Monday, February 3, 2020

Why Iowa? Seriously, WHY?

My thoughts on Iowa tonight? Barring some weird result, IT MEANS LITTLE. And it's a stupid system with barriers to participation that doesn't make it all that relevant to where the country is as a whole.

And I was glad to see the great Charlie Pierce say similar things over the weekend, as he called for Iowa to stop being given such an outsized influence for this important job.

Pierce also noted that the goofy reallocation process that comes with the Iowa caucuses allows for some spinning of the expectations game, and that while it was a good thing that the newspaper poll had to be canceled after some candidates weren't included in the choices, Pierce says it' yet another reason Iowa need to go to the back of the line for a while.
And good for all concerned. This is the correct decision, both ethically and politically. (I do sympathize with the authors of hundreds of pre-written Sunday news stories that got crisped by the announcement.) But what the hell is the sense in a system where one poll from a good mid-sized newspaper wields so much influence over the presidential nominating process that it throws into a panic a system that already is complicated—and undemocratic—in the extreme? To wit, from Politico:
Sanders and his team have made clear their intention to tout the results of the first round of caucus voting Monday, even though the Iowa Democratic Party stresses that the only number that matters is the final delegate count. Aides with two top-tier campaigns told POLITICO they worry the Sanders campaign or other pro-Sanders forces — which will be receiving unofficial precinct results from allies in real time — will disseminate that information through social media or publicly claim victory after the first vote, an act that could distort the eventual results in a variety of ways.

A claim of victory after the first vote could encourage supporters of weaker candidates to leave the caucuses early without realigning with another candidate. Or it could create an artificial bandwagon effect by encouraging some caucus-goers to jump to Sanders’ side under the belief that he will be the victor. Either scenario stands to hurt the campaigns that are more reliant than Sanders on the realignment round that happens after the first preference vote is cast. During realignment, supporters of candidates who failed to hit a 15 percent threshold in the first vote are freed up to switch to another candidate.
It is a longstanding rule of the shebeen that taking advantage of a loophole in the rules is not in any way “cheating.” Of course the Sanders campaign is planning to do this. I’d be amazed if every campaign doesn’t have a similar plan. The idea of releasing results halfway through a complicated process is fundamentally stupid. It’s a system that is begging to be gamed even more than caucuses are generally. The earlier you can declare, plausibly, “I win!” the better for your campaign. And this is an open invitation for that sort of thing. You’ve had a nice run, Iowa, but it’s time to become South Dakota again, at least for a while.
Yep, it's absurd that this state that has less than 1% of the US population is supposed to be some kind of trend-setter.

For a blunter description, I'll give you Drew Magary (formerly of Deadspin), who spent part of his childhood in Minnesota, and finds the whole Iowa charade to be absurd BS. In a post on Medium, Magary says it's silly that this nothing state gets major attention for the most important job in the world, and it also allows Coastal elites to spin garbage about What It's Really Like in the Heartland.
Iowa indulges all of our political system’s shittiest habits. It allows rural white people to pretend like their voices are never heard despite the fact that we hear NONSTOP from Iowans thanks to the current setup. It allows the media to go on their regular pilgrimages to bowling alleys and off-brand gas stations, so they can say they sloughed off their supposed elitism and got to know true middle American folk. It allows the most cynical candidates in the field to champion their own, lobbyist-approved form of languid pragmatism and scare voters off of bolder and better changes to the system. And it allows candidates to disproportionately concentrate all their money and resources on a single place, allowing a shitheel like Mike Bloomberg to barge in with massive ad buys and gain undeserved entry into the broader election discussion. We could fix all this by holding every primary on the same date (think of the ratings!), or by adopting a proposed rotation system, where every state gets a turn to be Iowa for once. But neither party’s establishment seems all that interested in doing so. This is the system that favors them. They like it this way.

As Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg have already proved, candidates don’t really have to tack left or tack right to position themselves during primary season anymore. They all tack Iowa now. That’s a mandatory part of the process that diminishes the needed influence of other early primary states (Nevada and South Carolina, both far more diverse than Iowa) and every OTHER state as well. And it’s particularly dangerous right at this moment, with President Trump potentially ramping up a war with Iran, the kind of horrifying shoot-first-ask-questions-20-years-and-trillions-of-dollars-later war against brown people that always plays well in the Heartland. Iowa gets to have influence over how Democrats respond to this looming bit of Armageddon. WHY? Why the fuck does Iowa get to be the weather vane election after election? Why are entire parties forced to care so much about it? Why should I, or any other American, have to care about Iowa’s feelings when Iowa probably gives zero fucks about mine? What makes it so goddamn special?

I’ll tell you what makes it special: nothing. Nothing at all. Its football team isn’t even very good. And the fact that I live in a country that gets constantly reminded that Iowa’s unimportance is important will never stop being a fucking drag. Iowa is not a perfect microcosm of this country. It is the polar opposite of that. What it has become, instead, is a perfect microcosm of how the system has become so mutated that Billyjoejimbob from Ames gets to have more influence over who gets to be president than hundreds of millions of other Americans. It’s an enormous, needless monkey wrench in a democracy already packed with them. Maybe the rest of us deserve electoral firsties for once in our lives. Iowa has already had its say, and all the rest of us heard was bullshit. Fuck that place. Fuck it good.
Especially when it leads to this type of stuff.

Wake me up when Super Tuesday gets here, when states with metro areas above 1 million have actual secret ballot elections.


  1. Note that I wrote this before all of the results got screwed up last night, which rendered Iowa completely worthless.

    BLOW THEM UP. One person, one vote. The only thing to carry over from this 19th Century relic is ranked-chooce voting.

    Again, let me know how things look on Super Tuesday.

  2. I am hoping this app SNAFU will be the last nail in the coffin for the Iowa caucuses. More likely, the Iowa Democrats will get off with a “My bad” and a slap on the wrist. Maybe they will even follow up by further rebelling against newfangled, 21st century voting methods and rule that you can only participate if you dress up in Amish garb and arrive at the caucuses in a horse-drawn wagon.

    What sickens me most is that—even in the best of circumstances—the candidates flush untold millions of dollars down the toilet before the primary season even fully begins. They should just start everything on Super Tuesday.

  3. Yup. Every state on Super Tuesday. Stop feeding a media addicted to the next bright, shiny object..."Squirrel!!!"