It’s Iowa Caucus Day. The circus has begun. Gail Collins writes about how absurd the Iowa Caucuses are and why no one should take them seriously. However, they will be taken seriously.
That system empowers the activists and those with built-in organizational ties who can mobilize people to leave their homes for a couple of hours on a weeknight and motivate them to declare a public — not private — preference for a candidate.
On the Republican side, those networks belong principally to conservative Christian groups, antiabortion organizations, home-school advocates and some economic interests.
On the Democratic side, organized labor and the teachers boast the best networks, but the main impulse is a broader populist tradition that tugs the Democratic Party of Iowa to the left. That tradition may go back to the days of Henry Wallace, the Iowa-born vice president under FDR. But it has been embodied in recent decades by Tom Harkin, the longtime Democratic senator who ran for president himself in 1992 and quickly fell behind the more moderate Bill Clinton and Paul Tsongas.
Harkin has accustomed Iowa Democrats to a red-meat diet of anti-corporate rhetoric, a tradition he shared with the late Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. That theme was echoed this year and in 2004 by John Edwards and was imitated — with varying degrees of conviction — by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the closing stages of the Iowa race.
It has been an Iowa pattern to tilt the Democratic race leftward and the Republican race to the right. And often it has been New Hampshire, where the primary turnout approximates the pattern of the overall electorate, that restores the balance and corrects for the distorting effects of the Iowa dynamic.
Populism clearly is distressing to Bwana. How he longs for the days when well-bred aristocrats in powdered wigs and satin coats gathered in tastefully decorated drawing rooms to make decisions on behalf of the simple peasants.