Sunday, January 08, 2012

Reflections On Iowa

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So Mitt Romney, whom the media still insist on calling the "presumptive Republican nominee," has won the Iowa caucuses by a whopping eight votes.

The surprise of the evening (which everyone saw coming days ago) is that the person whom Romney beat by that molecule-thin margin was not Newt Gingrich, but was instead the former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick "For God's Sake Don't Google My Last Name" Santorum.

Santorum had the advantage of timing. This is a contest where every other member of the Republican Klown Kollege has gotten to be the front-runner for at least two weeks, until people actually got to hear them and they became a late-night TV punchline. (Gingrich got to do it twice.)

Santorum's "surge" came right before the caucuses, when people were desperate for a conservative, any conservative, to vote for. It was closing time at the GOP Bar, everyone else had turned out to be a dog, and Iowa conservatives were willing to squint and keep the lights turned low when they took Rick Santorum home.

It remains to be seen, however, how he'll look to them the morning after, when people who aren't completely off the deep end find out about some of the things he actually believes, such as:

- Exceptions to abortion restrictions to protect the mother's health are "phony."

- Insurance companies should be able to deny you coverage for pre-existing conditions.

- We don't need food stamps or other programs to fight hunger, because there are fat people in America.

The smart money says no. Even if those positions don't turn off sane people, that dorky sweater vest might. I mean, really. Dude. A sweater vest? Seriously?

The news networks spent millions of dollars and hours upon hours of air time obsessively covering the Iowa caucuses, all the while telling us they don't really matter. The caucuses, they tell us, are nonbinding and have no effect on the delegate count. They are, in effect, a straw poll on steroids. The winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, they point out, was Mike Huckabee. The eventual nominee, Hon. John McCain, came in fourth. And so on.

What the media consistently ignore in all this cognitive dissonance is that the alleged importance of the Iowa caucuses is entirely their creation. It's one of the clearest examples of how 24-hour news coverage has warped and distorted the political process.

For instance, the day after her dismal showing in the supposedly meaningless caucuses, former front-runner Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race (an announcement that led to much wailing and gnashing of teeth by political humorists everywhere).

It looked for a moment like Rick Perry was going to bail out as well, but a Twitter message to his followers defiantly stated, "Here we come, SC! And Florida! And ... dang, I forgot the third one. Oops."

When confronted with the weakness of their candidate lineup, some Republicans insist that it really doesn't matter whom they run, because Obama is "worse than Jimmy Carter."

This is, on its face, absurd; there's no way, for example, to hang something like the millstone that was the Iran hostage crisis around the neck of the man whose administration presided over the death of Osama bin Ladin, the fall of Moammar Gadhafi and the end of the Iraq War.

In addition, while there's dissatisfaction with Obama on both sides of the aisle, the deep hatred required to motivate people to get out of the house and go to the polls for an "even a flip-flopping, unprincipled empty suit like Romney over Obama" vote is restricted to a few noisy wingnuts who think everyone's as angry and hateful as they are.

Ask John Kerry how well "sure, you don't trust me, but I'm not the other guy" worked for him.

But leaving that aside for the moment, the biggest problem with that desperate attempt at historical analogy is that the GOP doesn't have a Ronald Reagan to run against Obama.

Reagan was a charismatic candidate with a solid conservative record and a message of hope. The current right wing that runs the GOP has made "hope" a word to be mocked, and when it comes to charisma, these people are not only not Reagan, they're not even Dan Quayle.

The Republicans have their best opportunity in a long time to win the White House, and they're blowing it with lame candidates, inept campaigns and nasty infighting.

That's usually the Democrats' job.