politics: January 2008 Archives


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Some miscellaneous reflections upon the occasion of the Iowa Caucuses, during which I had the misfortune of being in Iowa:

It is INSANE to me that we would continue to employ what is basically a 19th century system for choosing our leaders in this the 21st century. Iowa and New Hampshire have, as many many many have pointed out, an incredibly disproportionate effect on the process, and it is a process that is highly susceptible, as a result, to media manipulation.

Nowhere was this more clear to me than at ground zero, where I stopped answering the phone after my second or third day in town. Got to the point where I stopped answering the door as well. Got to the point where I would multiple television shows at once, so I could switch channels when the 5 minute spin breaks interrupted my viewing. There was a tremendous amount of money being thrown at the Iowa voters, and it put me in mind of what Baudrillard said a long time ago about information devouring communication. It was pure white noise after a while.

And yet, it should be said that Iowans take the process about as seriously as anyone could in those circumstances. We/they take an odd sort of pride in their caucus, and in their willingness to talk to anyone who's willing to talk to them. They don't take the national spin (Clinton is unstoppable, e.g.) as gospel, and most of the folks I saw and talked to made every effort to meet and/or see as many candidates as they could. They studied the issues, made their decisions, and as best as I could tell (having not caucused myself), did the best that they could. They turned out in record numbers on a bitterly cold night, showed up in uncomfortable spaces (school gyms, town halls, living rooms, etc.), and participated.

Sure, the bigger states are more important, but Iowa and New Hampshire, for their flaws, are manageable for candidates who don't have all the money of the frontrunners. And until there's a system which doesn't exert a subtle class pressure on the candidates, it could be worse.

And yet, the night before the Caucus, one of our local stations spent 2-3 minutes of the first 10 of its broadcast (you know, the actual "news" part) detailing the travels and thoughts of an area college junior who decided to bring a Mr. Potato-Head with him to meet the candidates, and had each one pose with it for a picture. The only one who refused? Joe Biden.

(That sound you hear is Biden earning my respect.)

The flip side of the pride and gravitas with which many Iowans approach the process is the Potato-Head of it all--the countless number of kooks and jackasses who ask these men and women to humiliate themselves in front of their Iowa audiences for a handful of votes. We don't see much of this in the coverage, because the media is too busy trying to earn their own keep by offering up grave pronouncements and exaggerations. (I refer you to Chris Matthews' WTF Lawrence of Arabia analogy. Nuff said.) They're far too busy trying to influence the process to be able to accurately describe it, unfortunately.

So those are my reflections. I didn't actually attend the Caucus, since I'm registered in NY. But it is all but impossible to be in Iowa during Caucus season and not to be bombarded by the spam that the process generates.

That is all.



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This page is a archive of entries in the politics category from January 2008.

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