you think about the optics of a Barack Obama potentially getting elected president of the United States — and I mean, what does this look like to the rest of the world? What does it look like to the world of Islam? And I will tell you that, if he is elected president, then the … the radical Islamists, the … the al-Qaeda and the radical Islamists and their supporters will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11.”
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. King says Iraq is safer than Washington, D.C.
In the summer of 2006, on the floor of the U.S. House, King said it’s more perilous for civilians in Washington, D.C., than in Iraq. He made the argument at least twice.
“Well, by now, I have a feel for the rhythm of this place called Washington, D.C., and my wife lives here with me,” King said. “I can tell you, she is in far greater risk being a civilian in Washington, D.C., than the average civilian in Iraq.” (In fact, an estimated 21,000 civilians died violent deaths in Iraq in 2006. That same year there were 169 homicides in the nation’s capital.)
6. 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 in March. “And if there are, they probably all look like Helen Thomas.”
In a rare display of civility, King apologized.
7. King endorses backseat baby-making.
How should Iowa deal with the worker shortage in towns that have relied on Hispanic workers, legal and illegal, since the 1980s?
Make more Iowa babies, King told the Greater Des Moines Partnership, according to Jane Norman of The Des Moines Register. “What about the ‘grow your own’ plan?” King said.
When former Republican Lt. Gov. Art Neu asked King to elaborate, 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.”
8. Congressman claims John Kerry would have lost World War II.
In 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!”
9. 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.”
Visting Iraq, King could not resist the opportunity to sit in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palace thrones. King later sent the photo to the media, prompting some to wonder if he hopes to become a power-mad dictator. If western Iowans, often feeling like the red-headed stepchild of the Hawkeye State, ever secede, would King be content with the governor’s chair of a new state or would he want a throne — for real?