Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Everyone Misses About the Iowa Caucuses

As a proud Iowan, I often ask myself – what do we really have to brag about? Sure we have world famous attractions like America’s largest Czech and Slovak Museum, the Midwest’s largest frying pan, and the home of the first soldier to die in World War I. Assuredly, these hallowed halls whet the appetite of the would-be tourist. But not to worry – we have the caucuses!

Iowa caucuses bring millions of dollars to our state every four years and begin the process of determining the leader of the free world. But wait, who really cares? Not Iowans, that’s for sure. For the last several months and for the next two as the Iowa Caucuses approach, polling data and school visits in Iowa will dominate the national press – and be skipped over by most Iowans.

This is the sad incongruity between national perceptions of the “noblest form of democracy,” and the reality in
Iowa. On January 3, 2008, the first votes (sort-of) will be cast for the eventual president of the United States. And they will be done so by no more than about 150,000 largely white, middle-class, citizens from, just one, heartland state. This is not meant to be a drag on Iowans – we take our job seriously.

Well I should say the roughly 5 % of the state that caucus take their job seriously. So when the national media swarms on Iowa, it makes the viewer in Tallahassee or the reader in Seattle think Iowans are something they are not – a bunch of political geeks descended from some abnormal heritage well versed in the treatises of Locke and Montesquieu. Most of us barely got past Federalist #10 – something about factions?

So Iowans don’t care, oh shit! Not really. The media likes to assign a mythical advantage to whoever wins the Iowa caucuses. This notion also is largely incorrect. Oh sure, Kerry won Iowa and won the Democratic nominee in 2004 as did Bush for the GOP in 2000, but Iowa played a very minor role in the victories of those two candidates. Polling data shows, those two candidates were already on their way to winning nationally without the supposed “boost” they gained from Iowa’s anointed aristocracy.

Finally, no one really knows what is going to happen come January 3. When only 5% of the state is likely to participate, reliable polling data is hard to accumulate. And even when polls do reach upwards of 1000 “likely” caucus goers, who really knows if a) they will go, or more importantly if b) they will switch their support during the two hour marathon butting heads with the Orange Bowl. The media speculates daily about the polls coming out of Iowa and shapes how the rest of the nation feels about the candidates when in actuality, anything could happen.

Iowans are a proud bunch; we’re not easily persuaded by fast talking politicians dressed in nice suits. In that regard the politically active citizens of the state are some of the most gifted observers in selecting the next POTUS. That being said, the caucuses are hardly the best democratic measure aimed at jump-starting the race for president. The large majority of Iowans are not as active as they should be, and Iowa does not matter as much as everyone wants it to. And while I like saying I’ve met all the leading contenders, the Iowa fray wastes millions of dollars and hours of energy. It also undercuts democracy – presidential candidates are ignoring most of the country.

Like Bruce Wayne in the newest Batman movie, I am telling you to get out of my house for your own good. The candidates and the media need to get out of
Iowa – it’s bad for America and it undermines the nomination process. I’ll be sad when Iowa no longer dominates the press every four years but I guess I’ll have to find solace in cooking really big pancakes while sipping Bohemian beer.

1 comment:

Sara said...

you know what's cooler than going to a rally to see barack obama?


going to a rally to see barack obama with special guest oprah winfrey.

that's all i'm saying. oh... and apparently i'm one of the 5%.