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Posted by on Oct 8, 2007 in At TMV | 6 comments

Iowa Caucuses As Smoke-Filled Room


A minister, priest and rabbi walk into a 4-H club . . .

I’ll eat my straw boater if it turns out that the Iowa caucuses next January play a decisive role in determining who the Republican presidential sacrificial lamb will be, let alone who the Democrats nominate to be the next president.

This is because some candidates — averse to shoveling snow off of potential voters’ driveways in Sioux City or Des Moines — may avoid the caucuses altogether.

. . . No, that’s not the real reason at all. It’s because not even 10 percent of eligible Iowa voters will show up at their local caucus, fewer than the number of media pundits who already are filling their drool cups in anticipation of this over-hyped but underwhelming quadrennial event.

Well, I guess I’d better start munching on that hat, because the Iowa caucuses — with their quaint winning over one voter at a time charm — will again play an out-sized role in the 2008 campaign.

How did this happen?

Because of smoke-filled rooms and the power and culpability of the mainstream media.

Prior to election reforms in the early 1970s, party hacks operating out of those smoke-filled rooms pretty much determined who the nominees would be. As the result of a media backlash against Politics As Usual and stories focusing on party politics in Iowa in the powerful New York Times, attention turned to the Hawkeye State.

It was Iowa in all its perfect middle America stereohyped glory that the process of choosing delegates to the national political conventions through local caucuses morphed into what came to be known as “straw votes” for presidential candidates. (In 1972, George McGovern won the first Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses to go prime time. The rest, as they say, was history.)

While The Times‘ power to influence national politics may have waned in the last 35 years, the ability of the MSM to manipulate campaign coverage because of its willingness to be manipulated by the campaigns has become pervasive. Along with the deeply corrosive influence of big money on politics, the incestuous relationship between the media and politicians and the ability of both groups to create the illusion that presidential politics are by and for the people, by gosh, are to my mind the most screwed up aspects of this whole mess.

As it is, the winners of the Iowa caucuses go on to win their party nominations only about half the time, which is not surprising since the winners in Iowa reflect less on who might actually be presidential timbre then on who is willing to shovel the most driveways. (My prediction: John Edwards and Mitt Romney will win the driveway vote hands down. I don’t know about the caucuses.)

So Iowa has become the tail that wags the corn dog, which as Paul Waldman notes in The American Prospect sets up two equally ridiculous (my word) scenarios on the Democratic side, which happens to be where my interest lies since the Republican field is beyond pathetic and the GOP primary in a state called Dobson will have an out-sized significance on who the Republican nominee will be.

Waldman’s scenarios:

* If Edwards wins Iowa and Hillary Clinton comes in second, Barack Obama is toast.

* If Clinton wins Iowa, it’s all over bar the shouting and the nomination – and quite possibly the presidency — is hers for the taking.

Mind you, voter turnout in the New Hampshire primary, that other over-hyped “bellwether” event that signals the beginning of campaigning in earnest, or something, isn’t a whole lot better.

But it is beyond perverse that a mere 200,000 or so white Iowans who have no fashion sense, high cholesterol levels and want their driveways shoveled may have the greatest say about who is the next occupant of the Oval Office.

Whuddya think? Maybe we should go back to those smoke-filled rooms.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, Captain Ed is a little more enamored of the primary process in this interesting post at Captain’s Quarters.