Yepsen on politics, ‘the only game for adults’

David Yepsen at the museum in Jefferson Sunday

David Yepsen, a nationally-known political commentator and now host of IPTV’s “Iowa Press” show, wasted no time in crediting his home town with his successful career when he spoke to about 40 persons at the Greene County Historical Museum Sunday. Yepsen’s program was hosted by the Historical Society. Chuck Offenburger introduced Yepsen and was moderator.

“I would not be here if it weren’t for all the pieces that came together here in Jefferson, Iowa,” Yepsen said. He named the local school system as the single most important factor in his “equation.” “We had, and I think we still do, a good school system.”

He said growing up he was younger than his classmates, “kind of skinny, the runt of the litter,” and by his own description, he was “no good at music and no good at athletics.” He liked history and government, though. He recalls handing out campaign buttons at the county fair when he was only 10 years old. In 1964, a presidential campaign year, he spent his time hanging out at the county party headquarters of both the Democrats and the Republicans. “I’d walk back and forth, talking about politics and issues. I really got interested. I was fascinated,” he said. He was 14 years old.

He said adults encouraged his interest and took him to events. “Since I couldn’t do athletics and I couldn’t do music, at least I could talk,” he said.

He said that over the course of his career, he’s learned that in understanding politics, it’s important never to forget where you came from. In his years of covering politics, a question to ask himself was always “What do the people I care about, where I come from, want to know about? What’s affecting their lives? What’s going to outrage them?”

Yepsen spoke for about 15 minutes and then took questions for another 40 minutes. To a question from Offenburger about President Donald Trump’s “continuing war with the media,” Yepsen called it “the normal repartee of politics,” and said that it’s “always been rough and tumble in politics, but now the internet brings it home.”

He said he is fascinated by President Trump’s use of Twitter, and that historically, successful presidents have mastered the communication technology of their day, whether it be our nation’s founders controlling the post office, or Abraham Lincoln and the telegraph, or Franklin D. Roosevelt and the radio, or John F. Kennedy and the television, or Barack Obama and social media in 2008. And now Donald Trump is tweeting. “If he keeps using it three times a day to tick people off, it’s going to get old. But if he uses it to speak to Americans, it can have a huge impact,” he said. At this point, much of the impact has been negative, “and I don’t think that’s going to change. But keep an eye on the tweeting and see how he uses it to lead.”

Yepsen was asked to speculate on the effect of the Women’s March on Congress. Marches have an impact, Yepsen answered, and said that the Women’s March will have “a sobering effect on Republicans” as they consider how many people they will alienate if they enact some parts of the party platform.

The Women’s March also was a way to energize Progressives, who have been “in a real funk since the election.” The march was cathartic for them, according to Yepsen. “The energy is with them again,” he said.

He did a radio interview with WGN of Chicago Sunday morning and talked about the march. He reminded listeners that the 250,000 people who marched in Chicago on Saturday should calculate the time and money they spent participating in the march and spend that same amount of time and money door knocking in Wisconsin in 2020.

Yepsen called politics “the only game for adults.” “Football is great. I like entertainment and all that, but politics has consequences. If you want to have an impact, you’ve got to get into politics. You have become involved in politics. You can’t just sit on the outside and complain,” he said. “It’s great to have rallies and come together and feel good. That’s important psychologically. But in two years, when control of the Senate is at stake and the U.S. House, and in four years when the White House is open again, let’s see if that same energy from the march can be translated into precincts in battle ground states. If it can, they’ll flip it back.”

At the close of the program Offenburger asked Yepsen for his outlook for Jefferson and Greene County. Yepsen said he has seen many positive things happen in recent years, but going forward, “keeping your schools top notch is important.”

 

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