Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Iowa Crockus

I don't have time to flesh out a big post on why the Iowa Caucus is such a bullshit way to pick a President, so I will leave it to the professionals. I read a couple good posts on this early this morning:

Voting by absentee ballot is prohibited. There are no secret ballots, a bedrock democratic principle. The notion of “one-person, one-vote” does not really apply (the NYT noted that votes are weighted according to a precinct’s past level of participation).

There’s a legitimate debate to be had about whether Iowa deserves to go before the other 49 other states, in every presidential campaign, forever. But this is a different question altogether: if Iowa is going to go first, could they at least use a reasonable process that encourages Iowans to participate?

A former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party said it is “magic” to see passionate, engaged voters take part in this civic treasure. If that excludes troops, single parents, people with health problems, and people who have to work at 7 pm on a Thursday, so be it. A leading Republican official said, “That’s just the way it works.”

Christopher Hitchens is really pissed (and probably hammered):
It is quite astonishing to see with what deadpan and neutral a tone our press and television report the open corruption—and the flagrantly anti-democratic character—of the Iowa caucuses. It's not enough that we have to read of inducements openly offered to potential supporters—I almost said "voters"—even if these mini-bribes only take the form of "platters of sandwiches" and "novelty items" [...] It's also that campaign aides are showing up at Iowan homes "with DVD's that explain how the caucuses work." Nobody needs a DVD to understand one-person-one-vote, a level playing field, and a secret ballot. The DVD and the other gifts and goodies...are required precisely because none of those conditions applies in Iowa. In a genuine democratic process, these Tammany tactics would long ago have been declared illegal.

NYT's Gail Collins:
People, ignore whatever happens here. The identity of the next leader of the most powerful nation in the world is not supposed to depend on the opinion of one small state. Let alone the sliver of that state with the leisure and physical capacity to make a personal appearance tonight at a local caucus that begins at precisely 7 o’clock. Let alone the tiny slice of the small sliver willing to take part in a process that involves standing up in public to show a political preference, while being lobbied and nagged by neighbors.

[...] Tonight, the Iowa Deciders will divide into 1,781 local caucuses. Past history suggests that a few of these gatherings may not draw any attendees whatsoever and that several others will consist entirely of a guy named Carl. Attendance has no effect on the number of delegates involved, and we hardly need mention that the whole thing is weighted to give rural residents an advantage. Iowans in politically active neighborhoods where 100 people show up may find their vote is worth only 1 percent as much as, say, Carl’s.

[...] Iowa Republican caucuses, which involve writing a name on a piece of paper and going home, are like Athens in the Age of Pericles compared with the Democrats, who are closer to Turkmenistan in the age of Saparmurat Niyazov. Tonight the Democratic caucus-goers (We are expecting way more than 100,000!) will divide up into groups supporting each of the different candidates. (Secret ballots are for sissies.) Then some of the smaller groups will be dissolved under rules so complicated they are known only to the local insiders and experts hired by the candidates to decipher them. (Sometimes these turn out to be the exact same people!)

Howard Kurtz:
[...] But the chief reason for the Iowa effect is an explosion of media coverage that treats the winners as superstars and the also-rans as lamentable losers. Without that massive media boost, prevailing in Iowa would be seen for what it is: an important first victory that amounts to scoring a run in the top of the first inning.

Kurtz really nails it with that first inning thing. That's the way it should be treated, but it isn't. TOmorrow morning the press will be throwing dirt on candidates and declaring others a shoo-in. All thanks to the efforts of a relative handful of corn farmers and bussed-in college students cutting deals in caucus precincts.

What's worse is this stupid "race to be first" shit led to my state stupidly shoving their primary up and as a result, most of the candidates withdrew at the behest of the national party. Nice work, moron Michigan legislators—in your ham-handed attempt to be more "relevant," Michigan voters now have a primary ballot with only Hillary, Dodd and Gravel on it. I'm sure the rest of the country will hold their breath for THOSE results...

It's not just that I'm bitter about never getting a chance to actually choose a candidate (don't worry, I am), but it's the stupid-ass way that this caucus system works, and it's undue influence on the race. I actually think Hillary, Edwards and Obama are all good candidates and would be good Presidents, but what happens tonite will catapult one to an artificial advantage, and potentially pull the plug on another.

What happens in Iowa is pretty much the equivalent of a smoke-filled backroom, it's just a big snow- and corn-covered one.

All of that said, I hope it goes 1. Obama, 2. Edwards, 3. Clinton.


VMH said...

A former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party said it is “magic” to see passionate, engaged voters take part in this civic treasure. If that excludes troops, single parents, people with health problems, and people who have to work at 7 pm on a Thursday, so be it. A leading Republican official said, “That’s just the way it works.”

Well that's the thing - the parties like the caucus because they can completely control it.

I think all state's should have an open primary where you can vote in either primary. But that would be too democratic.

Smitty said...

Amen, Mr. F. Watching the "contentious" vote in the legislature to bump-up Michigan's Primary was an opportunity wrought with humor.

The Republicans wanted it way worse than the Democrats did, and the Dems came along because they didn't want to be seen as irrelevent by the Republicans. Thus, you had a bill whip through both chambers.

The more states that move closer to Iowa to become "relevent," the less so they actually become. The algebra on that one is easy. If 10 states are within a week of Iowa, the candidates can't possibly visit each one. They'll stay where they can have the most impact and the other states lose-out on having a candidate presence there. Maybe being relevent is spreading yourself out.

There has been an idea floating around that would break up states regionally. Each state holds a caucus, or, primary. Every Presidential election, a different region gets to go first. But then each region in tur votes in its entirety. Not a bad idea.