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Guest Commentary

Maybe Iowa ain’t what it’s cracked up to be

11/14/2012

1. Guy in his 50s, ballot in hand, abruptly asks a poll worker: “Which judge is for homosexuals?” Receiving no satisfactory answer, he says, “It’s a guessing game, huh?” and votes against lord knows whom.                

2. Couple, apparently new citizens, is accompanied by a son or grandson to cast their ballots, utterly delighted to be part of this nation.                

For me the guy in his 50s represents much of today’s Iowa GOP and its social agenda. The couple delighted to be here represent what was the broad and welcoming nature of the Iowa Republican Party before its take over by the religious right.                

Or consider how, in Oscar Wilde’s view, “life imitates art” and whether the rest of the nation really is as enamored of Iowa as The Des Moines Register and TV stations so often tell us. As the banner headline in the election day Register had it “…Iowans help set AMERICA’S DIRECTION.”

“Life imitates art” calls to mind a 1947 movie, “Magic Town.” Here’s a summary of that flick.                

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Remind you of any place in particular?                

“Lawrence ‘Rip’ Smith (played by Jimmy Stewart) searches for a community in the middle of the U.S. that can give perfect results when used for polling. When he finally finds a town where citizens’ opinions perfectly mirror those of the American people as a whole, he sets up an undercover operation there. Over time, the true nature of his operation is revealed. The town transforms almost overnight; citizens, aware of their special status, begin giving outlandish polling answers instead of the sensible ones they gave in the past. The town’s reputation is ruined…”                

The Iowa caucuses and the state’s place in the presidential election cycle are defended because Iowa is heralded as sort of a “Magic Town,” ideal for the opening lap of the race for presidential nominations. But we may have lost our luster thanks to how the Iowa GOP essentially denies access by any moderate candidate. In that perverse way, Iowa indeed contributed to the direction taken by the GOP in 2012.                

In line with Iowa, the right wing of the GOP rejected such U.S. Senate candidates as incumbent Richard Lugar in Indiana and former U.S. Rep. Chris Shays in Connecticut — replacing them with losers, Richard Mourdock and Linda McMahon. Rep. Todd Akin, with strong right-wing support, was the GOP choice to self-destruct in Missouri, doing his part to scuttle party efforts to gain control of the U.S. Senate.                

Nor did the Iowa GOP caucus process do much to burnish the state’s image — what with U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann being ballyhooed as a presidential contender, thanks to the Ames Straw Poll; then Iowa fouled-up vote counting to give a caucus night victory to Mitt Romney instead of Rick Santorum, who was declared the winner two weeks later.                

CNN political commentator Jeff Greenfield said back then that the Iowa caucuses “violate the most elemental values of a vibrant and open political process” and called them a “farce.”                

Iowa will continue in the spotlight in 2016, however, thanks to President Barrack Obama and Democrats who say their Iowa caucuses have worked quite well. Back in July, retired Associated Press reporter, Mike Glover, who covered Iowa politics for some 30 years, said an Obama re-election would about guarantee Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status; a Romney win would not.                

To its credit, Iowa did get part of its house in order this November when voters refused the GOP and religious right’s call to oust Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins, because he was part of the 7-0 court decision in 2009 that found a state law banning same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Some 552,000 Iowans did vote to oust Wiggins, close to the numbers that unseated then Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus and Justices David Baker and Michael Streit in the 2010 election. But Wiggins had 664,853 yes votes — some 200,000 more than each of the 2010 justices — thanks to the bigger turnout this year.               

The more people involved, the better the system works — a lesson lost on Iowa’s GOP. CV

 

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

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