I doubt anyone who reads this doesn’t know that today the Iowa Caucuses occur. If this is, in fact, news to you, I salute your reclusive commitment to avoidance of current events coverage. To the rest of you, I suspect you feel as exhausted by this process as I do.
Watching this ceaseless dog and pony show drag on and on all throughout Iowa – and, to a slightly lesser extent, New Hampshire – not only has me fatigued of every candidate, but has undermined some of my faith in democracy. Because this strikes me as an insane way of electing a president.
This is not to say the most important job in the world doesn’t deserve a thorough and exhaustive vetting process – it absolutely does – but is this the best we can do? Candidates started showing up in Iowa as early as 2013 to garner support in the first stop of this turgid slog of a campaign season. That’s three years courting voters, who, when it comes time to actually elect a president, account for a mere six electoral votes out of 538 possible. Throw in New Hampshire, and that number climbs to a robust 10.
That’s a lot of photo ops in front of ethanol fueling stations, “ad hoc” stump speeches at pizza joints, and town halls filled with people I have a hard time imagining exist in real life. I’ve voted in every election I possibly could since 2000 and work tangentially in government and politics, which is to say, I’m much deeper in this shit in a very real way than the vast majority of the general populace. And I’ve attended exactly one rally in the last 15 years.
Who are the people who show up to these things again and again, having had the option at one point of nearly two dozen candidates across both major parties? Who can stand having the traffic screwed up in their town that frequently?
It was in partially answering this question that I adored Will Leitch’s piece, “Iowa Electorate Is Sophisticated—and Impressively Modest” for Bloomberg.com. In it, Leitch paints a picture of a citizenry neither particularly enthralled with, nor irritated by, the constant chattering and to-do of the process of the Iowa Caucuses. They simply accept it as part of their lives.
While that isn’t terribly surprising – humans, no matter our circumstance, will generally find new equilibrium – I was charmed by their resigned acceptance. Leitch describes two scenes of benign indifference in the piece that stood out to me. The first sees a group of ladies who hold a monthly lunch at a pizzeria completely nonplussed by a Rick Santorum pitch in another part of the restaurant – they recognized what was happening, but kept on with their routine regardless. The second sees Leitch stumble upon two teenagers who’ve found a secluded spot in the parking lot of a Ted Cruz rally to make out in their car. I used to make out with my girlfriends in the parking lots of trailheads after hours when I was in high school. Had I lived in Iowa, co-opting a parking lot where people’s attention is diverted strikes me as a fine idea.
Compare this to the Cracked.com article from yesterday entitled “4 Ways The Presidential Race Has Destroyed Iowa,” as misleadingly inflammatory an article title as there ever was. Granted, the story involving Carly Fiorina appropriating an elementary school field trip to use the kids as props as she stumped for right-to-life policy is sort of grotesque, but stating that this process has “destroyed Iowa” is ridiculous.
The general thrust of the article is true, though. The focus given to Iowa is disproportionate to its overall effect and influence on the general election, and that we spend up to three years hearing about it is ludicrous. As for what to do about it, I’m as clueless as anyone else. Is this an indictment of a 24-hour news cycle? Probably. Does this beckon an overhaul of how we elect candidates? Maybe.
All I know is that virtually every sane person I know is already burned out on this presidential race, and we still have nine whole months to go. And since every candidate has already delivered more than a couple fistfuls of shallow platitudes, keeping with that spirit, here’s one from me:
Whoever your dog in this fight is, I wish them the best, and may they succeed not only in these Iowa Caucuses, but New Hampshire, and on to your party’s nomination. I’m confident they’ll be successful in transforming this country for the better, as they so claim. You know why? I’ll give the last, radically rational words to Will Leitch:
“This election is a big deal for the rest of us. But here in Iowa, it’s just another part of the landscape. Not something to ignore. But not something to get all that worked about, either. This strikes me, as it turns out, as the sanest way to react to this presidential election, and all of them. The trains will still run, the guitar will still need to be practiced, the car will still need to be parked, the Price Is Right live show must go on. Listen to the Iowans. Even when we’re all gone.”