The Case Against Iowa, Cont’d

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I’m with Ezra Klein: Rick Santorum doesn’t owe his Iowa success to old-fashioned retail politicking. If pressing the flesh at hundreds of events across 99 counties is the path to victory in Iowa, why was Santorum such a nonfactor until the race’s closing days? Do Iowans keep their stirring love for grassroots heroes a secret until the last moment? No. Santorum was in the right place at the right time–the last untried Mitt Romney alternative still afloat when the battleship Gingrich was blown out of the water, and also the beneficiary of a key last minute endorsement.

I make this point partly to reiterate that Iowa’s perpetual role as the first state to vote in presidential campaigns is silly and should end. One trope repeated by the caucuses’ defenders holds that Iowa’s nature somehow makes for more substantive and honorable campaigns than one sees in the other 49 states. That’s baloney, and nothing about last night suggests otherwise. Perhaps recognizing this, today’s Des Moines Register editorial defending the caucuses doesn’t bother with that argument. Instead it rolls out another, equally unpersuasive, angle:

The race for the White House has to begin somewhere. No matter where, that locale would be criticized. Outsiders would say it was too urban or too rural or too wealthy or too poor or too whatever.

Iowa is as good a place as any, and better than many. The people of this state have the same priorities as other Americans, including wanting the best education for our children, access to affordable health care, a balanced federal budget and sound foreign policy.

Got that? The race has to start somewhere, and no state is perfect, therefore…. Iowa goes first! The Register never explains why Iowa is “better” than anyone else, but never mind. It’s a nonsensical argument. There’s no good reason why the first state to vote can’t be chosen on some kind of semi-random, rotating basis.

Finally, the Register repeats the empty cliche that Iowa has again “approached its first-in-the-nation caucuses with a seriousness of purpose.” Leave aside the way Iowans spent 2011 veering from one flavor-of-the-month candidate to another (including Michele Bachmann, winner of the state’s August straw poll, even when her deficiencies as a presidential candidate were already obvious). Consider that ultimate test of seriousness: showing up to vote. Last night, a reported 123,000 people turned out for the caucuses. Apparently that’s a record number. But it’s still hardly one to celebrate, as it amounts to a mere twenty percent of the state’s registered Republicans. If that’s the best Iowa can do, maybe it’s time to let another state go first. One that might actually demonstrate a “seriousness of purpose” rather than talking endlessly about it to preserve an indefensible status quo.