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Guest Commentary

Iowa’s Straw Poll and Caucus: dream or nightmare?

4/22/2015

The Iowa dream of homespun democracy now seems like more of a nightmare of electoral folly.

The notion of grassroots selection of presidential candidates — thanks to the Iowa caucuses — is pretty much bankrupt. It has given way to billionaires with more money than they know what to do with and to ideologues with more bizarre agenda items than political party platforms dare address — for fear of documenting the lunacy even more.

And the press?  The press thinks this is all just wonderful, “a media circus” — as it is often called.

The only redeeming grace is that surely — SURELY, one would hope — some of the candidates have to be better than what we have heard so far.

Almost giddy about the folly and the circus, network TV news celebrates that we have some 80 weeks to go before the November 2016 elections; just think, all that time to endure the sinister TV ads that used to haunt us for only a few months before election day. Witness the attack of the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America upon announced GOP candidate U.S. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He dared to speak sense about talking to Iran instead of bombing them out of existence. (The ad’s implied logic: If we bomb enough countries, America will be secure and prosperous and, of course, exceptional.)

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Yes, there are voices of reason, but they are not necessarily comforting. Consider two speakers hosted by the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement.

Pretty much ignored by the local press, political analyst Charlie Cook spoke at Drake University last November and Darrell West of the Brookings Institute spoke in early March. Each on his own characterized our current electoral process as “the Wild West”  — a lawless, unprincipled and ungovernable time and place.

Our electoral  “Wild West,” each said, is because (1) In practice, we have no spending regulations on political campaigns and (2) We have no real semblance of political party discipline or influence. It’s every candidate for himself or herself, every mob to its own pitchforks and torches.

The inept and the bizarre rule the day:

• The Iowa legislature puts hundreds of school districts and thousands of school employees through a figurative financial hell, because the legislature ignores its own deadlines in setting spending for public education. Not to fear: At least four GOP presidential contenders told a Christian conference the government should focus not on public education, but more on taxpayer support for home schooling or private home-indoctrination as some practice it.

• While the GOP routinely decries any government help for the needy, the Iowa Straw Poll will be held in August at an exposition center in Boone that exists thanks to millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

• We wait for another shoe to drop as former State Sen. Kent Sorenson faces federal sentencing or plea-bargaining after his conviction for taking money to support first the Michele Bachmann candidacy in the 2011 Straw Poll and then getting thousands more to switch support to another GOP candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul. Who else was on the take that time around?

We endure all this despite foregone conclusions. The GOP caucus winner will be whoever grovels the most before the religious right; the Democrats will endorse Hillary Clinton. The press will follow their script for a Clinton-Jeb Bush election and punish would-be voters with a review of every political misdeed, gaffe and supposed scandal of Bush/Clinton/Bush administrations from 1988 to 2008. (Presidents Obama and George H.W. Bush may never look better.)

It’s all a nightmare that echoes the fears of George Orwell’s “1984” or Alduous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

And for the life of me: How can we do anything in the way of self governance and desired progress on domestic and international fronts during the next 80 weeks, given the quagmire of Straw Poll and Caucus nonsense we’re already knee-deep into?

But, at least, it’s not as though the fate of the nation or anything like that is at stake. 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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