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August 14, 2011
Ames Straw Poll: A Little Perspective
When 15 thousand people drop about thirty bucks and fill Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa for a Cyclone basketball game, it is considered an insignificant event even in the limited world of the Big Twelve Conference over a single weekend. ESPN rarely even bothers to visit.
When 16 thousand folks in Ames drop thirty bucks and vote in something called the Ames straw poll, we are told it is a nationally significant political event that will have impact into the next year and across all 50 states. All media outlets are abuzz.
Um, is it just me? Why do we do that?
Today Michele Bachmann is basking in the glow of a victory so mathematically insignificant that the total of all the votes tallied for all candidates is significantly less than the margin of victory will be in the vast majority of single congressional districts in the 2012 election. And yet, this event has supposedly cemented her place as a top tier candidate in the GOP field along with newly entered Rick Perry and perpetually entered Mitt Romney.
Don't get me wrong. She may well be a legitimate top tier candidate, I just don't buy into the notion that she is top tier simply because she and Archer Daniels Midlands and ethanol can sell to a few thousand folks at the Iowa State Fair. It just should not be such a seminal event in American politics.
And yet it is.
To be practical, the state of Iowa's place in our national politics is a complicated subject. Without a doubt, there is some validity to putting candidates through the gauntlet of face-to-face personal contact and conversation with average citizens. The winnowing effect of having to graduate this rigorous retail curriculum does indeed serve a purpose. It is a refreshing change from sound byte and television ad politics.
But perhaps we should rotate this around and not concentrate it in one state every four years. It is hardly a secret that the Hawkeye Cauceye has become a cottage industry that funds, among other things, the Iowa GOP and Iowa Democratic Parties with what amounts to legalized extortion every four years.
And there are other costs as well. Can you say the ethanol scam? I submit it is fair to say that without Iowa having a perpetually disproportionately important place in our national politics that we would still be burning corn for -- oh, I don't know -- say, food? Or feed?
But because the last 50 or 60 Presidential candidates have had to support -- or pretend to support -- this energy scam in hopes of doing well in the Iowa Caucuses, we have the ethanol scam. It adds to the myth of green energy, the cost of food, the cost of energy and the cynicism in American politics. Other than that, it's fan-TAAAS-tic (as Glenn Beck would say).
And then there's the perceived attitude of Iowa voters. Many think they believe they are owed this. Having a totally undeserved and disproportionate effect on the outcome of Presidential politics is now considered an Iowa birthright.
Don't believe it? An Iowa GOP official told Fox News that Iowans were angry at Rick Perry for "stomping on our event as we showcase Iowa." Now that's strange. I thought this was about the candidates, not Iowa.
He added that he and other Iowans were "offended" and Iowa residents proudly "serve as filters" for the rest of the nation. How wonderful of them. In some societies you have to be born into power. In America, you have to flip chicken breasts in Iowa to practice up for flipping pancakes in New Hampshire. The residents of both states demand it.
What could possibly go wrong with this process?
Now of course the residents of Iowa (and New Hampshire) are not responsible for the fact that their populations are disproportionately powerful. And human nature being what human nature is, they of course like it and take advantage of it and will do what they can to protect it and no doubt resent me for deigning to bring it up.
No doubt I would do the same thing were I in their shoes. But I am not, and neither are most of us. Michele Bachmann is a top tier candidate and popular with both evangelicals and the tea party voters. Ron Paul has a hard core group of followers who specialize in micro events because it gives them an excuse to get out of mommy's basement. Tim Pawlenty has a charisma deficit and has dropped out.
The Ames straw poll told us all of that. But then again, we already knew all of that. So I ask again: 16 thousand folks -- what's the big deal? Or more importantly, should it really be that big of a deal, or are we just calling it a big deal because others are calling it a big deal?
Like the format of our Presidential debate process, the weight of the Ames Straw Poll is one of those assumptions that we should perhaps question. I am.
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