Friday, January 4, 2008

Iowa. Who cares? (Part I)

There are several reasons why I don’t care about who won in Iowa. Not that I discount Iowan’s opinions in any way. I’m a Midwesterner myself, and unlike many of my New York neighbors, I know that average IQs do not drop a point every 50 miles one travels west of the Hudson. And Iowans have spent a lot of time with the candidates, so their opinions mean something to me.

The main reason I don’t care is because it was not an election they held there last night – it was the first episode of a reality TV program that won’t end for another ten months. Media loves this stuff. Sending a few reporters to Iowa for a few weeks, putting them up in Comfort Inns, renting some Impalas from Thrifty and buying dinners at Applebee’s is about as cheap as programming gets. You’ll notice NBC wasn’t bothering with any “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” stuff the past month – they’ll save all that for the lull between some other primaries.

The networks get to share one big production set paid for by the candidates themselves. It’s an irresistible financial model; low cost and strong advertiser demand. The actual relevance and importance of the Iowa caucuses to the American public was not a factor.

Now we move on to New Hampshire and Round II of “American Idol: The Presidency.” Some of the obvious losers have been eliminated (Biden and Dodd) but the auditions for the other parts in this show will continue. Think of the media as casting directors. They don’t get the final say in who achieves ultimate stardom, but they certainly shape the consideration process by putting forth various characters for the principle parts of leading man, court jester, evil villain, poor boy made good and class valedictorian. More losers will emerge soon (Kucinich? Paul? Richards?), and other parts may become open.

But the play is the thing. Policies, programs and ideas don’t make good TV. Personalities, good and evil, marching bands and pep rallies do. They’re more fun to watch and easier to explain.

Of course, these are just my opinions; but there are also more objective reasons not to care too much about the Iowa caucuses. More on that later.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Something important did happen in Iowa. It has little to do with policy pronouncements and a lot to do with character. Iowa is a civil, descent state populated by relatively well educated people (grew up there). Who a person is (character) means a lot there. Iowans are generally pragmatic and want to see our elected representatives solve the country’s problems. They know that people have to work together to accomplish that end. Like the vast majority of American, they seem to believe that our national political system is broken. It is interesting that they chose four genuinely nice people (Obama, Edwards, Huckabee and McCain) as their best choices to make things better. They kicked the rest to the curb because they did not like them nor trust them to make things work. In addition to being nice, their choices all have a record of working with friends and foes to make things better. Today is election day in New Hampshire. We can only hope that the good people of the “Live Free or Die” state send the message from Iowa on to the rest of the nation. (Stu Arnold)