My Iowa Disaster | Election 2020 5

Iowa was a disaster. But I was there. And I think there’s a little more to the story. Today’s (very close to the deadline!) video tells the tale…

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Video Transcript after the jump…

One of the things I’ve always meant to cover more on this channel is the extraordinarily distributed nature of the United States. Because of the broad base of agrarian prosperity that built the country in the 19th century, Each of the 48 continental states has a collection of cities, a state capital, a proud history and a serious population. Des Moines, Iowa is one of those capital cities. In the second half of the 20th century, the interior states of the country fell behind, as people moved to the coasts in droves. As the country’s population became less and less interested in agriculture, many interior states scrambled to sustain their population and economic and political clout. Iowa’s response was unique.

Prior to the 1970s political parties had a lot more direct control over who they nominated for president. Watergate, and other outrages of the era led to a democratization of the presidential selection process, making primaries much more important. In 1972, Iowa Democrats set their caucus to be the earliest in the country, and in 1976 the Republicans chose to do the same. With every election cycle the importance of Iowa has increased. For decades now, every US politician has spent as much time in Iowa as possible. The rewards to the state have been massive.

Every agricultural state in the country benefits from massive farm subsidies, but Iowa is on a level all its own. 2005’s Renewable Fuel Standard is an extraordinary bit of federal government welfare. It’s complicated, but it essentially created a new product, biofuels, that wouldn’t exist without regulation, and Iowa’s commanding position in the corn industry made it the center of this new industry. This program has continued to grow even though studies show that it has had few of the environmental benefits it was supposed to. No ambitious politician in Congress wants to vote against it though. They all want to be president someday, and they all know the path lies through Iowa.

The RFS set off a boom in the state. After hovering between 2.7 and 2.9 million people for 50 years, Iowa population finally crossed 3 million in 2010 and is now zooming towards 3.2 million. Des Moines is now hailed as one of the nicest places to live in the country. It’s hard to argue that this government triggered boom would have happened, or been as large as it has been, without Iowa’s first in the Nation status…

Last week the local and national Democratic Party may have killed this status, as well as Iowa’s unique caucus system. This is a shame, because I have got to admit, I kind of fell in love with the whole thing.

I blew in to Iowa about 48 hours before the Monday night caucus. My plan was to just drive around and see a wide variety of celebrities, or at least celebrities to politics nerds like myself. This is the prime benefit of Iowa, it launches the presidential campaign season, and concentrates absolutely everything about our electoral system, good and bad into a single state. A country of 330 million gets its first look at the candidates through the eyes of the voters of a state of 3.2 million. It’s a worthwhile way if doing things, but it’s pretty extraordinarily poorly run. As one indication, I found myself running one of the satellite caucuses locations in a mosque in a less fashionable area of Des Moines. This is weird, because I am not an Iowan, and I am not even a Democrat.

It was an exhausting process, but it was also a fascinating example of democracy in action. In Iowa Caucuses, folks get together and vote in public, and people are encouraged to make the case for their candidate and convince their neighbors. In our majority immigrant caucus, speeches were delivered in at least four languages. This guy was pulling for Klobuchar in three languages, all by himself. I don’t understand any of these languages, nor do I find Klobuchar to be a particularly interesting candidate, so let’s hear from the Bernie guy.

I will be honest, I found my experience with democracy in Iowa to be frustrating, poorly organized and almost terrifyingly messy. But it was also very, very cool. Inspiring even. Iowa’s caucuses are a grand tradition well worth preserving. Many of our caucus goers had to go to work last Monday evening, so we finished up early, with few problems. The app worked, and we headed out to try to get a glimpse of Bernie Sanders. That evening, it became clear that the whole thing had gone desperately wrong.

Every level and faction of the Democratic party is currently blaming every other faction. It’s not as simple as an app malfunctioning, or the requests or interests of any one campaign. The whole thing was a mess, top to bottom, and a week later it’s clear that we will never arrive at results the contending factions can agree upon. There’s a distinct chance that this will be the last Iowa caucus process. That would be a shame. This is an insane way to choose the leader of a country of 320 million. But it’s also kind of an insane country. I think Iowa makes sense.

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