Friday, January 4, 2008

A mouse that roars

Folks in Iowa have shown just how acting like country rubes can turn the tables on the big-city slicks.

Of the quadrennial presidential political caucuses now mercifully completed, Des Moines bar manager Justin Berkley told Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank they're "the joke of Iowa—everyone wants to picture us as an episode of "Hee Haw' " (so) "for four weeks every year we try darn hard to be hicks."

Thus, staging their quaint living-room gabfests with visiting candidates, the relatively small slice of less than 200,000 Democrats and less than 100,000 Republicans out of 2 million registered Iowa voters performs rustic rituals of picking candidates while thousands of news reporters and their staffs, volunteers and professional political workers flock to the state to spend satchels of money for weeks on an international carnival promoted as vital to the U.S. democratic process.

Iowans had caucused virtually unnoticed since the mid-1800s. However, in the 1970s some marketing genius discovered gold for the state in promoting them as major national "news"—like discovering that Iowa corn can be turned into ethanol.

Stimulating as the caucuses are for the state's print and broadcast media ad revenues and as stages for candidates desperately needing national TV exposure, they have become worrisome distortions in the presidential selection system. Out of an estimated 130 million-plus registered U.S. voters, Iowa's 300,000 caucus goers (if that many) constitute something like two-thousandths of a percent of the nation's voters, yet are regarded by pundits as a serious bellwether in presidential politics.

That indeed has made Iowa something of a mouse that roars.

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