In the absolute pandemonium over the delayed Democratic caucus results, the calls to end Iowa’s quadrennial political purgatory have grown as loud as they have ever been. It was a verbal blitzkrieg of “end it already.”
Iowa County’s Democratic chairman told NBC news: “There were 49 other states saying, ‘Why does Iowa get to do this?’ And now we just poured a gallon of kerosene on what was a smoldering ember.”
Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that “the Democratic caucus is a quirky, quaint tradition that should come to an end.”
Grant Woodward, a lawyer and Democratic operative, told the Wall Street Journal: “The knives have been out for Iowa for some time. It is certainly not good for the future of the Iowa caucuses. It plays into the narrative of what a lot of other states have been saying for a long time.”
And they were right.
The caucuses are an exclusionary process that disenfranchises the voices of the vast majority of Iowans. Long lines and the excruciating process of moving from group to group and counting off makes it hard for people who have children, who work two jobs, work the late shift, or who are disabled to even attend. Even with the satellite caucuses, which party leaders hoped would increase participation, turnout was still just over 15 percent of registered voters.
Despite the calls for change, it doesn’t seem like Iowa will be put out of its political misery anytime soon. There is too much money and power at stake for anyone to change anything. The best evidence of this is the fact that Republicans invoked former President Barack Obama to defend the process.
Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Gov. Kim Reynolds released a statement saying, “Iowa’s bipartisan first-in-the-nation status helped lead to the nomination of President Obama and has the full backing of President Trump. ... Iowans and all Americans should know we have complete confidence that every last vote will be counted and every last voice will be heard. We look forward to Iowa carrying on its bipartisan legacy of service in the presidential nominating process.”
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Iowa’s progressive young politicians were quick to defend the caucuses, too. State Sen. Zach Wahls of Coralville spent all week tweeting out the narrative that caucuses were fine. State Auditor Rob Sand also pushed this narrative on Twitter.
Media outlets, too, have written about how the caucuses went fine — but it was just the phone app for reporting results that failed.
Now “it was just the app” is the national political narrative and it’s completely wrong.
The “it was just the app” narrative erases the larger systemic reality. If it was just the app, there would have been larger turnout. If it was just the app, there wouldn’t have been stories of confusion over the presidential preference cards or the viability totals, which meant in some precincts, candidates who would have otherwise won delegates didn’t.
If “it was just the app,” people wouldn’t have walked out of the caucuses partway through the process like they did at the one I attended.
But it’s easier to forget all of that. Power favors the status quo. And the caucuses lend political credence to the voices of local politicians who otherwise would be just local politicians. It’s a system that makes a county supervisor a powerful voice in support of a presidential candidate, when he’d otherwise just be a county supervisor who hasn’t done anything for his county.
We are all a big fish in a small pond and we have no intention of making that pond bigger.
The caucuses are a media frenzy that brings money through ad buys and political tourism dollars. It gives a voice to the farmer in the diner, when no one would otherwise care.
In Iowa right now, we have the unique ability to change. We have the opportunity to fix our broken political system at the ground level, where it all begins. But we’d rather not. Politicians and the media in Iowa are so desperate to keep their outsized influence there is no interest in substantial change.
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This week the calls for a fundamental change have not quieted down. Some of the results released over the week were wrong. The New York Times wrote a devastating post-mortem on the still not-quite dead body of the 2020 caucuses and found more than 100 precincts with inconsistencies in the count. Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez is pearl-clutching and calling for a “recanvass” of all the results, as if he wasn’t partially to blame. An NBC report said the caucus reporting hotline was overwhelmed with internet trolls.
But that only partially explains the problems. Despite all this, Iowa party leaders are still sticking by the process, hoping to weather this the Iowa way — smiling, offering someone a cookie bar and forgetting the whole thing.
So, here we are, stuck in a never-ending loop of chaos because money and power are bigger motivators than change.
And so, see you again in four more years. And in the meantime, Iowa goes back to being Idaho to the rest of the nation.
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