Iowa nice, but the caucuses are still a huge problem
Have you seen the vid on Youtube called “Iowa Nice”? If not, let’s start there.
The producer of the video, Scott Siepker, is an Iowa State University grad and host of Iowa Outdoors on Iowa Public Television.
“The main objective was just to make people laugh,” Siepker, 29, said.
The video, titled “Iowa Nice,” does have more serious purposes as well. Because there is no Democratic challenger for President Barack Obama, a one-sided perspective of Iowans is being highlighted with the national media in town for the first-in-the-nation caucuses, Siepker said.
A friend asked me this morning what this piece was in response to, exactly. Everybody loves Iowa, he said.
I don’t know Siepker, obviously, but I do know a bit about Iowa, having spent two years there in the late 1980s earning my MA from Iowa State. I responded that I think the caucus process has put a real bender on Iowans this time around. For months there’s been all this attention on barking gongbat candidates and the voters who love them (seriously, the only way the Republican Party can get any crazier is if the candidates start running around naked, picking lice out of each other’s hair and debating in trees). And all those idiot voters are Iowans. Perhaps the feeling among intelligent Iowans is that the abuse being heaped on the morons, richly deserved though it may be, has generalized a bit too much.
As someone born and raised in the South, I have plenty of experience when it comes to ridicule. You almost can’t help getting a little sensitive, even when you agree with the criticisms. Even when you know, firsthand, that the real story is worse than everybody outside the region realizes. There’s always this little part of you that wants to defend yourself, at the least, to make sure that everybody knows that all citizens of your state or region aren’t like that.
This is what I think is going on in “Iowa Nice” and I think the piece is fantastic. It’s smart, it’s perfectly attuned to what people are saying, and best of all, Siepker crawls up in your grille with an attitude that isn’t at all what we expect of Iowans, who are easily the nicest people in America.
Thing is, all the ill-will being projected Iowa’s way today is a result of a faulty electoral process that every four years manages to drag the nation even deeper into the mire. The US is well and truly fucked, and thanks to the ways in which both major parties are rigged against the citizenry it seems likely to remain that way for the indefinite future. When you structure a nominating process the way we have, kicking the game off in Iowa is like starting the Super Bowl by shooting both starting quarterbacks in the head. What ensues might be interesting. It might be competitive and dramatic and even entertaining (in the way that mud wrestling night at a truck stop is entertaining). But it isn’t going to be the sort of thing that either team can walk away from feeling proud about.
In 1988, I got a good up-close look at the inside of the Iowa Republican Caucuses. At that point in my life I was a young GOPer who had voted for Reagan twice. I was educated and moderate, but I had significant problems with the Democratic Party. Looking back, I am not proud of those days, but that’s a subject for another post.
I arrived at the caucus with my friend Kristen, not really knowing what to expect. What unfolded was nothing short of earth-shattering for me. If you’ll recall, that was the year that Pat Robertson was running, and at caucus time Jack Kemp was another front-runner. Nobody was really taking Vice President Bush, the eventual nominee, seriously. For my part, the main frustration was that the man who was clearly the best candidate available, Howard Baker, didn’t seem to be running at all.
The scene in the caucus looked like an outtake from a Ma and Pa Kettle movie. I lived in Ames proper and spent all my time either on campus or at the club where I DJed, so I had never seen the local white trashery in all its glory before. Sweet hell, you could have cast a sequel to Deliverance out of that room. Some speaking in tongues and serpent handling wouldn’t have been entirely out of place.
I’m making sport at people’s expense, I know, but the truth is they were by any measure I can think of some of the most stupid human beings I had ever been in the same room with, and given where I grew up, that’s a considerable statement. And these people, they were going to dictate who America got to choose from in November. If memory serves, Kemp won the precinct and Rev. Pat took second.
Miraculously, I was able to get myself elected as a delegate to the county convention. (I was picked as an alternate, and then one of the electees couldn’t make it.) I did so as a vocal Baker supporter, using a strategy that leveraged the man’s loyal support of Reagan, whom everybody worshipped.
The county convention was more of the same, though. It was a better dressed class of entitled fundamentalist hillbilly, to be sure, but the five moderates in the room got nard-stomped on every vote. You have to understand, too – this was a major university town. Way back in the 1980s. Before FOX News. These days, we’re accustomed to a GOP where you win by proving that you’re the most unhinged, I will bomb Canada the day I’m elected motherfucker in the race. Science is a liberal Jew-boy conspiracy and you’re not 100% certain about elementary math, either. Iowa Republicans were a generation ahead of the rest of the nation in pure, off-its-meds psychopathology. Proto-teabaggers, if you will. I cannot fathom what the place is going to be like tonight.
This was the day that I finally realized that I had no business being a Republican, in the same way that just a few years earlier the Southern Baptist Convention had demonstrated, in no uncertain terms, that I had no business associating with them, either.
I feel for Scott Siepker and the rest of Iowa’s rational citizens. I know they’re embarrassed and I know they wish they could make it stop. But it isn’t going to as long as Iowa insists on going first because leading that political charge is so important to the self-image of a state that leads the nation in very little besides corn and brain-drain. I asked one of my classes in 1988 how many were leaving Iowa after graduating. 24 hands out of 27 went up. If you’re not going to farm, there’s not a lot to do. That’s a shame because the state has more to offer culturally than you’d think, and its public educational system (then, at least) was among the best in the US.
That said, we’d all be better served if the first shots of the electoral war were fired in places that were a little less at the mercy of slobbering hillbillies. You might argue that in this day and age Iowa’s argument that it represents real America is dead-on, but is representative really a worthy goal when things get as bad as they are? Wouldn’t we better served by aiming a little higher, by emphasizing those ideals that we admire and aspire to?
I don’t know which state ought to go first, ideally, but if it were my decision I’d give California and New York a shot. I can hear the howling from the right already, but I don’t much care. Those folks are the problem, and I’m more concerned about the solution.