Son of a bitch! Forget Kansas; on this frigid eve of the official kick-off to the scrum for the presidency, the question ought to be “What’s the matter with Iowa?”. For as we, Earth’s greatest free nation, get set to embark upon our quadrennial democratic contest to decide our leader, the Hawkeye State is getting set to take an antiquated, ethanol-fueled piss all over the Torch of Freedom.
Iowa, here depicted as popular cartoon character Calvin of “Calvin & Hobbes,” micturates on democracy.
I have never paid Iowa much attention, their two primary exports being corn and Slipknot. But once every four years, the nation’s political media commences an industry-wide heavy petting session with Iowa as its beloved, hundred year old political tradition takes center stage in the presidential election. But as with most things that are a hundred years old, it’s a decrepit mess. And in this case, it subverts democracy entirely. I mean, have you actually taken the time to learn how a caucus works? It’s like something out of the Soviet Union! So read up, comrade!
First of all, it’s not a secret ballot. You know, that most salient feature of “free and fair” elections, the provision that does more than virtually any other to prevent voter intimidation. Not present. When you caucus, you go stand in a room. And to vote for your candidate, you stand in a clump of other people voting for your candidate. Out in the open, in front of anybody. Want to vote Biden but your shop foreman is for Edwards, and he’s standing there in the room glowering at you? Fuck you buddy, defy your boss or forsake your true political preference. The Iowans then have about 30 minutes to harass one another and convince people to change their minds and stand in a different clump. After that 30 minutes is up comes the “viability test,” which is nothing more than the Iowa Democratic party delivering a Stone Cold Stunner to our democratic principles. Basically this means that a given candidate has to grab at least 15% of the room. If they don’t, they are deemed “not viable,” and their supporters HAVE TO VOTE FOR SOMEBODY ELSE. That’s right. Unless you’re backing one of the lead horses, chances are that your vote WILL NOT COUNT. I know politics is a popularity contest, but at least in a primary your vote for the president of the A.V. Club counts just the same as if you voted for the starting point guard on the basketball team. And when the bargaining for these “second choice” caucus-goers starts, “inducements are allowed; bribes are not,” explains Dan Balz (tee!) in his Washington Post blog. For example, Hillary Clinton is offering baby-sitting services to free up the schedules of Iowans she wants to vote for her. Really.
Baby-sitting services, you say? Why would anybody need a baby-sitter in order to go vote? How long does this take? Hours, that’s how long. The caucuses typically start at 7 pm and go into the night. You can’t just vote and leave as I explained, and you can’t vote absentee. That means if you work an evening shift, if you’re a doctor who can’t leave the hospital, if you’re in the military, or if you’re trying to set the record for consecutive episodes of Wheel of Fortune viewed, you cannot caucus. Cannot. Such stringent rules disqualify a LOT of people. As this New York Times article points out, “In 2000, the last year in which both parties held caucuses, 59,000 Democrats and 87,000 Republicans voted, in a state with 2.9 million people. In 2004, when the Republicans did not caucus, 124,000 people turned out for the Democratic caucuses.” 124,000 people is 4.3% of the state’s population – and that little sliver of mostly older white people, who are child and social life-free and thus available after 7 pm on a weekday, chose the Democratic nominee for president for their state. Anybody else have a problem with that? Anybody else think that maybe the Iowa caucus gets a disproportionate amount of media coverage given the negligible number of people who actually vote in it? AND, might I add, in 1988, Iowa voters put Pat Robertson in second place at the caucus! Pat Robertson! A crazy person!
So shine your shoes and put on your best bow tie, Iowa, for on January 3rd the political spotlight shines on you. Break a leg. Actually, both of them.