A Bad Case of Iowa Envy

by Benson Williams, January 5th, 2008

So who’s the big winner coming out of Iowa? Is it Obama? The Democratic Party? Change Agents? Christian right-wingers? Media consultants? Those-who-dare-to-hope?

I guess it depends on what your definition of “winner” is. America, the perennial nation of winners, is beholden to those who strive for victory – and then achieve it. Only winners matter. So with so much on the line psychically in our country right now, a win could really do us some good. Had you slept through the past year of media coverage and awoken on Tuesday to hear Barack the Blessed’s quasi-bombast from the winner’s podium that evening, you would be forgiven if you had assumed that he had just captured his party’s nomination for the presidency. When his voice soared to capture the heights of our capacity to dream, one could detect a resonant, uvular MLK trill in his speech that seemed directed at those of us who dare to dream his dream (aka South Carolina black voters). Our desperate need for a brand new president has us banking on an image and relying on an age-old political system founded on corporate backing and fealty to Wall Street. These are troubling times, and more than ever, it’s the message that counts. Stated policy initiatives and voting records are mere detritus that crumbles into meaninglessness as the candidates wiggle into our amygdalae and down our brain stems, looking to ignite that sweet glow of righteousness inside of us. Their politically-connected advisors and power-brokers are, along with the minions of the media noise machine, just names on a credit roll too fast for our eyes to discern.

I’d like to propose the one really big winner of the Iowa caucuses: the State of Iowa itself. Not average Iowans by any means, but the various factions, consultants, contractors, political flunkies and partisan luminaries that have had the good fortune to cash in on the record-breaking bonanza of campaign expenditures showered upon the unassuming state. By any estimation, Iowa has in the past year been the beneficiary of a financial fiesta that has dwarfed the take during any of its prior caucus seasons. Much attention has been paid to the intensity of the political circus that Iowans have been subjected to this past year, and there is no question that it has left its mark – if you know someone in Iowa, you know that they will never be the same again. But the din of media voices complaining of Iowa’s outsized role in the presidential selection process (hereafter referred to as Iowa Envy) misses the point entirely when it grumbles about how small, how white, or how just plain middling the state is.

The great American Political RoadShow is a production with an agenda of its own, and challenging outside voices are decidedly unwelcome. To participate in the horse race, you have pay the entrance fee. The front-runners made sure to pay up before they got in, and they continue to pay their dues as the act moves on to New Hampshire. Oh how giddy those pundits, politicos, and prognosticators would be – the ones with a bad case of Iowa Envy – were the RoadShow to premiere in their own backyard. The influence and the cash would be sufficient to motivate any state to protect its first-in-the-nation pork pie status. Who needs a tourist industry when you’ve got millions of dollars of outside money pouring into your tiny state each month for almost an entire year? And all Iowans have to do is “take their coveted role seriously”.

I admit it – I like to hear the words “corporate greed machine” when John Edwards speaks. I like to hear Obama speak of a united America, and I like it when Hillary Clinton characterizes the vice president as Darth Vader. These candidates are all speaking to folks like me when they make these remarks; the money spent on market research is paying off. But what I’d really like to hear from one of them is commentary the likes of which Dennis Kucinich delivered recently on PBS when he fingered the influential Des Moines insurance industry for keeping him out of the highly-visible Des Moines Register debate due to his lone support of not-for-profit universal health care for all Americans. That’s the kind of talk – speaking of brain stems – that really gets me fired up.

So go ahead – put the first-in-the-nation primary contest in your own racially diverse and populous state. You’ll be thrilled with your new status, with your shiny new suit, and with all the attention that the young female voters in your state will receive when they “inexplicably” flock to the cause of the senator from Illinois. All you need is spare hotel room capacity, some evenly distributed Starbucks franchises, and a few Thai restaurants to keep the hordes of media nitwits fed. The rest is gravy. You too can be a winner. Just make sure to call the coin while it’s in the air, because the rest of us will be watching on TV.

Benson is a writer and translator who resides in the Twin Cities.

3 Responses to “A Bad Case of Iowa Envy”

  1. Comment from t.a. barnhart:

    it’s gotten sad how after 5 years, Kucinich supporters still think there’s a big conspiracy to keep him out of debates and away from the top of the ballot. in 2003, Howard Dean started about 2 miles behind Kucinch, got nothing but disdain and mockery from the media, hatred from the Beltway Dems — and love from the ‘roots. Kucinich failed in the same effort, and yet somehow it’s part of a conspiracy.

    of course there’s a lot of manipulation that goes on. it’s politics. you have to find ways to work past that. Obama did it by tapping into the progressive grassroots desire for a better form of govt — and once again, Kucinich failed to do the same. the media did not give this to Obama. ordinary Americans did it. go ahead and mock him, but the reason turn-out in Iowa was so huge — 80,000 more than 2004, and even Hillary got more votes than Huckabee — is that Obama’s message and person excite and inspire. Kucinich? not so much.

  2. Comment from Steve:

    Great analysis, Ben.

    Any prognostications? I can’t help but suspect the Clintons will do just about anything to get Hill elected. Will they kneecap Obama somehow?

    It is interesting how your one sentence about Kucinich’s PBS commentary makes you a Kucinich supporter. Isn’t it funny how mainstream Dems are absolutely mortified of progressive candidates?

  3. Comment from Terry:

    The reason turnout was so huge, T.A., may have had at least something to do with Bush fatigue. You have yet to make a convincing case that Obama is a progressive in the true sense of the word. His record and his stand on the issues indicates otherwise.