It's the crazy season again. People have once more started talking about Iowa in terms that would indicate that the denizens of that corn-strewn state have some deep political insights - and are much smarter than the rest of us when it comes to sorting out the quality of Presidential candidates. Every four years Iowans get to have coffee with the candidates, chat with them on the sidewalks and in church, and then tell the rest of us who the best choices are.
It's all foolishness, of course, and the national media feeds into the nonsense by blanketing Iowa with their surveys and news crews in an attempt to crunch numbers quicker than all of their competitors and tell us with god-like journalistic certainty who the leaders are and who will most likely be moving into the White House come next January.
And Iowa is supposed to determine that for all of the rest of us. Little, corny Iowa!
Iowa guards it's first-in-the-nation status religiously (sarcasm intended) and has laws in effect that say it will always be first - regardless of how early other states schedule their caucuses or primaries in an attempt to upstage the pseudo-importance of Iowa. The problem is, of course, many states lust after the benefits of that early voter pie.
The early states get to actually meet the candidates up close and personal - in coffee shops, and homes, and yes, dairy barns. Candidates who seldom drive themselves to work are suddenly squeezing cow teats for the drooling press corps! When the candidates come to town, they also draw in the dollars. Local television and radio stations and newspapers sell ads aplenty, those previously mentioned coffee shops have days (and tips) like never before, motels in small towns fill up with news crews and campaign staff, and everyday Joe's peddle balloons, buttons, bumper stickers - and flags, flags, flags!
It's a freaking bonanza of attention and dollars!
It also has political benefits. Livestock producers, both in and out of Iowa, know that the primary reason for the high cost of feed is the diversion of corn into ethanol. Instead of aiming our national energy policies toward truly renewable sources such as solar, hydro, and wind - the farm lobby convinced lawmakers to pump their energies into ethanol, the result of which not only bit the corn-consuming public in the butt, but got in the pockets of livestock growers as well.
Thankfully, America's dalliance with ethanol appears to be coming to an end, but unless this ridiculous primary/caucus system graduates into something more fair to the majority of Americans, we will be destined to see future legislation whose only purpose is to make people happy in the early-voting states.
By the time the majority of us get to weigh in with our preferences, the major party candidates have already been anointed and our votes seem so meaningless that many of us just elect to stay home. Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have proudly stepped forward and made the decisions for us.
The current primary/caucus system is shameful. There are several plans being floated to replace it, but political realities being political realities, there will be an ice storm in Phoenix before any meaningful reforms are allowed to replace the current craziness.
My favorite plan for reforming the process is the one being put forward by the National Association of Secretaries of State - the individuals who actually run the election processes in the fifty states. That august body has endorsed a regional primary system where states are grouped by region: West, Midwest, South, and Northeast. Members of a region would all hold their primaries and caucuses on the same date - and the order of the events would rotate every four years. (The West, for instance, might get the honor of being first, but four years later it would be last.) Candidates could concentrate their energies, money, and time in one region at a time.
Another idea that has been floated is that of a National Primary Day - one where we all go to the polls on the same day and vote for our favorite contender. That would also be much more fair than letting Iowans and New Hampshirites and South Carolinians tell us who the party nominees will be.
But, alas, those plans are far too practical. The current process is a mishmash of election crap created by the political parties of the various states, and enacted into state law by their legislators. The national parties try to exact some power over the process by threatening not to seat delegates at their national conventions if the state parties fail to honor hoary traditions, but, as with Florida in 2008, that draws fire from state political parties (the ones hurt in the process) and some candidates who want to curry favor with that particular electorate. (Hillary, I'm looking at you!)
Does the current system really suck that badly? You betcha, it does! Just look at the miscreants and other voters of South Carolina (another very early primary state) who gave us George W. Bush. One of the ways in which Bush won the 2000 Republican Primary in South Carolina was through a "whispering" campaign that his main opponent, John McCain, had fathered an illegitimate black child. Those Bushies knew just exactly what would get the attention of South Carolina Republican voters!
Today it was revealed that the Des Moines Register, the largest newspaper in Iowa, polled Iowa Republicans deemed most likely to participate in the caucuses this winter and found Mitt Romney leading with 23%. Mister Moneybags was barely ahead of Minnesota Congresswoman (and welfare recipient) Michele Bachmann who mustered 22 percent. Bachmann has recently discovered that she was born in Waterloo, Iowa, and will officially announce her candidacy there this week. She will be a major cow teat-squeezer and could conceivably win the Iowa Republican Caucuses!
And then the press will be touting her "inevitability."
Need any more evidence that the system is mortally flawed?
Didn't think so.