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January 10, 2008
The over-hyped New Hampshire primary election voting tended to counterbalance some of the results of the over-hyped Iowa caucuses five days earlier, but the basic troubling question remains unanswered: Why in the world should the preferences of voters in two small states be allowed to play such a part in advancing or retarding the fortunes of this or that presidential candidate? (More on this subject later in today’s column under the headline “Idiocy in Iowa.”)
But if the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary are to have such utterly disproportionate impact on presidential campaigns, the bottom line coming out of New Hampshire and Iowa seems to look like a mixture of pluses and minuses.
The impression that the Iowa caucuses made Sen. Barack Obama the clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination was effectively offset by Senator Hillary Clinton’s victory over Obama in New Hampshire.
Ironically, John Edwards, who had made so much of his second-place finish in Iowa and worked so very hard in New Hampshire, reacted to his third-place finish in New Hampshire with a statement very much like the arguments that I have offered. Edwards said that one-half of one per cent of Americans have voted in Iowa and New Hampshire and the rest of Americans are entitled to have their voices heard. “There are 48 states left to go,” Edwards declared.
Obama, who trailed Clinton 36.4% to 39.1% in the New Hampshire voting, indicated in a post-election gathering of his supporters that “change” will continue to be his basic campaign theme, perhaps broadened to include an optimistic note: “Yes, we can.”
In their post-election remarks, there seemed to me to be a significant difference in Obama’s and Clinton’s approach to the war in Iraq. Obama simply said if elected president he would end the war. Clinton said she would work “to end the war in Iraq in the right way.”
On the Republican side, I believe there was good news in Senator John McCain’s decisive victory in the Republican primary. This helps him continue as a viable candidate. And former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s second-place finish was enough to justify his continuing a vigorous campaign.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who won the support of only 14% of voters in the New Hampshire Republican presidential primary, said that result made him “very happy.” But in truth the New Hampshire results perhaps underscored the fact that of all those being mentioned as possible Republican nominees—notably McCain, Romney, Rudy Giuliani and Huckabee—the wisecracking Baptist minister from Arkansas could be the weakest candidate the Republicans could offer. There aren’t enough votes in Huckabee’s religious right constituency to enable him to ride the Book of Genesis into the White House.
* * *
If you’re a Nebraska Cornhusker football fan, don’t tell me your heart didn’t sink when, only 90 seconds into the game, Chris Wells of Ohio State broke a 65-yard touchdown run against the Bo Pelini-coached Louisiana State University defense in the national championship game played last Monday evening.
Things didn’t look any brighter for LSU and its defense when Ohio State drove 51 yards to set up a successful field-goal attempt four minutes later. But as is well known by now, the LSU offense and the Pelini-coached defense met the challenge and decisively defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes, 38-24.
I would think there have been few if any occasions when so many Nebraska fans were emotionally involved in the outcome of a college football game which didn’t directly involve their beloved Cornhuskers.
Husker fans—including notably Athletic Director Tom Osborne and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman—had a stake in this game. They wanted the Pelini-coached LSU defense to look good, very good.
What contribution did the Pelini-coached LSU defense make? Some indications: LSU had possession of the ball for approximately 34 minutes while the Tiger defense helped restrict Ohio State to 26 minutes of possession. Another measurement of defensive efficiency was the fact that Ohio State capitalized on only three of 13 opportunities to convert a third down play into a first down. (LSU went 11 for 18.) Ohio State had three turnovers (two interceptions, one fumble), LSU had only one (an interception).
The obvious immediate benefit to the Husker football program is the boost it gives Pelini in the critical recruiting period between now and February 6, the final day for signing letters of intent.
So go, Bo, and go all those Huskers who will be recruited by you and, as so many Nebraskans hope, will be coached by you in a way that returns the Huskers to the traditional level which earned respect for Nebraska teams all across America.
* * *
When I dictated this piece, the results of the New Hampshire primary election were not at hand. Whatever the outcome in New Hampshire, I felt it would be appropriate to give some detailed scrutiny to the quadrennial political phenomenon which this year, perhaps more than ever, could properly be labeled “Idiocy in Iowa.” (My basic argument applies to New Hampshire as well.)
Why idiotic? Because results of the Iowa caucuses have been given a presidential-nomination-influencing prominence far beyond their intrinsic merit. Consider the numbers: Senator Barack Obama won the Iowa Democratic caucus competition—resulting in an avalanche of “Obama wins!” news coverage across the nation and potentially enhancing his prospects to be the Democratic presidential candidate—with figures like these: His 37.6% share of Iowa Democratic caucus votes was achieved with an estimated 87,000 Iowans voting for him. That total equaled approximately 5.7% of the votes which Iowans cast for all presidential candidates in November, 2004 and .0007 of the votes which Americans in all 50 states cast for presidential candidates in 2004.
On the Republican side, wisecracking ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas benefited from all the favorable news coverage and campaign momentum which resulted from his attracting approximately 39,000 Republican caucus votes. His vote total was equal to about 2.6% of the number of Iowans who voted in the presidential election in November, 2004 and .0003% of the number of Americans who voted in the 2004 general election.
I call it “political idiocy” that the Iowa caucuses have been so hyped that these minuscule samplings (almost invisible when compared with the total of Americans who vote in presidential elections) should be allowed to play such a prominent role in the presidential nomination process every four years.
How has this idiotic situation come about?
First, the desire of Iowans for attention (which, not unimportantly, brings millions of dollars of economic benefits into the state every four years). Next guilty party are political candidates not only willing but eager to seek to buy a political edge over opponents by concentrating a personal campaign and millions of dollars in campaign advertising and other expenses in a state with approximately one per cent of the national population.
Third guilty party: the news media, in the irresponsible overkill of their television and print coverage of the Iowa caucuses, especially this year, has gone egregiously beyond appropriate attention into the realm of journalistic irresponsibility. A prime example: With caucus day at hand, The New York Times had four reporters in Iowa and carried 3-3/5 pages of pre-caucus coverage, including 18 color photographs, in one edition. Sixty per cent of the space on The Times’ front page was devoted to stories and color pictures dealing with the caucus.
An indication of the fact the caucuses constitute a sort of ego trip for Iowans: One Iowan told a journalist that “we owe it to Americans to make informed decisions here.” I think a very great many Americans would tell this Iowan that he doesn’t owe them a thing, since they are not willing to delegate their decision-making capability to a minority of the people who live in Iowa.
One advantage that the closely-covered caucus campaign did provide to Americans was to hear and read quotes which told you something of the quality of thinking and rhetoric which were part of various candidates’ campaign pitches. And there were some pretty sad examples.
Hillary Clinton said that 47 million Americans are without health care. John Edwards said the same thing. Wrong. This often-quoted 47-million figure is an estimate of the number of Americans without health insurance. To suggest that all of these uninsured Americans are without health care is simply false and irresponsible.
Have Clinton and Edwards and others who carelessly throw these numbers around ever heard of the Medicaid program? Or of the countless clinics which offer health care regardless of the recipients ability to pay either directly or through a health insurance company? A justifiable campaign to expand insurance coverage should be based on facts, not political falsehoods.
Hillary Clinton probably went as far as any candidate in stretching to unreasonable length in an effort to attract caucus votes. I have in mind her effort to turn the assassination of Pakistani political leader Benazir Bhutto to Clinton’s political advantage. Clinton suggested to an audience in Dennison, Iowa that in light of Bhutto’s death while campaigning for prime minister, as many Iowans as possible should participate in the caucuses as a way of honoring Bhutto’s commitment to democracy.
It seems clear to me that Clinton was trying to use the death of a feminine political figure in Pakistan to encourage people to turn out and vote for a feminine political figure in the Iowa caucuses. Downright silly if the subject matter weren’t so serious.
Speaking of Pakistan, Huckabee would have done better to keep his mouth shut rather than try to give specific answers to questions about the situation in Pakistan (or any other foreign issue, for that matter). Huckabee managed to make three mistakes about the Pakistan situation, one of which consisted of relocating Afghanistan. Huckabee said the situation in Pakistan has special importance because Afghanistan adjoins Pakistan on the east, and we have forces in Afghanistan trying to resist Taliban efforts to overthrow representative government there.
Afghanistan, of course, is north and west of Pakistan, not east.
As the campaign progressed, Senator Obama on occasion lost his cool as when he shouted at a campaign rally: “Iowa, let’s get to work changing the world.”
Both Obama and Clinton at least ran more responsible campaigns than did John Edwards. He talked incessantly about “corporate greed,” occasionally saying things like: “Corporate greed has a stranglehold on America.” And again we heard that John Edwards’ father worked in a textile mill for 35 years. This year’s version of Edwards’ “up-from-poverty” story includes his grandmother, who also had worked in the mill.
The Obama and Huckabee victories in Iowa predictably were greeted with great enthusiasm in some quarters.
No reaction that I saw went farther than that of columnist David Brooks of The New York Times. Brooks wrote: “I’ve been through election nights that brought a political earthquake to the country. I’ve never been through an election night that brought two.”
Brooks asserted that you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel moved by the fact that “an African-American man wins a closely-fought campaign in a pivotal state.” (There we go again: “pivotal” Iowa.)
As to Huckabee’s victory, Brooks wrote eight paragraphs as to why the Baptist minister’s victory in Iowa opens the way for a new kind of conservatism which, for example, “loves capitalism but distrusts capitalists.”
Then in a ninth paragraph, Brooks wrote: “Will Huckabee move on and lead this new conservatism? Highly doubtful. The past few weeks has exposed his serious flaws as a presidential candidate. His foreign policy knowledge is minimal. His lapses into amateurishness simply won’t fly a national campaign.”
Not a very bright future for a politician who created a “political earthquake” in Iowa.
The Wall Street Journal saw Obama’s success in Iowa as “a watershed in American political history.”
One of CNN’s fiercely self-confident commentators, Rick Sanchez, suggested the possibility of a “sea change” in the American political scene “when “93 per cent of the people in Iowa are white” and support the idea of a black for president of the United States. The endorsement of Obama by a vote equivalent to .029% of the Iowa population (and .00029% of the national population) was enough, in the opinion of Rick Sanchez, to have people all over America “waking up this morning with some spring in their step.”
More reason and less emotion went into the reaction of some other observers, including, very interestingly, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, himself a one-time black candidate for president. He indicated to Sanchez that he welcomed Obama’s victory in Iowa but said going forward, “we must connect hope and substance.”
The World-Herald took note of the lack of substance—what should be changed and how, specifically—that was evident in both the Obama and Huckabee campaigns. The winning candidates, The World-Herald wrote, “were aided by the fact that the engine for their campaigns was fueled not by policy details—of which there were too few, lamentably—but by the power of personality.”
The New York Times opined editorially: “For those who have yet to register a choice—including this page and 99% of Democratic primary voters—Mr. Obama has to show that he has specific ideas and a personal ability to make good on that promise. Mrs. Clinton needs to show that she can be inspiring, not just safe, and has new ideas.”
The Times editorial also noted this interesting fact: “No winner of contested Iowa caucuses has then gone on to win the White House.”
* * *
We read that a Nebraska state government task force is looking for ways to see that more “troubled” young people are treated at home rather than in state institutions or state-approved institutions where close watch can be kept on whether they are taking the prescribed medications and show no symptoms of tendency to harm themselves or others.
Wasn’t it an “at home” environment to which mass murderer Robert Hawkins was released after residing in a number of foster homes where he could be kept under close supervision?
The same story which referred to the proposed emphasis on “at home” family supervision for troubled youths mentioned the possibility of a new facility where young people who represent a threat to themselves and others can be—may I actually say it?—locked up.
Let’s hope that as we end a long period of mourning, we concentrate now on ways to prevent young people like “Robbie” Hawkins from being freed from state supervision and therefore free to kill eight people and himself in the shopping mall spree which, arguably, could have been prevented had he been kept under state supervision.
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