Governor Chet Culver has begun stressing the words “fight” and “fighting” when he describes his administration’s three-year record.
Culver, a Democrat, may find himself in a battle for reelection in November. Just 40 percent of the people surveyed this past fall for The Des Moines Register’s “Iowa Poll” said they approved of the way Culver was doing his job. During a speech to the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council this morning, Culver said his number one priority as governor is job creation and job retention.
“We are doing as much as we can through the Department of Economic Development, through the department of Workforce Development to fight our way out of the recession,” Culver said.
Culver maintains the state is “on the road to recovery,” with leading economic indicators “pointed in the right direction.” And Culver’s pretty clear about who he wants Iowans to credit for that: “Democrats are getting the job done. We’re leading. We’re governing. We’re putting our state on a path to recovery. We’re fighting for those flood victims and those small business owners who lost their business in the floods.”
Jeff Stein, a communication arts professor at Wartburg College, says Culver’s use of the words “fight” and “fighting” are not an accident.
“By using the word ‘fight’ Governor Culver is trying to inspire confidence by saying that they are aggressively doing something. They’re not standing pat. They’re not just watching things happen around them and we, as Iowans and Americans, always like people who stand up for themselves and who fight. We don’t like people who give up,” Stein says. “…The rhetoric is not accidental. It’s deliberately chosen to try to set the mood that this is an aggressive and not a passive administration.”
Use of this “fighting” metaphor isn’t that unusual. Many embattled politicians have employed it. Al Gore, for example, used the phrase “Stand and Fight” as a rallying cry in late 1999. Gore was trying to fight off a primary challenge from Bill Bradley.
“If you say you are fighting, then the inference is that the other side isn’t fighting and so when you claim the word ‘fighting’ as your own, the other side has a very hard time to be able to rebut it because from a rhetoric standpoint, there are no words left,” Stein says. “You have said you are the fighter and, by negative inference, the other person must not be. Whether it’s true or not, it’s whoever gets there first.”
The governor’s own father, John Culver, used the slogan “A Fighter for Iowa” in his unsuccessful bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1980. According to Stein, though, use of the fighting metaphor in a bit dicey in post-9/11 American politics.
“When in an athletic competition coaches talk about ‘going to war,’ well, it seems really silly when we are fighting real wars,” Stein says. “And so for a politician to talk about fighting against economic forces that are hurting us, it has rung hollow in the last few years when people are really fighting half a world away.”
Culver’s fighting rhetoric isn’t limited to battling Republicans or economic forces beyond the state’s control. For example, during his speech at the union convention in Des Moines, Culver renewed a push to pass a labor-backed bill that stalled in the Iowa House in 2009 when six Democrats refused to vote for it.
“We’ve gotten some things done in the last 36 months, not everything that we’ve wanted to do,” Culver said this morning. “We fought hard last session, for example, on prevailing wage. We’re going to continue to fight hard.” The legislation would require contractors working on government-financed construction projects to pay their workers the “prevailing wage” in the county.
During this morning’s speech, Culver also said he had “fought hard” to get federal aid for flood victims. Culver touted the $3.5 billion in federal assistance that is designated for flood recovery projects in Iowa as well as the tens of millions of dollars the state is spending on infrastructure projects.
“When people travel around the state this summer and fall, they’re going to have to turn their windshield wipers on because there’s going to be so much dirt flying,” Culver joked.