Some scary things about the political theater in Iowa


Kurt Ullrich of Maquoketa, Iowa, in the December 31 Minneapolis Star Tribune, caught very well tomorrows Iowa Precinct Caucus vote. It is in this column, “Sliding through Iowa like so many trombones”. If we could stop reality with the illusion of Prof. Harold Hill and “76 Trombones” leading the big parade, it would be one thing. But Iowa is a place, half way through the first term of Tea Party power and the Corporation as Citizen, where we are seeing the first act of eleven months of political theater to the max.

I have no issue with Iowa or Iowans. There is a long tradition of early presidential preference polls there, Republican and Democrat. Many relatives of mine – good people – live in Iowa, as do people I grew up with. In more than a casual sense, part of my roots are in Iowa. I have good friends who grew up in Iowa; valued clergy members whose roots are in Iowa, on and on and on.

Iowa is unfortunate in that it mirrors the rest of us, everywhere. And the image that comes across, in this particular political season, is not flattering. I’ve been watching it as it evolves.

Here’s a bit of what’s ahead in the next 10 months, if Iowa politics is any indicator:

1. Shameless political lying will be so pervasive, that the prudent person will believe nothing advertised either for or against anybody. All that should matter is the actual record, which is available, but will take some work to uncover. A relative of mine is inclined to justify sloppy voting by the mantra “they all lie”. It is not that simple. There will be more bald-faced lying than ever in the coming months.

2. There will never have been an election so dominated by big and undocumented money. This will translate into extraordinarily fine tuned and vicious media advertising designed to mislead and deceive. This will infect every corner of the media, from the internet through television, radio, newspapers…. The culprit: “On January 21, 2010, with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons, entitled by the U.S. Constitution to buy elections and run our government. Human beings are people; corporations are legal fictions.” (The source of this quote ishere. We saw some practice with this in the 2010 election; but that was child’s play with what we’ll see this year. Money will scream loudly in the upcoming election.

Love it or hate it, if you plan to have any say, you’ll need to contribute money to candidates, groups, or causes that you support; and in addition, get involved to an extent you aren’t accustomed to.

3. There are far too many news sources, far too partisan, and far too little news. A person, regardless of ideology, can successfully insulate him or herself from any opinion other than the one he or she believes. This is dangerous. In any society there are legitimate differences of opinion. In the quaint old days, people had no choice but to engage with others of differing points of view, and out of this usually came some reasonable agreement. These days, the emphasis is on gaining and keeping control over both policy and process. This has never worked long term, and will not work now, but is a huge problem.

4. Finally (simply to keep this at reasonable length) is the matter of POLLS, omnipresent, and misleading. There is no question that polls are statistically valid, with a range of usually plus or minus 3 or 4%. A sample of 500-1000 people, even for a national sample, is all one needs. But the wild variations in polling results in Iowa, and the large number of people calling themselves “undecided” as caucus day looms, amplify the impact on the first three points above, and render meaningless each and every prediction about what will happen on Tuesday in the state of Iowa.

And whether what actually happens in Iowa will make a difference remains to be seen.

Caveat emptor.