Around this time every four years, I read and hear a lot of complaints about the fact Iowa bats lead-off in every single presidential-nominating cycle. It’s a measure of influence out of all proportion with Iowa’s size, the carpers carp. It’s a state that doesn’t really reflect the nation’s demographic mix, the naysayers say. It’s the reason we have a costly federal ethanol mandate, the opiners pine.
Let ’em keep it, I say.
Think — I mean really think — about whether you’d like your state to trade places with Iowa. Whether you’d like to be bombarded for weeks with thousands of TV ads, with mail pieces criticizing your voting record (and your neighbors’), with billboards like this one. Whether you’d like to be unsure every time you visit a restaurant or coffee shop, for months on end, that you could finish your meal or drink without being glad-handed by some overly excited presidential wanna-be. Other states might want a little more love from the candidates, but what happens in Iowa is more akin to stalking.
The hearty souls in Iowa listen, mostly politely, to these entreaties of varying value — and then they do the rest of us a favor by coldly cutting the hearts out of the unworthy and tossing their lifeless campaigns into a partly frozen ditch. Glad you didn’t have to suffer through much of the Howard Dean or Michele Bachmann campaigns in your home state? Thank an Iowan. The people of the Hawkeye State may or may not choose the person who ends up winning the nomination, or the presidency, though their track record has been better of late. But they start pouring dirt on campaigns that had really been dead for a while.
Georgians are happy about moving up in the pecking order this year, with our March 1 primary trailing only the official first four states. But I suspect I’m not the only one who will breathe a quiet sigh of relief if the GOP field by then has been cut down to four or five candidates (can I be greedy and ask that it be cut to just three?) instead of the 11 still pretending they have a shot to give the acceptance speech in Cleveland come July. Let us have a look at the finalists, or semi-finalists, but not all the entrants.
Now, about that ethanol mandate. Yes, it’s an especially pork-ful sort of presidential pandering. Yes, I’ve often thought we could be rid of it if we’d just bump Iowa down in the order at least every now and then. But lately this notion has occurred to me: What if a rotation of first-in-the-nation status backfired, and simply expanded the list of pet projects the panderers end up promising? That is, we not only couldn’t kill off King Corn, but we added a new bit of cronyism to the list every time a new state took the lead? Seen that way, maybe it’s better to stick with the devil we know.
“The devil we know” isn’t exactly the stuff of state-tourism marketing campaigns. But until someone convinces me otherwise, it’s a good enough reason for Iowa to keep these quadrennial kickoffs.
* Unless Donald Trump wins the caucus tonight. In which case, all bets are off.