Sometimes waiting three years to ask a question is worth it.
In the winter of 2015, our then-new U.S. Senator from Iowa, Joni Ernst, delivered the Republican response to the State of the Union.
You probably don’t remember what she said during that speech, but it’s very likely you remember something about feet. Either you remember the way big-city liberals mocked her for talking about wearing bread bags over her shoes as a child, or the camouflage shoes she wore while giving the speech.
I decided that at the very first opportunity, I would ask Senator Ernst about her thoughts on the reaction to her speech.
It took three years, but that chance arrived yesterday.
I was part of what her press guy called the “gaggle” of reporters who spoke to her after her Q & A session at the Iowa Braille School. Since that particular gaggle consisted of me and one other reporter, a guy from the C.R. Gazette, I had a couple minutes to discuss shoes.
I asked Senator Ernst about her very first national speech, and how it felt to have everyone focus on footwear instead of what she actually said.
I also told her that as I kid, I, too, had placed bread bags inside my shoes and/or boots.
In case that sounds utterly confounding, as someone wrote in 2015, let me explain:
It was 1970-something, and we lived in rural Brandon. My father had always wanted to live in the country, and the day they paved our city street in Independence, he decided to sell the house and move. We did. Raising a family of then-four boys (a daughter would come in a few years) on a Corn Blossom factory salary was challenging, and our shoes and boots were always discount-store sourced. That meant that they were not always as waterproof as one would like. This was also in the era when most of our grocery bags were still brown paper, before the age of plastic bags had reached our grocery stores. And surprisingly, we discovered that wearing bread bags between our socks and shoes was very effective at keeping our feet dry.
Some people heard Senator Ernst mention wearing them “over” her shoes and had a different mental image than what she meant. She was describing how the tops of the bags were visible at the top of our boots.
Many people, particularly liberals and comedians, stopped listening after they heard the words, “bread bags.” I, however, knew exactly what she was talking about.
I asked her if it was disappointing to have people focus on footwear when you are trying to make your first big speech to a whole country.
Not really, she said. She explained that the bread bags were an example of the every day choices and improvisations Americans make when they have to make the most of what they have. Having people who grew up making those improvisations representing them in Congress helps Americans know that those in D.C. are aware of the challenges Americans face, and able and willing to look for solutions to them, she said.
While comedians and political opponents were laughing at the bread bags, Sen. Ernst’s conservative supporters praised her speech for another footwear item: The camouflage shoes she wore while giving the speech.
I asked the Senator about that, too.
While her shoes were not visible as she gave the speech, a reporter (Jennifer Jacobs of Bloomberg) noticed them, and shared a photo on Twitter. Soon, the camouflage shoes (along with those bread bags) were overshadowing anything the Freshman Senator had to say in her speech.
The Senator told me Tuesday in the front parlor of the Iowa Braille School that she had practiced her speech, and then gone to a store nearby with her husband. She saw the camouflage shoes, and being a Lt. Col. in the Iowa National Guard, loved that style.
“You know me and camouflage,” she said.
“Where are the shoes now?” I asked, and the answer was inspiring.
Sen. Ernst sold those camouflage shoes at a benefit auction; they raised $1,000.
The cause for which that thousand dollars will go is something Sen. Ernst is very excited to be part of: The Global War on Terror Memorial project.
Ernst was among the leaders in Congress to help secure the approval of legislation authorizing the creation of a commission to raise money for and design a memorial to honor all Americans who have served in the military since 9/11, combating terrorism.
The memorial will take about 10 years to create, and there’s a 24-step bureaucratic process that the commission is beginning to make sure the monument fits well on the Mall in D.C., near the Vietnam, Korea War and other monuments in that area. The group is also in charge of raising money; the intention is to use no public funds for the project. It’s way too soon to speculate on what the memorial will look like, or where exactly on the Mall it will be.
Such a memorial is definitely appropriate.
Although I do not know anyone with local connections who has died in Afghanistan or Iraq or any other country where U.S. Troops have fought terrorists in the past 17 years, we do have many men and women who have fought there. One soldier wrote a letter to his mother, telling her that after a firefight, he saw a helmet-cam video of that battle, and found watching that video to be even more terrifying than being in the battle. I have written about the challenges of PTSD facing local soldiers, and have several friends who have sons or daughters who spent time in some of the world’s most dangerous places. Chances are that you do, too.
And those shoes which were a distraction more than three years ago, have become a small part in helping honor all of the Americans who have sacrificed so much since 9/11.
It’s my hope that the camouflage shoes that gained so much attention three years ago will help let Americans know about this important memorial.
See more about it for yourself by reading the links below: