The Freak Show: Does Iowa Really Matter

If you follow politics at all, you’ve been inundated lately with all this coverage of what they call the “Iowa Caucus.” CNN actually treated it like a real election, with live coverage and maps of the various districts and percentage of precincts that had reported in. I suppose with 24-hour news networks, they need things like this fill up the time.

The only reason the Iowa Caucus gets so much attention is that it is the first test for candidates who are running for President. But as far as a real indicator of who’s going to win on the national stage, it’s a waste of time and effort. In 2008, the Republican winner was Mike Huckabee. Where is he today? In fact, the only non-incumbent candidates to ever win their party’s caucus and go on to win the general election were George W. Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008.

The Iowa Republican voters are dominated by very conservative, even evangelical, Christians. That’s why a candidate like Rick Santorum, who essentially tied Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, would do well there, yet not be considered a serious contender for the presidency.

The caucus is loosely defined as a “gathering of neighbors.” Instead of going to the polls and casting ballots, Iowans get together in each of Iowa’s precincts, usually in schools, churches, public libraries and even people’s houses. In the Republican gatherings, each voter officially casts his or her vote by secret ballot. Voters are presented blank sheets of paper with no candidate names on them, and after listening to some of the participants pushing their favorite candidates, they write their choices down and the Republican Party of Iowa tabulates the results.

In 2008, some precincts even used a used a show of hands. Exact results aren’t necessary because the results are non-binding. So it is actually the Republican Iowa State Convention, not the precinct caucuses, which selects the final delegates to the Republican National Convention.

The real first primary is held in New Hampshire, which actually has a state law that says it must be the first state to hold a primary in a Presidential election. But since Iowa has a “caucus” rather than a “primary,” it has remained the first state to hold a vote. People claim it’s “tradition” to do it this way, but it only goes back to 1976. It’s not some holy grail from the founding fathers or anything like that. What it does is give the media something to get the election coverage going, and it also gives a large boost to the economy in a largely rural and agricultural state.

Most candidates do spend an exorbitant amount of time in Iowa, just because they figure the media exposure will give a jump-start to their campaign. Santorum spent most of his time there, far more than any other candidate. He worked hard for the strong showing he got, as did Ron Paul. But neither candidate seems like they will have legs for the long run.

Santorum won election to Congress from Pennsylvania back in 1990. He accused his opponent of being a Washington insider who bought a big house in a fancy suburb of Washington, forsaking his Western Pennsylvania home and constituents. But like every candidate who wins election based on bringing new blood to Washington, it wasn’t long before he bought an expensive home in an affluent suburb of Washington himself, and even charging his kids private education to the taxpayers back home.

The change from crusader-for-change to Washington player caused him to finally lose his seat in Congress in a rout. Of course, he then did what every Washington insider does; he got even wealthier through work with lobbying firms and as a consultant for Fox News. He also received nearly $400,000 in director’s fees and stock options from Universal Health Services. Think he’s objective in the fight over the health care bill that Obama was able to get passed?

But in Iowa he is in the right place for his ultra conservative views on social issues, He is against any kind of gay rights, and has made disparaging remarks about their fight for equality. He also is against abortion in all cases, even to save the life of the mother; in spite of the fact that his own wife was given drugs to speed the delivery of a child that they knew was likely to not survive because of an infection she got during pregnancy, in order to save her life. It seems he has a different standard for himself.

The third place finisher was Ron Paul. He has interesting views that are more libertarian, as opposed to standard Republican. He would leave drug laws up to the states, as well as abortion restrictions. In fact, anything not expressly contained in the Constitution would be left up to the states.

Of course, he’s against the government being involved in health care. In a recent debate, he was asked if a guy who gets sick, goes into a coma, and doesn’t have health insurance, should be cared for. He was asked, “Are you saying society should just let him die?” While many in the audience yelled out “Yeah,” Paul stated that this was, more-or-less, the root choice of a free society. He did say charity groups would help the cause, and he himself did volunteer work for churches as a doctor.

His foreign policy is actually more in tune with extremely liberal Democrats, in that he is against any of the wars we’ve been fighting. If he had been President during World War II, we would probably all be speaking German right now, because he doesn’t believe in foreign intervention, whether people need our help or not.

As you can see, these two candidates, who made strong showings in Iowa, will not likely be accepted as readily by voters across America. Iowa is a small, not very representative sample of the voting public. Does their vote matter in the long run? Not in the least.