I remember reading a few days ago a bit of a column from the New York Times political blog, exerpted onto the Economist political blog, that went something along the lines of: the 24-hour media environment of the last decade has caused most voters—including Iowans—to act like pundits, not voters. They examine candidates for their electability, not for their actual opinions or plans. In other words, voters decide whether a candidate can win the next election without really examining their platform.
The article didn't extend this far, but as I see it this is a creation of the lousy state of most primary campaigns and the available candidates. Since we know we're not really going to like any of the choices all that much, all we can do is decide which party we expect to hate less, and then figure out which member of that party is most likely to beat the other guy. Do we care whether we actually agree with their platform? No, because we know they won't really do it anyway. But by God we know the guy from the other party is even worse.
The Economist made a deft point that voters are acting like they're responsible for reporting on and analyzing the race, instead of actually voting in it—they've (we've) forgotten that we in fact control the process, which is much more important than simply reporting on it.
This affects the candidates, too. How many times have you heard (if you've been paying attention, which I can't blame you if you aren't) each candidate (except maybe Kucinich) talk about how he or she is the most electable? How many times has Hillary had to address the "electability" issue? What the hell kind of an issue is electability? Don't we care a bit more about issues like, you know, the war? The economy? The Supreme Court? The gradual destruction of our constitutional form of government in favor of a strong executive/elected king? Don't these things matter? Isn't the right way to go about this to determine which candidate has the best positions and let electability take care of itself?
Well, we clearly don't feel comfortable doing that, probably because the best candidates have, over the last fifteen or twenty-five or hundred years or so, not actually been elected most of the time. Or even when they have, they generally don't do what they said they would, they don't keep their promises—often they don't even try—and we've been betrayed so often that even if we trusted the best candidate to always get elected, we wouldn't trust him or her to do a good job once in office.
In other words, the system is fucked, and so are we. So we treat the entire process like it’s a horse race, and then we all turn around and complain that that's all the media reports on. It's a closed loop.
I'm as guilty of it as anybody else, I'll admit that. But this year—with numerous caveats, which I'll get to in a later post—I've been supporting a candidate in my primary (Democratic) who I don't actually think is the most electable. I like John Edwards. I like the fact that he's neither a Bush nor a Clinton nor someone who once worked for one of them. I don't think he's all that electable, but this year that may not matter. I'm not even real sure I'm with him on most of the issues.
I've tried taking the various "select a candidate" quizzes available on line (one such is this here), and frequently they match me up with Barack Obama and Maurice Gravel. I met Mr. Obama. I liked him. He seems like a nice guy. A bit light on experience, but what the hell is experience anyway? One of the most experienced presidents of recent years was Richard Nixon, and he was a smashing success wasn't he? Lincoln had less federal experience than Barack Obama or John Edwards when he ran, and he was pretty good. So screw the experience question; as long as you don't plan to hire Dick Cheney I don't really care.
So that's it. I don't know who's going to win tonight, but I know it'll be all over the television. I know all candidates in both parties will try to spin the results, so the only way to figure out how the results will affect each candidate will be to see what happens over the weekend. And I'm supporting Edwards. I refuse to send any money to any candidate who won't campaign here, and I won't vote in the primary on the 29th anyway because the stupid party won't count my votes. But I've decided to support the candidate I like best instead of the one I think has the best chance of winning. It's the candidates we like best who stand the best chance of winning, right?
So that's it for my Iowa Caucus post. Right? Well… no, you know me better than that. All of the foregoing aside, here are my predictions and the open questions:
First Loser: Richardson
First Loser: Thompson
Who'll drop out afterwards: Biden (D), Thompson (R)
Who'll get the momentum going into New Hampshire: Clinton (D), McCain (R)
1 - What will become of all Ron Paul's money? He has more money than any GOPer but Mitt Romney (who's fabulously wealthy) but he still hasn't cracked the polls. He could surprise tonight with a strong showing, but that seems unlikely; flawed as polls are they surely would have shown something happening. I'm betting Ron Paul will end up pulling out of GOP race after New Hampshire and committing to either an independent or libertarian party run—and with his millions of dollars he could make a real dent.
2 – Will there be room for Clinton, Obama, and Edwards after New Hampshire? Edwards is in third there, and even if he finishes as I've predicted (which would be good), Clinton will get the bigger benefit by bolstering her "inevitable" credentials, which, sadly, matter (everyone wants to back a winner). If Obama comes in third and Edwards is first, Edwards becomes the anti-Hillary candidate and can probably win the thing. The same is true for Obama in reverse; the difference is I think Edwards' money will dry up very quickly if he doesn't do better than third in both Iowa and New Hampshire. I'm sure he'd stay around through February 5th, but if he doesn't win Iowa I don't think he has a chance. The same is not true of Obama and Clinton.
So there you have it: a free man's opinion.