Guest Columnist

Open letter from an Iowan who 'only had one job'

You mock us for our flaws, our lack of diversity, our folksy kindness and humility. Then you demand flawlessness.

Just two minutes shy of the 7:00 p.m. cutoff time the line to register for caucus precincts one and two is seen at the c
Just two minutes shy of the 7:00 p.m. cutoff time the line to register for caucus precincts one and two is seen at the community center in West Liberty on Monday, Feb. 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

I love Iowa. I love it for its beauty, its kindness and its desire to be better. I love it despite its flaws, its weather and its flyover-ness. If you’ve never been here, you won’t understand it. You don’t get to see what we, as Iowans, see every day.

We see world-class public education. We see a thriving entrepreneurial culture. We see edtech, medtech, finance, engineering, automation, bioprocessing. We see farms. Lots of them. Farms run on high-technology equipment and grit. They have and deserve our respect. We’re not “just” farmers. We’re proud of our farmers, and their century-old farms that feed the country. And you should be, too.

I love Iowa. And I love the Iowa caucuses.

On Monday night, I left my polling location after spending nearly five hours with fellow Democrats. The elementary school gym - named for the only Iowa-born president, Herbert Hoover — was buzzing. We were informed and excited and elbow-to-elbow with our neighbors and friends. I was exhausted, hopeful and proud. We were united — for our respective candidates and our party. We know what’s at stake, and dammit, we took it seriously.

I got home and turned on the national news channels. You know the ones. The ones that were calling the Iowa caucuses an “abomination” and a “failure” and “joke.” I heard anchors calling for an immediate end to the Iowa caucuses because we only “had one job and couldn’t do it.”

That one job, by the way, was collecting three data points (first-count numbers, second-count numbers, and delegate breakdown), from nearly 1,700 caucus locations across the state — all in time for Chris Cuomo to announce the winner before his bedtime.

As we all know now, that didn’t happen. Maybe the Iowa Democratic Party got out a little over their skis. They tried to put a plan in place, complete with fail-safes. In the end, they decided that the final fail-safe — the paper trail — was the only viable option, the only way to ensure accuracy and credibility in such a crucial contest. Ensuring accuracy takes time, and time, in our frenetic news cycle, is a sin far greater than misinformation.

What happened last night was a result of technical glitches and poor communication, but there’s another factor at play here: we want to do this right. As Iowans, we treasure the caucus. We don’t get to be on the national stage very often. We’re trying — as hard as we can — to prove to the rest of the country and world that we deserve this. Because you keep telling us we don’t.

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Once the caucus is over, we’re out of the headlines. Gone. Out of sight. Out of mind. Once every four years the world shines a harsh spotlight on Iowa, expecting immediate perfection and pointing out all the ways we don’t measure up. You mock us for our flaws, our lack of diversity, our folksy kindness and humility. Then you demand flawlessness.

That’s. Not. Fair.

Iowa deserves to be seen, heard and understood beyond caucus season. I’m tired of national news networks pontificating about Iowa because their correspondent spent two weeks in Boone County following Obama’s campaign in 2008. It’s OK that you don’t get it. But don’t pretend like you do.

Last night was frustrating for everyone watching at home. It was frustrating for pundits waiting for maps to light up with results. It was especially frustrating for Iowans who have spent the past year listening and learning and campaigning and organizing. But if you understood Iowa, you would understand that the instant gratification you were clamoring for on caucus night is antithetical to how we do things here. This is a state that was built on planting, growing and waiting - on building relationships and community and success. Headlines and buzzwords will never be more important to us than getting it right.

I love Iowa. And I want you to love us, too. I want you to get us. To feel us. To be with us. But, more than that, I want you to want to love us. And you don’t. And it breaks my heart.

Tim Carty lives in Iowa City.

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