Iowa, Murder or Suicide?

It’s a trick question, of course, because it assumes the Iowa caucuses are dead, but then, Dr. David Leonhardt pronounced the death, so they must be.

It should never go first again because it is an overwhelmingly white, disproportionately older state that distorts the presidential nominating process. In the 2020 campaign, Iowa’s outsize role has already helped doom two black candidates (Cory Booker and Kamala Harris) and given a boost to candidates whose main appeal has been among white voters (like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar). Iowa’s Democrats look nothing like the nation’s Democrats, as Michael Tomasky explained in a Times Op-Ed.

Booker and Harris are out, which was either going to be Russia’s fault or Iowa’s, because it couldn’t possibly be their fault. After all they were “two black candidates,” which is a stand-alone policy position in the New Democratic Party. And not to be a pedant, but Tomasky didn’t explain much of anything, but argued in the finest progressive tradition that if you assume racial demographics are all that matter, then Iowa doesn’t matter.

Iowa should never go first again because its caucus excludes even some of its own citizens from voting. Absentee voting is not allowed. Thousands of people with disabilities can’t participate, as Ari Berman (a native Iowan) of Mother Jones noted. Neither can many people who work at night or need to take care of children, as Judd Legum wrote in his newsletter. And the votes from Iowa’s metropolitan areas don’t count as much as votes from rural areas.

A caucus isn’t a primary, so of course you can’t send in an absentee ballot, which means the laundry list of things to make voting easier, rationalized on the backs of those for whom engaging with their fellow citizens in the chosen method is legitimately impossible, while ignoring those for whom civic engagement is too boring or tedious to be worth their time. And Monopoly is so much fun they’d hate to blow the game.

Iowa should never go first again because the caucus is rife with strange, complicated rules. One example: Somebody’s vote — even for one of the leading candidates — typically does not count if it comes in a place where that candidate doesn’t get at least 15 percent of the local vote. “These rules are complicated,” The Times’s Nate Cohn noted. “There are ordinary people out there trying to make sense of these rules in running these caucuses.” Many of them struggled.

Electing people to public office is “rife with strange, complicated” decisions. Most Iowans have figured out how to participate in their caucus if they choose to. Granted, some Manhattanites remain confused, but then, it wasn’t really worth their time to learn since they weren’t going to participate anyway. Many struggled? There’s no place in Iowa called Lake Wobegon, so many are always going to struggle. That may be a feature, not a bug.

But finally, Dr. Leonhardt delivers the coup de grace.

Iowa should never go first again because last night it botched its caucus when the entire nation was watching, giving the lie to the state’s longtime claim that it is better at conducting democracy than the rest of us.

Iowa didn’t botch its caucus. The Iowa Democratic Party did. The Democratic National Committee did. Shadow, Inc. did.

[A] little-known company called Shadow Inc. that was founded by veterans of Hillary Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, and whose previous work was marked by a string of failures, including a near bankruptcy.

One might get the impression, given the advanced effort at plausible deniability that holding the Iowa caucuses first was the ruin of democracy, that the use of this app at the urging of the DNC, the lack of any backup in case of a problem, was deliberate, to make Iowa’s caucuses fail in as public and embarrassing a way possible, so that it would end Iowa’s status as the launching pad, with its crazy caucus system that allows people to switch from their first to second choice, to negotiate among themselves, to fully engage in the democratic process if they can figure out how to show up.

But such a conspiratorial notion is baseless, as the post-hoc spin to blame Iowa for bad Dem decisions won’t hunt. Iowa can change its system to a primary from a caucus, if the majority decides that’s what it wants to do. Florida can change its primary to three years ahead of the nominating convention, if that’s what it wants to do. And registered Democratic voters can support the black female cop candidate, Kamala Harris, if that’s what they want to do.

Iowa’s not dead. It’s doing fine. Dr. Leonhardt had his hand on the wrong pulse. As for cause of death, that will have to await the autopsy, but preliminary impressions are that it was death by excuses, a very painful way to die.

19 thoughts on “Iowa, Murder or Suicide?

  1. Denverite

    The two doctors and their moaning about an “unrepresentative” corpse are forgetting something that is slightly relevant in a U.S. presidential election. Since the electoral college is an actual thing it might be just a teense important for a party that wants to win the next election to realize that there are lots of electoral college votes in states that aren’t “representative” and candidates that appeal in such places might just have a chance of actually winning the election. We are back to Keynes’ beauty contest. Picking the contestant who is most beautiful to you doesn’t win. Picking the contestant that more of the other players think is the most beautiful will win, e.g., who will the crowd pick, not who will you pick.

  2. Keith Kaplan

    Iowa should never go first again because last night it botched its caucus when the entire nation was watching

    Any chance he wrote about the Dems in the 2016 election?

  3. Hunting Guy

    Carry over from yesterday.

    Jay Leno.

    “The new specialty at the Iowa fair this year is fried butter on a stick. Of course, if you’re like me and you want like to eat healthy, get your stick of butter baked.”

  4. B. McLeod

    Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Iowa Democrats?

    Maybe the Shadow. (We should know by sometime next week).

  5. Jardinero1

    Wait. Is this the same white unrepresentative Iowa where, in 2008, Obama came in first and Hillary Clinton placed third?

    1. SHG Post author

      When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not. It’s supposed to work every time, and when it doesn’t work, it’s irreparably broken and MUST BE FIXED!!!

  6. B. McLeod

    The fiasco rolls on today, as the NYT reports the late, piecemeal results are also fraught with errors.

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