IOWA GOTHIC

FERGUSON, ANDREW

IOWA GOTHIC The Thrill of Being Ground Zero of Campaign 2000 By Andrew Ferguson Belle Plaine, Iowa A former two-term governor of Tennessee, a former university president, a former secretary of...

...By self-selection these are the party's activists, its hard core, and they aren't even representative of the party's rank-and-file葉hey're the most conservative Republicans, the most liberal Democrats...
...We're going to lose every farm in America if we don't do something...
...Technological ineptitude turned out to be a godsend for the Iowa Democrats, for without realizing it they had positioned their caucuses as the first real contest in the 1972 presidential campaign...
...As the candidate woos the rustics in Belle Plaine and Charidon and Monona, in backyard pig-roasts and garden-club meetings, all the decadent trappings of modern presidential campaigning drop away...
...Please...
...There are some in Big Media, some of these Big Money people, who want to tell you this thing is all wrapped up...
...While the U.S...
...You get in touch with something more real than New York or Washington...
...nonetheless...
...And look: Four months before the Iowa caucuses, two weeks before the suddenly important Ames straw poll, he is a mere blip in the polls, a semi-non-entity crouched with his rivals beneath the giant looming presence of George W. Bush, who has never been to Belle Plaine謡ho has, in fact, campaigned in Iowa exactly twice...
...As Hugh Winebrenner puts it in his exhaustive book, The Iowa Precinct Caucuses: The Making of a Media Event: "The work ethic and individual self-reliance are still firmly entrenched in the Iowa political culture...
...You start early here, you can use a powerful message to reach people directly and you can defeat the establishment...
...Is the price of corn on the front pages of their newspapers every morning...
...You should see some of the houses going up between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids...
...But that's the way he sounds, here in the backyard of a farmhouse outside Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor of THE WEEKLY STANDARD...
...Now you know there's a lot of people back there in Washington, D.C., who want to tell you the Iowa caucuses don't matter anymore," Alexander says, his accent thickening syllable by syllable...
...The Iowans weren't stupefied but impressed...
...Buchanan mingled, doing Iowa retail...
...It never quite recovered from the crash of '29," said one old-timer who now owns the local bank building...
...Within weeks after the caucuses Muskie was a ghost, and McGovern won the nomination...
...On the one hand, Iowa is held to be a model laboratory for campaigns...
...We are now two removes from a legitimate vote, and the scene promises to be suitably surreal...
...I can sense a growing resentment here," Buchanan said in an interview after his speech, "people starting to sense that maybe the lobbyists and the big money and the Washington establishment have got the fix in...
...And what's the president doing...
...Here you can come to a small town and spend three hours with real people...
...The large number of farmers guarantee that issues of absolutely no importance to the rest of the coun-try容thanol subsidies, for instance用reoccupy the candidates...
...This is Iowa's best shot at national attention...
...The crowd never grew larger than 35 or 40, but Buchanan, in his speech, gave them the Full Pat THE BEAUTY QUEEN EXPLAINED TO A WOMAN IN A BETSY ROSS COSTUME THAT SHE MIGHT HAVE TO LEAVE EARLY FOR HER SHIFT AT THE ICE CREAM PARLOR...
...By 1974, another longshot, Jimmy Carter, was wooing Iowans with an ardor that would have been A LONGSHOT HAS A CHANCE TO BECOME A FRONT-RUNNER, AS CARTER DID AND MCGOVERN BEFORE HIM...
...As the parade turned onto the main drag of abandoned store fronts, and passed clumps of elderly Iowans seated in lawn chairs on the sidewalk, it quickly became apparent that there were more people in the parade than watching it...
...More than 500 reporters will be there to broadcast the tally to a yawning world...
...The press flocked, as the press tends to do...
...Specifically, it's all Gary Hart's fault...
...In Iowa all candidates stand on equal footing before the horny-handed sons of toil, who will not be fooled...
...Are they the ones who care about families in Iowa...
...In Iowa, there's always been an openness to outsider candidates...
...It is a pleasant place, particularly the eastern farmlands rolling down toward the Mississippi River, and it is scattered throughout with perfectly pleasant people...
...If George Bush runs off with Iowa, or, more accurately, if Iowa runs off with George Bush, it will be a triumph of money, of celebrity, of the establishment...
...The large oldster contingent has the same effect: As the journalist Walter Shapiro points out, the issue-fad of "notch babies," which gripped several presidential contenders in the 1980s, was purely a pander to Iowa's hefty cohort of senior citizens...
...But whereas the caucuses are meant to reflect some larger political reality, the straw poll is now taken to be a reflection of the reflection, indicating how a candidate may do in the caucuses, which indicate how a candidate may do in a real election...
...So it's surprising to find him transformed, all of a sudden, into a fire-breathing populist...
...Even its boosterism hints at a lack of self-assurance...
...The crisis is caused by four straight years of bumper crops and low commodity prices, which distinguishes it from the 1980s farm crisis, which was caused by three straight years of failing crops and high commodity prices...
...Misleading soundbites, negative television ads, and cheap sloganeering have overwhelmed the "process...
...They think they're going to elect our president...
...No wonder Alexander and Buchanan and the other Republican candidates (all but George W. Bush) are frustrated and gloomy...
...This is politics as designed by the Pew Charitable Trusts...
...With all the new rules, in order to get everything printed and distributed before the convention, it was necessary to move up the caucus date...
...And yet . . . I mentioned all this to Neal Schuerer, the state senator back in Ladora, the day Pat Buchanan came to town...
...Iowa Democrats may not have quite grasped the ramifications, but Gary Hart did...
...He dwelled, as candidates in Iowa must these days, on the farm crisis now roiling the state...
...The parade assembled on the outskirts of town, though with a population of 388, Ladora is short-skirted...
...In Iowa, as in New Hampshire, the process is virginal...
...And now Iowa offers the Ames straw poll, which takes the implausibility to new heights...
...Thus in Iowa as nowhere else, a longshot, poorly financed and unrecognized, has a chance to transform himself into a front-runner, as Carter did, and McGovern before him...
...It worked...
...Throughout 1971, Hart concentrated on Iowa...
...The case that the Iowa caucuses can measure a candidate's national viability is far-fetched indeed...
...You come back here in five years...
...As it happened, Iowa Democrats had already scheduled their convention for May 1972...
...The press begins covering the next presidential campaign the day after the last election, and for years reporters go hungry for hard data, for actual votes that they can chew and fight over in the news columns and on the yip-yap shows...
...Then they will pay $25 apiece用rovided by the campaigns葉o vote for a candidate...
...This is our little time in the sun...
...The caucuses, and the importance ascribed to them, are the inevitable result of too many reporters chasing too little news...
...But even some of the reporters recognize this is a stretch...
...Volunteers dug up chunks of charred pig from a roasting pit and started breaking them up for sandwiches...
...It's happening to apples in Washington state, to dairy in Wisconsin, to cotton in Louisiana...
...Among them are the longshots themselves, of course, who cannot be dissuaded from their dreams of grandeur, and Iowans, too, who see in the Iowa myth a confirmation of their own flinty independence, and, perhaps preeminently, the national press corps...
...But if you take away Iowa, you might as well just have the establishment ratify the Gallup poll and select your nominee that way...
...He finished third in the Iowa caucuses in 1996, and then lost the nomination to Bob Dole, of course, and after Dole lost in November, Alexander turned right around and started running again...
...Those who do vote are on average whiter, richer, older, and better educated than voters elsewhere, and those who participate in the caucuses are even more so...
...Muskie was blindsided...
...A national commission redrafted the rules by which states would choose their delegates, hoping to wrest control of the process from the grubby mitts of bosses like Mayor Daley and restore it to the fabled "grass roots," which the party was just then beginning, with the familiar disastrous results, to romanticize...
...it does not stagger outsiders with claims on their attention...
...So you can understand Alexander's frustration, but it comes up from something deeper than wounded vanity...
...This is a very special place," he says...
...Alexander seems genuinely appalled...
...People are coming here to retire, seeking a semi-rural lifestyle," he said...
...They'll just fly into Des Moines airport, and they'll stack up a couple bales of hay for a backdrop in a big airplane hangar, and they'll give a speech, and then they'll fly off, and the Big Media and the Big Money葉he elite will get together and they'll select the president...
...You don't know what it's like to be here watching on election night in November every four years...
...This is the only place where there's any reality left in the whole electoral process...
...He slept on couches in the living rooms of supporters (imagine waking up to find Jimmy Carter on your couch...
...Buchanan led the procession, driving an antique Excalibur roadster that played "Anchors Aweigh" when you tooted the horn, followed by a color guard from the local American Legion post, two more antique cars, several flag-festooned flatbed trucks piled up with kids throwing candy, a fire engine, a truck from the local fertilizer distributor, one go-cart and one tractor, and a convertible Corvair with the beauty queen of Iowa County waving wanly in the back...
...unthinkable three years earlier...
...They are nevertheless divined to indicate the relative strength of individual candidates...
...Why would anyone want to take it away from us...
...I think we should have a contest, and I think it should start right here in Iowa...
...Mythologists might wish it otherwise, but with or without Iowa, long-shots tend to remain longshots, and front-runners tend to win the big prize...
...the tiny Iowa town of Belle Plaine, with the smoke rising from the kettle-drum roasters and the laundry flapping on a line in the evening breeze, and a crowd of two dozen farmers arrayed around picnic tables, gnawing on chicken legs and slurping up a farmwife's special-recipe macaroni salad (extra mayonnaise, heavy on the pickle relish...
...Part of the problem was slow printers," a veteran Iowa Democrat, Ron Masters, recently told the Mason City Globe-Gazette...
...Thus goes the magical one-on-one, the retailing of ideas in Iowa...
...Those who pursue public service are expected to serve honestly and in the public interest...
...Public service is viewed as the duty of citizens...
...And you're going to start buying our crops with that $300 billion trade surplus, or you've sold your last pair of chopsticks in the United States of America...
...You're going to see Silicon on the Prairie, I guarantee you...
...Then he packed the meetings with McGovernites...
...By state law the caucuses are the first to be held in the nation every quadrennial cycle, providing both financiers and journalists with their earliest hard data about the relative strength of national candidates...
...I think we should do it the way it's always been done...
...And it solidified the Iowa myth...
...Never...
...He sighs the deep sigh of a disillusioned man, of a man who fell, and fell hard, for the myth of Iowa, and who sees the myth turning to vapor before his eyes...
...Iowans, born of the heartland, can spot a phony a mile away...
...population has quadrupled in the past century, Iowa's population is only slightly higher than it was in 1900...
...In fact, not since Jimmy Carter, 23 years ago, has an Iowa-propelled longshot gone on to win his party's nomination...
...And as a consequence of Ames, some presidential candidacies will die, and some will flourish...
...He finished second, after "uncommitted...
...Like Alexander, like most politicians, Buchanan relishes the travel, the ever-shifting landscape, the kaleidoscope of faces and venues that Iowa campaigning entails...
...The lament is familiar even today especially today...
...After the debacle of 1968, the Democratic party set about democratizing itself, in preparation for the 1972 convention...
...But Iowa, goes the myth悠owa is different...
...You know, don't you," he was saying to the man who had brought the Excalibur, "the Japanese didn't even make cars till after World War Two...
...Of course, the reason Iowa draws the solicitations of men like Lamar Alexander, not to mention the sinister elites of Big Money and Big Media, is its custom of holding early political caucuses during presidential election years...
...It is a wallflower state...
...Here politics is one-on-one羊etail, to use the inescapable phrase...
...Voter participation is much higher than the national average...
...He gestured extravagantly behind him, where an abandoned grain elevator rose up from a gravel lot...
...About 20 percent of registered voters turn out for the caucuses, which are held on a bitter cold night謡inter nights in Iowa are invariably bitter cold擁n church basements, community centers, and local libraries...
...But now"揺e sounds wistful, almost sentimen-tal"I'm afraid all that's about to change...
...My friends," he said, standing on the flatbed, "what's happened to pork and corn in Iowa is happening all over this country...
...Nobody cares about Iowa then...
...He looked horrified that anyone could object to the Iowa caucuses...
...The straw poll is a fund-raiser for the state Republican party, and it has quickly attained a caucus-like importance which is to say it is at once bogus and unignorable...
...This forced them to hold their preliminary state caucuses no later than January...
...He pauses for a moment to let the sheer horror of it sink in, but the truth is his audience doesn't seem too horrified...
...But his performance was certified an "unexpectedly strong showing...
...Already, by the time of Carter's victory, political scientists, New York Times reporters, and other professionally thoughtful people had begun to fret about the impersonality of presidential campaigns...
...But the reformist impulse often has such ironic consequences, and a forward-looking do-gooder may someday call for scrapping the whole thing...
...The state senator, a personable fellow named Neal Schuerer, told me how the economic revitalization of Ladora擁n fact, of "all of central east Iowa"謡as aborning...
...Thus a marginal candidate like Pat Robertson in 1988, who nationwide would have drawn roughly the same percentage of the vote as KoKo the Wonder Chimp, can finish a strong second in the caucuses at 25 percent...
...I think we're about to witness the last Iowa caucus...
...It's a tempting notion...
...Ames, in other words, is a function of Big Money and Big Media, celebrity and glitz葉he same qualities that allegedly degrade our national politics and to which Iowa was supposed to be immune...
...Hart was managing the longshot campaign of George McGovern, who was desperate to make a good showing early in the primaries and upend the establishment front-runner, Edmund Muskie...
...To Buchanan the solution lies in tougher trade policies...
...And so did Richard Gephardt, the longshot winner of the Democratic caucuses in 1988, and Pat Robertson, the unexpectedly strong longshot who came in second in the 1988 Republican caucus, and Gary Hart, who finished an unexpectedly strong second in 1984...
...But once I'm president I'll tell those Chi-nese葉hose Chinese leaders who close off their markets and point missiles at us and persecute Chris-tians悠'll tell them, 'You've got a new American in the Oval Office...
...The beauty queen explained to a woman in a Betsy Ross costume葉he wife, as it happened, of the man who owned the bank building葉hat she might have to leave early to start her shift in her mother's ice cream shop in Victor...
...Oh, no," he said...
...Picnic tables were set out...
...One brochure I've seen bragged of Iowa's "famous natives," to wit: John Wayne, who moved to California when he was 9, Herbert Hoover, who moved to Oregon when he was 10, and the man who invented Bufferin, who stayed...
...The bank itself closed in 1931...
...The advantages conferred by money, fame, and establishment connections are neutralized...
...The political culture emphasizes issues and public concerns rather than individual loyalties and partisan friendships...
...I'll tell you this...
...McGovern's "unexpectedly strong show-ing"預 phrase used, for one candidate or another, in every caucus since謡eakened Muskie's candidacy, which then imploded in New Hampshire...
...After most of the farmers have gone home he sits at a picnic table in the twilight and talks about Iowa...
...Just the building, not the bank...
...On Saturday, August 14, voters will flock to the Iowa State University campus in Ames to meet celebrities and watch entertainment furnished by the various campaigns...
...Under the new rules, state parties were required to give members every opportunity to hold precinct meetings and express their preferences well in advance of state conventions...
...They gnaw, they slurp, they refill their paper cups at the keg of Bud Light, and Alexander closes: "Well, I don't think it should be done that way...
...Lamar Alexander has been coming to Iowa regularly since 1993, when he unofficially began running for president...
...I don't think so...
...On the other hand, its goo-goo tradition is partly what makes Iowa atypical, hence almost worthless as a national temperature-taker...
...They can get to know you...
...It is the fourth whitest state in the union庸ewer than 5 percent of its population is black, Hispanic, or Asian...
...After a few minutes the parade turned again, and came to rest where it began...
...wound his way through the booths of coffee shops in every tiny town he could find, and for two solid years droned his message of trust and honesty in churches and feed lots and courthouse squares...
...But that's not the Iowa way of doing things...
...To the national press he extolled the rustic simplicity, the democratic purity, of the caucuses, as though he were tipping them off to a greasy-spoon restaurant with spectacular rhubarb pie...
...If they get their way, you'll never see another presidential candidate in Belle Plaine...
...An artifact of late-sixties anti-establishment reforms, the caucuses are considered still to be an outlet for populist passion...
...Buchanan finished second in the Iowa caucuses in 1996, right behind Bob Dole, and his "unexpectedly strong showing" is cited by Iowa sentimentalists as further proof of the caucuses' value...
...And you're seeing a lot預 lot熔f high-tech companies giving us a look...
...Here Iowans gather on an evening in January and express a preference for president by electing delegates to the national conventions...
...Like so many American political traditions, the caucuses came about by accident...
...From the back of a parked flatbed truck a woman played "Faith of Our Fathers" and "Love Me Tender" on a portable organ...
...IOWA GOTHIC The Thrill of Being Ground Zero of Campaign 2000 By Andrew Ferguson Belle Plaine, Iowa A former two-term governor of Tennessee, a former university president, a former secretary of one of the more worthless cabinet departments (Education) under President Bush有amar Alexander is all these things, which is to say he is the very picture of the moderate establishmentarian Republican...
...Local candidates for state senator and state representative brought up the rear, on foot...
...Carter didn't win the Iowa caucuses...
...Maybe, but even so: Buchanan lost the nomination...
...This is what Iowa, by holding its caucuses at the beginning of election year, offers them earlier than anyone else...
...You can listen to them and learn from them...
...We're sitting in our living rooms, and on TV all the people are talking, and they're waiting for Illinois returns to come in, for New York, for California預ll the big states...
...It launched him toward the White House...
...But since when is it the prerogative of people far away to tell us we can't elect a president on our own...
...At the end of July, the town of Ladora, about a two-hour drive east of Des Moines (in Iowa, every place is a two-hour drive from every place else), got up its annual "Ladora Days Parade," Grand Marshal Pat Buchanan presiding...
...This is the essence of the myth, and as a result the longshots swarm the state, making for amusing spectacles...
...But unlike some other states湧ew York, for example, or Texas or California擁t is not, so to speak, a lapel-grabber...
...There are several interested parties that keep the myth alive, however...
...First he's got some Hollywood lawyer negotiating trade policy with the Chinese, now he's got some academic doing it...
...High-priced consultants won't help you here...
...In truth, there's no good reason for anyone to care much about Iowa, other than Iowans and their immediate family members...
...The Iowa caucuses select fewer than 2 percent of the delegates to either party's national convention, and so the results are inconsequential on their own terms...
...He's visited more than 60 counties in the last four weeks, shaken more hands than his competitors have ever tried to shake, gnawed on more chicken legs and eaten more tubs of macaroni salad than they could ever stomach...
...Or perhaps, as Alexander suggests, the caucuses themselves will soon collapse under the weight of Big Money...
...He too is a paid-up subscriber to the Iowa myth, and like Alexander he sees it imperiled by the same sinister forces...
...THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF THE IOWA MYTH...

Vol. 4 • August 1999 • No. 45


 
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