Dave Barry: In Iowa, leading with leadership — and little red flags

Dave barry with Jeb Bush on Friday night in Iowa.
Dave barry with Jeb Bush on Friday night in Iowa. Courtesy of NBC News

I swear I had no intention of involving Jeb Bush in the legal problem involving my sod.

Before I get into that, I should explain that Carroll is the site of the Greasewood Flats Club, where Bush held a rally. To get there, you leave Des Moines and drive straight for 17,000 miles, then make a right turn and go straight for another 17,000 miles, and it’s on your left. It’s a long haul, but en route you pass many fascinating sights, assuming you are fascinated by vast featureless sectors of frozen agriculture.

The Greasewood Flats Club was filled with the usual crowd of Iowans saying “excuse me” a lot and offering each other their seats. They are incredibly polite, these Iowans. If they ever come to Miami they will wind up naked in the gutter.

When Bush arrived he got a polite welcome and went into his pitch, which is that he is a Proven Leader who will provide Leadership by Leading. He then answered a bunch of polite questions, giving thoughtful responses but sometimes drifting too deeply into details, like a man reciting the tax code. This tendency toward wonkishness is Bush’s biggest weakness as a campaigner, although it could be useful in a medical emergency:

ANESTHESIOLOGIST: The gas isn’t working! The patient isn’t losing consciousness!

SURGEON: Quick! Get Jeb Bush in here to explain his five-point plan for stabilizing Medicare finances!

PATIENT: No! Just kill me!

After the Q&A, Bush performed the ritual that candidates must perform at every campaign stop: shaking hands with all the Iowans, posing for selfies with them and listening with an earnest expression to all their comments, questions, concerns and personal grievances, no matter how petty. I don’t know how the candidates do this, over and over, day after day. A normal human would, at some point, scream “LEAVE ME ALONE, IOWANS! WHAT AM I, THE WIZARD OF OZ??”

Anyway, I was watching Bush perform the ritual, when he spotted me in the crowd. “What are you doing here?” he said. “Are you running for president again?”

He was referring to the fact that in past election years I have modestly offered my services as leader of the Free World. My main campaign issue (which, for the record, NONE of the major candidates has addressed) is that I favor the death penalty for whoever is responsible for making Americans use low-flow toilets. We used to have great toilets in this nation. We had the most powerful toilets on Earth. We had toilets that could suck down a mature sheep. And now....

But I digress. I told Bush that I’m not running this year. (My candidacy is supposed to be a joke, but in this particular election cycle there would be no way to tell.) We then had a brief conversation about Coral Gables, which is where Bush and I both live, and which has to be the most anal, nitpicky, rule-obsessed city on Earth.

Recently my wife and I had some sod installed on the swale in front of our house to cover a big ugly dirt spot. We stuck little red flags on wires into the ground around it so people wouldn’t park there while the sod took root. Do you think Coral Gables thanked us for beautifying the swale? Ha! Coral Gables gave us a citation for violating the city code by “Placing obstructions on public right of way which cause a hazard to life safety.” Yes! A hazard to life safety! The only way these flags would threaten a life would be if somebody swallowed one, which even in South Florida is unlikely.

Anyway, I found myself telling Jeb Bush about this at his campaign event, and it hit me: I was whining about my personal problems to a presidential candidate. I was doing exactly what I mock the Iowans for doing. And Bush was listening to me with exactly the same earnest expression.

“So,” I concluded, “if you get elected president…”

“You want help with the code-enforcement Nazis,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

To his credit, he didn’t promise anything. But at least he heard me out, and I would seriously consider caucusing for him if I were an Iowa citizen, which of course is impossible because I could never pass the Manners Exam.

Meanwhile in other caucus news: Bernie Sanders is touring Iowa with a band called Vampire Weekend, which is interesting because I had him pegged more as a Heavy Metal guy. The buzz here is that Sanders is surging on the Democratic side, and Marco Rubio is surging on the Republican side. The press is excited about this, so there’s at least a 70 percent chance it’s not true.

This is my last column from Iowa. My next one will be from New Hampshire. In between I need to get back home, to protect my sod.


Join Dave & Carl

What: Pulitzer Prize winner Dave Barry and award-winning columnist Carl Hiaasen will discuss the 2016 presidential election campaign. They’ll discuss other topics, too — such as why is Florida so weird — and attempt to answer audience questions, provided they don’t involve math.

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 1

Where: Miracle Theater, Coral Gables

Tickets: $25

Register online: davecarlelection2016.bpt.me

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