As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Iowa Rules

With the Iowa caucuses rumored to move up to January 3, it's time to start looking at polls in the state. And the latest on the Democratic side has Hillary Clinton at 29 percent, followed by John Edwards at 23 percent and Barack Obama at 22 percent. This is all within the margin of error, so you're looking at a statistically tied, three-way race. Edwards has the best organization, Obama offers the best hope, and Clinton has that tide of inevitability rolling in her direction. Some, like the dean of the Iowa press corps David Yepsen, think that the residual forces debate can give the second tier an opening.

I think you can find any group of people with negative perceptions of Clinton, but the truth is that she's not a screaming hydra, and so people get a better reaction to her up-close. However, when confronted with factual information like she was yesterday in Iowa, I think you can see a possible chink in the armor.

Randall Rolph of Nashua challenged her for voting last month to designate Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. Some Democrats said they feared that such a designation could be interpreted as a congressional authorization of military force in Iran.

Rolph compared Clinton's vote on the Iran measure with her vote to authorize war in Iraq. "It appears you haven't learned from your past mistakes," he said.

Clinton responded that his interpretation was wrong and suggested that someone put him up to asking the question. The man said he did his own research and was offended that she would accuse him of getting it elsewhere. She apologized but insisted he must be looking at the wrong version of the bill.

Their exchanged grew heated as he insisted the bill would authorize combat. Clinton snapped back, her voice rising, "I'm sorry, sir, it does not."

"I know what we voted for, and I know what we intended to do with it," she said. She said it gives the authority to impose penalties.

Well, sure, everyone knows what you INTEND to do with it, but the problem is that you're not yet the one doing the intending. That honor goes to the Decider, and he can take your little resolution and start a new war and credibly claim that you backed it.

It's very strange that Randall Rolph is also quoted and pictured in this New York Times article about Iowa and its impact on the national race, with this representative quote from Sen. Obama:

“If you’ve decided that you’re supporting me, don’t keep on waiting, because it’s going to get chilly soon,” Mr. Obama said. “The fact is, all of you are going to decide who the next president of the United States is.”

Isn't that kind of the problem? As Paul Waldman detailed in a great article for the American Prospect, only 10% of all registered voters turn up on caucus night. Iowans do not discuss politics any more than the average American. They don't know more about the candidates than the average American. And they have arguably more apathy than the average American. Now, I actually think they're more engaged this year, as the nation is more engaged, and you will see record turnout for the caucuses. Still, what does that mean, exactly? 20%? 15%? Is that a number that we should invest with any kind of significance? Should 150,000 white people in Iowa choose the next leader of the free world?

I agree with Matt Yglesias that this is a media problem:

What's really, really remarkable is the source of Iowa's growing significance -- arbitrary diktat from the media. If campaign reporters covered Iowa in a manner proportionate to its objective significance -- the assignment of a tiny number of delegates by an unrepresentative electorate through an arbitrary and anti-democratic procedure -- then Iowa would barely matter at all. But the press, instead of doing that, treats us to this endless valorization of the alleged "authenticity" of Iowa as if the vast majority of Americans who don't live in all-white rural states are somehow fake.

That is the problem, but it's unlikely to change without ripping up the primary system. The media is going to cover whoever's first as if the life of the candidates depend on it. In the last two contested primaries, Iowa chose George W. Bush and John Kerry. Isn't it time to give another state a chance?

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