On Sept. 17, Constitution Day, a panel at Mount Mercy University discussed how the First Amendment is related to coverage of elections. The event was called: “If You Can Keep It: The First Amendment and the Election of 2020.”
I’m not sure we came to any great conclusion, but those who attended tell me that the panel discussion was worthwhile. Lyle Muller, retired director/editor of Iowa Watch; Zack Kucharski, executive editor of the Gazette; and Dr. Richard Barrett, assistant professor of political science joined me on the panel.
I reviewed a little history related to the First Amendment and talked about why it exists. The title of the event came from a famous story told of Ben Franklin, who was asked as he was leaving a meeting of the Constitutional Convention whether the new United States would be a republic or a monarchy.
“A republic, if you can keep it,” he said.
Dr. Barrett posed an interesting question: How would we write the First Amendment if we were going to write it today? In response, I think the rest of us agreed that part of the power of the amendment is it’s endurance.
By the way, I didn’t think it was that much of a surprises, but several of those who attended noted that they didn’t realize the First Amendment is first not by some grand design, but a bit by chance. In the original Bill of Rights, 12 amendments were proposed, and only the final 10 were approved by the states. What we call today the First Amendment was the Third Amendment, originally.
Never mind. Freedom of speech and of the press have been keys to our politics for more than 200 years. The media system that covers our politics keeps changing, and is in a particular state of flux now.
But, as Zack Kucharski noted, no matter if the wrapper changes, there is still a need for truth telling journalists.
Well, if that rumination on our country’s history were not enough, we got another taste on Thursday night. As part of the fall faculty series “Setting the Table: Perils and Pleasures of Food in America,” Dr. Kris Keuseman explored food rationing during World War II.
Although Dr. Keuseman did give some interesting information about what happened in this country, including showing some old family cookbooks from that era, much of his presentation covered the fascinating story of rationing in the U.K. During the war, new science on nutrition was used to plan how to allocate food—and the government dictates in that intimate area of life proved beneficial. Most measures of public health, absent all of the violent death caused by war, improved during the war years because the wartime rationed diet was actually pretty healthy.
And tonight, before writing this, I got the munchies and had a fatty plate of nachos. I need some rationing, I think.
One of the slides Dr. Keuseman showed featured some British propaganda aimed at boosting morale and enthusiasm for wartime food. A cartoon character named “Dr. Carrot” tried to make the orange root vegetable a friendly personality to children.
And carrots were even used in a disingenuous way, with a poster urging service people to eat more carrots to improve key night vision for night bomber tracking. The reality was that carrots can only improve vision if you have a vitamin deficiency, and then only raise your vision to normal—they don’t give you any super vision. The carrot poster was meant to help obscure that it was improving British RADAR technology that was seeing the German bombers, not carrot-enhances eyes.
Sorry, Dr. Carrot. You may have helped some kids but you weren’t Britain’s secret weapon, just an orange root of deception. Orange—the color of lies. Thanks goodness we don’t see any evidence of that today!
Dr. Keuseman noted that American rationing wasn’t to keep the national going, it was to retain food for export. British rationing, in contrast, was more a matter of survival.
The Sept. 19 presentation, called “Rationed: When Food Becomes a Weapon of War,” represented the end of the opening events of this series that focused on food history. Next comes more on current issues related to food. This fall series on food continues Oct. 3, when Dr. Joseph Hendryx, assistant professor of English, will speak on “Eating in the Margins: The Politics and Experience of Dumpster Diving.”
Well, Britain survived food shortages in World War II. American democracy may be ailing today, but so far, we have kept our republic, and I hope we continue to keep it. Maybe, clarity of vision could help our politics today.
Paging Dr. Carrot …