Guest Commentary

June 16, 2011 |

by Herb Strentz


Is this Bible camp? No, it’s the Iowa GOP caucus!


Fittingly, given the religious orientation of the Iowa Republican Party, the Iowa caucus adventure almost resembles an old-time Bible camp — or maybe a gathering of Boy Scouts or other summer youth festival.

You know, those gatherings where the opening lines of a nonsensical song are followed by “Same song, second verse, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.”

We’re into the second verse for the Iowa caucuses. It’s a little bit louder; maybe a little bit worse, but it is still basically the same song — even with the decision of Mitt Romney not to be a full-fledged candidate and not to participate in the Iowa Straw Poll this time around.

The Iowa GOP still stops damning non-believers every once in a while to proclaim that the caucuses are open to everyone. Also, of course, the party faithful have continued to declare that any potential presidential candidate who does not come and worship with them may as well kiss the party’s nomination goodbye. We’ll see how that plays with Romney’s exit.

Meanwhile, the press continues to catalogue the ascensions, the transfigurations and other actions of candidates and would-be candidates with the assumption all this will be relevant to who runs against President Barack Obama in 17 months.

The Iowa caucuses continue to be defended by those who point out that, in general, Iowans are reasonable people, worthy of screening presidential candidates. Such defenses, however, do not distinguish between day-to-day life in Iowa and GOP events such as the caucuses that are controlled by the religious right.

So, in lemming-like quadrennial behavior, GOP candidates — except for Romney and a few others — and press alike are ramping up for the vaunted Iowa Straw Poll on Aug. 13.

Four years ago, GOP wannabees kicked in close to $1 million to the Iowa Republican Party in vote-buying alone in the Straw Poll won by Romney. He paid for more than 31 percent of the $30-votes. (It is not widely broadcast by the Iowa GOP that Sen. John McCain, who ultimately won the party’s 2008 nomination, finished 10th with less than 1 percent in the ’07 Straw Poll.)

Candidates also pay for space on the Straw Poll grounds in Ames — and spend so much in demonstrating “organizational ability” that Romney alone turned over a million or so to the Iowa GOP.

The Iowa GOP is the winner in the Straw Poll and that is one reason to trumpet its importance in selecting a president and, not incidentally, in funding state legislative campaigns in 2012.

Mixed in with the continuing themes of the 2012 caucus season are some new developments in Iowa GOP political liturgy:

• In what true believers call heresy, a former GOP state senator, who once supported a state constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriages, says he now encourages the GOP caucuses to support such unions. Jeff Angelo, a state senator from 1997-2008, announced the formation of “Iowa Republicans for Freedom.” His efforts will be worth monitoring to see if there is any hope for relative moderates regaining a foothold in the Iowa GOP. Angelo urged fellow Republicans to focus on individual liberties and not “get lost in senseless debates that do nothing but demean our neighbors and threaten the rights of our fellow Iowans.”

• Speaking of “senseless debates” and threatening the rights of others, Robert Vander Plaats — a leader in Iowa religious right politics — grandly disqualified Jon Huntsman from consideration as presidential timber because the former Utah governor and former ambassador to China will skip the Iowa caucuses. Huntsman says his opposition to ethanol subsidies (and maybe his support of civil unions) make the Iowa GOP caucus a waste of time for him.

• The platform continues to be alive and well in the Iowa House of Representatives, where the GOP majority continues to advance its social conservative and sometimes unconstitutional agenda. Recently the Iowa House called for Iowa to be the most restrictive state in the nation when it comes to anti-abortion policies. Despite statements that the religious right in Iowa does have concerns about fiscal issues and job creation, the Iowa House has proposed bill after bill in testimony to the far right orientation of those who control the Iowa GOP and the party caucus. Fortunately, the legislation goes nowhere because Democrats control the Iowa Senate.

But the process continues — same song, second verse kind of thing. CV


Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.