Tuesday, November 16, 2010

IOWA CAUCUS – Only 306 Days Before the Election!

This is the official start of the dog and pony show, though it actually probably began immediately after the 2004 Presidential Election.  In the winter months of 2007 – 2008, what has been of utmost importance to most Iowans is keeping the livestock fed and tuning into the blather of Mitt, Hillary, Mike, Barack, Rudy, John the Democrat, John the Republican,  Joe, Fred, Bill, Ron and Dennis.  Of course, much of the coverage is none too interesting to anyone outside of the media looking for a story.  Giuliani wearing a red sweater during an ad appearing at Christmas time or Oprah handpicking Obama as her choice to lead her television audience to the White House fascinates the commentators.  I’m not sure that it resonates with farmers who are still looking for ways to finance $600,000 of farm equipment.  At least the caucus is early enough that nobody has yet to endure allegations of cocaine abuse, infidelities, plagiarism, or bribery to any great degree.  Rest assured, that will all come up before November 4, 2008.  In any case, it appears that Mike Huckabee has won on the Republican side and Barack Obama has won on the Democratic side, and somewhere out there will be voters hopped up that their candidate did or did not win and who are willing to make the rest of us miserable.
I deliberately try to keep my expectations low.  Running for President may be a once in a lifetime experience for most political figures, but it’s also seen as an excuse for some politician to never be forthright about any matter of importance again.  Politicians get elected by hiding at least some of what they think and concealing how little they actually know.  Warren G. Harding privately lamented that either side of an argument of any issue ever addressed during his Presidency seemed equally valid.  Harding was at least being honest and history has not judged him kindly.  Anyone elected as President has about a sixty percent chance of being judged unsuitable for the job by most historians, and less than one in five will leave the office greatly admired.  Yet in every election some misguided soul will believe that it’s within the power of a candidate to make life for the ordinary citizen better.
There’s about a twenty percent chance that whoever is elected to office will be fired at by a gun, and the would-be assassin will succeed in half of those cases.  Of the forty-two men elected as President (historians will generally say forty-three because they like to count Grover Cleveland twice), seven have died in office.  Many more of them did not survive more than three or four years after leaving the White House.  By natural or unnatural causes, the Presidency seems to have shortened many of the office-holders’ lives.  Yet with all of this to look forward to, the candidates keep lining up.
Here are the results of the Iowa Caucus:
Democrats                                                                              Republicans
Obama            38%                                                                Huckabee        34%
Edwards          30%                                                                Romney           25%
Clinton            29%                                                                 Thompson        13%
Richardson       2%                                                                  McCain           13%
Biden               1%                                                                  Paul                 10%
Others              0%                                                                  Giuliani              3%
Since 1972 (when the Iowa Caucus was held on May 20th), Iowans have always been given the right to choose the candidates they would like to see elected President first.  At some point, I foresee the Iowa Caucus being held two years before the national election is to take place.  In 2004, it was estimated that the caucus brought $50 to $60 million in revenue into the state.  Because it’s starting so early this year, it’s expected to bring in double or triple that amount.  Good for Iowa!  They don’t have any professional sports franchise to rejuvenate morale and give the state something to take pride in. 
Probably, we can dismiss Ron Paul from having any chance of receiving the Republican nomination.  Paul’s ridiculing of the cross that mysteriously appeared above Mike Huckabee’s right shoulder in Huckabee’s television ad did not go over well with the evangelical wing of the Republican Party.  Paul might still do some damage to the Republican Party, however, by seeking a third party bid, but that is dependent upon whether campaign donors are willing to send him money when he’s no longer associated with the Republican label.  Likewise, Dennis Kucinich has virtually no chance of raising the kind of funding necessary to defeat the more recognized names in the Democratic Party.  His naïve sounding utterance that his message will carry him through belies the fact that Howard Dean failed to bring that identical message across in 2004 – and Dean had ample funding.  Many other candidates will drop out after this caucus after delivering no message whatsoever, and we will be left wondering why they ever ran to begin with.
Romney, Huckabee and Giuliani were viewed as the most viable candidates on the Republican side going into the caucus, and Giuliani’s lack of campaigning in Iowa garnered him about 3% of the vote.  McCain tied for third in Iowa.  McCain’s age (he turns seventy-one in August) will be used against him.  Yet McCain is a dark horse because (true or untrue) he has always been viewed as the maverick in the party, and he will probably find support in New Hampshire.  Thompson lost almost any momentum that he ever had when Huckabee stepped up in the race.  Huckabee’s born-again credentials have stolen the thunder from Thompson’s claim that he would represent the true social conservatives in the Republican Party.  Huckabee won in Iowa because it is now apparent that the Christian Right may not be satisfied with anything less than him.
Despite exaggerated claims by the other candidates and talk show hosts (notably Rush Limbaugh), Romney, Giuliani and Huckabee are politically conservative.  All have campaigned upon and probably would in reality consider implementing the usual Republican favored policies: a strong national defense and a reduction of the size of the federal government through tax breaks and decreased discretionary spending on social programs.  Yet the Republicans are in danger of doing what has historically been more typical of the Democratic party – that is tear themselves apart internally.  Mike Huckabee recently referred to Mormons as those who believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers.  Huckabee’s apology notwithstanding, it’s difficult to foresee any reconciliation here between him and Romney.  And the reception of Giuliani as a candidate will probably not be any more positive among evangelicals.  Three prior marriages, an on again and off again Catholic faith, and (God help us!) a Mayor who has implemented tough gun restrictions in New York City – all of which will do anything but enamor Giuliani to the Christian Right. 
Clinton, Obama and Edwards dominated all the talk in the Democratic Party coming into Iowa.  (Biden announced after the caucus he was dropping out, and I doubt that he would ever have survived past corruption charges in any case.  Richardson, on the other hand, had no name recognition going into Iowa, and now he has no name recognition going out of Iowa.)  There is the typical infighting going on among Democrats, but it’s no worse than usual.  It’s the electability of one of their candidates after the nomination that may be causing the party to unite – and, as evidenced by a third place finish, cause them to reject Hillary Clinton.  Even many of Clinton’s supporters understand that her nomination would galvanize conservative Republicans to vote against her.  Now John Edwards, barely coming in second in the Iowa Caucus, has his own image problems.  He was on the underside of a ticket that lost a presidential election to an unpopular President.  Though selected for the Vice Presidency because he was from North Carolina, the Kerry-Edwards ticket did not pick up a single state in the south.  John Kerry, in a booming endorsement of the man, later stated that he wished he’d never chosen Edwards to be his running mate.  John Edwards is thus perceived as a loser.  All of this has led to Obama winning in Iowa.  Not as hated as Hillary Clinton, Obama now has the momentum that will take him into New Hampshire where he likely will also do well.*   So far, young people are supporting him.  What is impressive about his victory in Iowa is that Obama’s a young black man who has now won a caucus in a mostly white state.   Maybe this is a sign of progress, though it still remains to be seen how Obama will be accepted elsewhere – including in the south.
The whole idea of an Iowa Caucus for selection of Presidential Candidates may seem silly or even frightening, but the system certainly could be worse.  Frankly, our election process is no more dumbed down than any other system for selecting national leaders.  At least Americans are not ordaining a leader we can never get rid of (though only President Nixon actually left the office in disgrace while facing possible impeachment).  On the surface, our system has flaws.  During the election of 2000 the United States was mocked by other nations for bungling of the election process, yet we never got enmeshed in a civil war to resolve the process nor was there a military coup.  However much it prevents expediency, our system of checks and balances in theory inhibits the government from implementing policies that prevent me from doing what I want.
I worry about politicians acting on the voter’s behalf without any objections being raised.  For example, in the name of patriotism, we want to legislatively denote English as the official American Language.  In the name of law and order, we want to jail non-violent drug offenders.  In the name of politeness, we police the airwaves and stipulate what is and is not appropriate political or social commentary.  In the name of public safety, we abolish all risk taking behavior.  The policy makers use taxation as a means of social engineering.  We perpetuate the lie that the founding fathers’ principals were based upon the tenets of Christianity (or what current dogma would have us believe is Christianity) – ignoring our rabble rousing ancestors such as Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain who were anything but good “Christians.” 
I don’t fear polarization.  We’re too damn polite the way it is, and it seems like the two parties are often too much alike.  The Republican Party that has for the past century proclaimed itself the party for smaller government has presented no evidence that the government is getting any smaller.  And the Democratic Party, that has been criticizing the current administration the last eight years for abuse of power, would seem to address that problem by implementing a policy that would necessarily call for the expansion of the federal government that has been abusing its power.  And many Democratic candidates now criticizing the policies in Iraq also voted for funding the war in Iraq.  Apparently they actually believed President Bush about the WMD’s.   
The ordinary and humble citizen is much to blame.  The citizen is to blame for (1) too easily accepting that one side or the other is right; (2) for not seeing there are a thousand sides rather than just two sides to every issue; (3) by believing most policy questions can be easily addressed; (4) by parroting whatever is said on their favorite media source; (5) for wearing their ignorance on their sleeve like a badge of honor; and (6) not being grateful for what they have.  Without ever struggling with uncertainty, some deranged individuals actually take glee from the whole political process.  And others, who are much worse and without compunction, would like to see the system destroyed without presenting any useable alternative.
* January 9, 2008 Note: Obama did do well in New Hampshire, but Hillary Clinton wept and did even better.  Like about everyone else, I was wrong.  With 300 days to go, it just goes to show that I should keep my mouth shut as well.
January 9, 2008
© Robert S. Miller 2007

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