Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.



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  • Suppose Obama was a Republican President

    • Posted on May 11, 2014 by Scott Cawelti
    This appeared this morning (Sunday May 11 in the Waterloo Courier and involves a fantasy:  If Barack Obama  was a Republican, and spent his first term doing exactly what he's done, Republicans would love him.  Really.  

    Why can' they at least acknowledge that a little?  Just a simple admission that he's basically been a conservative president in many ways, and succeeded even when he wasn't a conservative.   

    They can't because they're blinded by their ideology, so this column is about that blindness and how it keeps them from seeing Obama for what he has done as president.      

    “Blind” as a word doesn’t usually provoke a positive response.  Outside of ancient Greek stories, no one chooses blindness.  

     Yet we have “double-blind” studies, which scientific and medical researchers call the gold standard of scientific proof.  Also serious musicians prepare long and hard for “blind” auditions, where they perform behind a screen, their hearers unable to judge their appearance or body language.  

    Blind auditions mean judgments free of extraneous biases.  Musicians so hired must feel justifiably proud.    

     “Blind” can thus mean something quite positive, namely, removing personal prejudices and focusing on what matters.  When it comes to finding medications and treatments that actually work, as well as accomplished musicians, this means everything.   It’s the most fair and unbiased means of making judgments.   

     We could use such blind fairness in politics and political judgments.  

     We think we automatically know whether a politicians’ actions have been 
    laudable or horrible depending on their party affiliation.  

    Yet we could be wrong.  Completely, utterly wrong.   T

    The best politicians get legislation passed that, seen through an unbiased perspective, could well be supported by members of either party, or hated as well.   Only when biases recede, after decades, can we see who did the right thing.   

     Consider:  If Republicans could have fielded an ideal dream GOP candidate in 2008--let’s call him Robert Evergood Reagan Lee of Virginia--had accomplished what’s listed below, Republicans would be flying high, crowing all the way:  

    1. Finally passed a health care reform bill based largely on the conservative Heritage Foundation’s recommendation of government-sponsored exchanges involving private insurance companies.   This, instead of the progressives’ desire for a single-payer government plan, and in spite of bitter resistance and dozens of votes to abolish it from naysayers. 

    2. Took us out of two horrendous wars that were costing enormous resources and that ultimately, almost no one supported.    

    3. Brought the jobless rate down and the economy back from the brink of a complete meltdown, so much so that stocks are now at an all-time high. 

    4. Done more for Veterans than previous presidents.    As veteran journalist Jamie Reno writes, “things have gotten better for veterans overall since [R.E. Lee Reagan] took office. It's not easy fixing such a deeply entrenched bureaucracy as VA, especially when two wars are concluding and politicians are too busy fighting each other to pass many laws. But by almost any measure, the situation for veterans and their families is demonstrably better now than it was under the previous administration.” 

    5. Shrunk government more than any other president, just as their party had hoped: As one commentator put it: “Not only has [the president] shrunk the size the government, but he has reduced it more than . . .Ronald Reagan ever did . . . [the president] has cut more taxes than any other president in American history.”  

    6. Initiated a successful attack on Bin Laden, America’s mortal enemy and wisely buried his remains at sea to avoid making him a martyr.   

    7. Finally, Republicans’ dream president added more jobs during his first four years than G.W. Bush added for his during his entire presidency.  By the time of the his second inaugural in January, the economy had added a net total of 1,208,000 jobs since he was first sworn in four years earlier, beating his predecessor’s eight-year total of 1, 083,000.  
    Those are the bias-free, non-blinded facts. 

     If Republicans could see through their party blinders, Republicans would be fainting from sheer joy.    

     Instead, thanks to the drumbeat of constant bias, anger at losing, and any number of loony far-right fantasies, repeated endlessly on Fox News, they hurl invectives and slurs, wild theories, call for his impeachment, and oppose every attempt to do the right thing, from reforming immigration to raising the minimum wage.  

     They have eyes and ears, but they don’t see or hear.   

    Go comment!
    Posted in
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    • Conservatives/Liberals
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
  • Midwestern Style, a la Gary Kroeger

    • Posted on Apr 28, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    This was first published on March 8, 1987, and it seems to hold up pretty well, given the passage of 27 years or so.  Gary Kroeger in fact has returned Cedar Falls, Iowa, --ever the Midwesterner.  He does seem perfectly suited to the "land in its working clothes," as poet James Hearst once called Iowa.  


    There’s no denying this: we’re all Midwesterners. How do we know that? Because we all act alike, as anyone from California knows.

    So when Midwestern characters show up in television programs, they behave in the expected fashion. Otherwise, don’t you know, the audience would get confused.

    A case in point is “Spies,” the new CBS adventure/comedy that stars Cedar Falls native Gary Kroeger and Mr. California Tan himself, George Hamilton as “Ian Stone.”

    Kroeger plays “Smythe,” a new spy for “the company” who idolizes Ian Stone, and through a series of plot strains, gets to be his partner.

    Smythe hails from the Midwest, (Kansas) and boy, and does it show? Let us count the ways:

    • His clothes. “If you’re going to work for me,” Stone tell him, “you’ve got to stop looking like an Amway salesman.” Stone buys Smythe (from their expense account) two thousand bucks worth of designer clothes.

    Oddly enough, pre-fashion wardrobe Smythe looks great to me: button-down shirts that almost fit, run-down loafers, semi-baggy pants. Smythe complains that he prefers Sears to Ralph Lauren. Ian Stone sniffs, “You think Cheryl Tiegs really wears that stuff?”
    So from now on, Smythe won’t look much like a Midwesterner. Instead, he’ll look like a Midwesterner in California clothes.

    • His language. He says “darn” a lot. “DARN?” asks Stone. “Where’d you get that expression?”

    “Kansas,” replies poor Smythe. “We say that a lot out there.” He also says “a lot” a lot. And if he had been writing it, he would have spelled it “alot.” That’s how my Midwestern writing students spell it.

    Smythe also speaks with the voice of a parent. Every other sentence contains “should” or “must” or “have to.” That’s the Midwest, through and through.

    • His conscience. This is the trait that “Spies” plays up the most. Ian Stone amounts to an American James Bond, always with the women, always seeming to put pleasure before business. He’s a playboy, an irresponsible high-living, big spending rake.
    Smythe, however, worries constantly about Stone’s wasteful lifestyle. “Couldn’t you drive a nice Pinto?” he whines, as they sit in Stone’s Ferrari. By way of reply, Stone shoots Smythe a withering glare. 

    Every Midwesterner who’s gone to California has seen such glares. I saw it several times last summer when I asked Riverside natives why they can’t use the municipal swimming pools, (instead of wasting precious water for backyard pools) or why they can’t build a decent mass transit system. I played Smythe to their Stones on a daily basis.

    • His frugality. Smythe constantly worries about money, counts up their expenses, calculates their budget. Stone, meanwhile, brings in blindfolded musicians to play for his private parties, rents whole skating rinks for his date, and draws ahead on his company salary. (He’s been paid ahead until 1997.)

    Smythe insists that they pay as they go. Stone seizes the day, and lets tomorrow take care of itself. Come to think of it, the federal deficit comes by way of a former Californian. It all makes sense.

    We can moan about having to live down these Midwestern stereotypes all we want, yet when people hear where we’re from, they see Gary Kroeger’s Smythe fashion-blind, conscience-stricken, frugal to a fault.

    Darn it all, anyway.  A lot.  
    Go comment!
    Posted in
    • Personalities
    • Humor
    • Cedar Valley Chronicles
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