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What to do about Iowa’s ‘blight’ on U.S. politics

REUTERS/Mike Stone
Ted Cruz made his first trip to Iowa more than two years ago, in August 2013, seven months after taking his seat as a freshman in the U.S. Senate.

“The Iowa caucuses have become a blight on American politics,” writes long-time smart-guy-for-a-journalist Jeff Greenfield in Politico Monday.

I’ve been on this page for a long time, although I think the choice of “blight” is perhaps a tad — what do we politically correct types say? — insensitive.

Writes Greenfield:

“Iowa looks nothing like the rest of the nation, and its wintry, time-consuming caucuses make participation difficult, if not impossible, for much of the citizenry — especially those with limited economic means. The Democratic caucuses in particular take two of the core principles of a free system — the secret ballot and one-person-one-vote — and throw them away.”

You’ve heard this before. The Dem side (of Iowa caucus participants) is too white to speak for the party as a whole. The Repub side is too evangelical, which is why the Rev. Pat Robertson won Iowa in 1988 and the Rev. Mike Huckabee won in 2008, both of whom suddenly had to be considered among the frontrunners for the nomination until it became obvious that they weren’t.

For me, the “unrepresentative” state is the wrong starting point for the argument. No state is properly representative (although many come closer than Iowa) and the main point is that no state — or two states counting New Hampshire, or three if you throw in South Carolina, which has recently become the spokes-state for the South — should be permanently awarded disproportionate influence over the nominating process. I would favor something like this: Group the states into 10 groups of five each. Every two weeks after the starting date, one group would go, then the second group, etc. On the next cycle, using the same groupings, the order would change so that the group that went first last time would go last this time.

Greenfield spend little time on my particular criticism, but in describing how Iowa-first-forever critics are usually  accused of being “contemptuous of smaller ‘fly-over states,’” he adds “though they do not explain why the same smaller, fly-over state gets to be first every time.”

My favorite fact from Greenfield’s piece: “Ted Cruz, made his first trip to Iowa more than two years ago, in August 2013, seven months after taking his seat as a freshman in the U.S. Senate.”

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 01/25/2016 - 12:51 pm.

    I agree with the rotating regional primary approach. It seems whenever this rational approach gets discussed we immediately have IA and NH pitch a fit and threaten to do whatever it is they can do to stop it. All because, more than anything else, their “first in the nation” status has become an economic return tool they do not want to give up. Picking a President with the best possible process is likely more important than supporting Pizza Ranches across Iowa.

    What I do not understand is how a more rational process is actually implemented: is it a function of legislation or a function of mutual agreement between the parties?

  2. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/25/2016 - 01:47 pm.

    Primaries of Five States Each

    with the first to go changing each time?

    What a fascinating idea!

    But I can’t help but wonder who would decide which states make a quint,…

    and whether each primary season might be very different depending on which quint went first that cycle.

    Perhaps it would be better for each quint to be a mix of more urban and rural states,…

    scattered geographically rather than grouping them by region.

    Still, it’s a great idea.

    I wonder if the parties could make it work,…

    and if it would be easier or harder for them to manipulate the results.

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 01/25/2016 - 07:52 pm.

    Somewhat Maddening

    I’ve always considered this situation somewhat maddening. What is really a mystery to me is how Iowa and NH get everyone else to knuckle under? It’s like they’ve got pictures on everyone in the country.

    A few election cycles back there were other states that were moving their primaries earlier. Iowa and NH objected and, as I recall, the national parties threatened to withhold delegates from states that moved their primary dates up.

    One problem I see with have 10 groups of five and rotating the starting dates each time is that it would take 40 years for each group to get it’s crack at being first. Would such a system even last 40 years?

  4. Submitted by Jim Million on 01/27/2016 - 12:57 am.

    Yes, Eric

    Jeff Greenfield writes like a guy who knows he’s a long-time smart-guy-for-a-journalist. I’ve always enjoyed his stuff, at least where he’s not sooooo serious.

    And, who, again, are those “politically correct types”? Come on, Eric, defend Iowa…please… defend Iowa.

    As for Cruz: Wasn’t he in Iowa that early for accent testing–his and theirs? Given his perpetual nasal tones, I’d guess many locals still think he is French, while the others know he’s French-Canadian. You’d think everyone in Des Moines would know, for sure.

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