Beth Reinhard, at The Atlantic, profiled an ambitious, hard-working, modest and thoughtful Ryan Rhodes, a key Tea party activist in Iowa. The outcome of the Iowa caucuses in February of next year could help propel a new GOP face to the party's nomination in Tampa, or solidify a candidate who will ultimately be fodder for President Obama. The story of young Mr. Rhodes serves to remind us, particularly when our emotions have been on auto-pilot for a month and a half, that it is too easy and mindless to simply categorize folks on the opposite side of the poltical spectrum as angry louts. See, the guy is smiling.
In 2008, still in college, he turned theory into practice and ran for the Iowa House against a Democratic incumbent. He didn't have a car, so he took the bus. He wore out four pairs of shoes. The centerpiece of his platform was a plan to boost Iowa's economy by encouraging college graduates to stay in the state. If they got jobs in Iowa after graduation, the money they owed in income taxes would go toward paying off student loans.
After he lost the election, "literally penniless and eating eggs,'' Rhodes honed his chops at retail politics working at a Chrysler dealership and selling ads for a group of radio stations. On the side, he organized tea party rallies and lobbied a key Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, to vote against President Obama's health care reform. In 2010, he managed the unsuccessful congressional campaign of a retired pilot and gun enthusiast who carries a copy of the Constitution in his coat pocket.
But Rhodes is not your stereotypical, in-your-face tea party firebrand. His Democratic opponent in the 2008 House race, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, recalls him as "polite, pleasant to be around; a little shy, even.''The story has another aspect that needs to kept in mind by opponents of the Tea Party tide. Don't ever sell them short. Fresh off the success of the Tea Party movement in winning back the Iowa house for the GOP last November, Rhodes booked an arena for a rally in January, expecting 200 or more. Only 35 folks showed up. Rather than getting down in the mouth, Rhodes promptly set up a bus tour to travel around the state teaching grass-roots organizing to Iowans.
"He was very passionate about ideological ideas, but he was not intimidating,'' she added. "No screaming. No yelling. Nothing like that.''
Last year, Rhodes led the opposition against a billboard in downtown Mason City that was put up by another tea party group. It pictured President Obama with Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin and read, "Radical leaders prey on the fearful and naive." The billboard came down after Rhodes spoke up.
Thanks to friend, Carla, for linking the article.