by Will Jennings
The nostalgic political junkie in me mourns the loss of the Iowa Caucuses, though the reasons for changes by the Democratic party are sound and notably so. “Nostalgia” here is not over a fictional “Iowa” or a process being ‘lost’ or shunted aside for the sake of many changes that have both up and down sides.
The media noise about how ‘hard and impossible to understand’ a caucus is just, well, bullshit. If you’re literate and have basic sufficiency of intelligence, the process itself isn’t rocket surgery. Fly-over states like Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, every part of Illinois not in proximity to Chicago, Indiana, both Dakotas, et al. have been as marginalized as the Joe The Plumber, Silicon Hillbilly Elegies, and populations long brutalized by industrial-criminal economics.
Our populations continue to age, fewer young people remain for long, and the environmental damage to soil, water, and air is on the increase. The prevailing models of industrial Ag are to remove as many privileged people as possible and use disposable populations as interchangeable parts of a larger machinery. I wouldn’t swim, boat, or fish in 99% of the surface water in Iowa. I’ve had cancer caused by dermal exposure to industrial chemicals once, thank you. As small towns lose their populations and tax bases, their ability to supply clean water is now being shifted to individuals who can afford to purchase what is safe, or drill into deeper and increasingly threatened aquifers. So the Ag Industry isn’t troubled by people leaving states like Iowa. We’re just in the way and a nuisance/liability.
If we end up grouping into urban/suburban clusters, that might be more efficient anyway—if necessary infrastructure is designed and built to address those more densely concentrated needs, well maybe that’s for the better?
The autocratic/fascist crowd WANTS Iowa to be irrelevant, because they want it to stay as solid red as possible, such that it can be stuck on the shelf and left undisturbed while it is transformed by the monied, extractive fiscal interests.
It’s important to note only 2 of 99 counties in the state voted against the insane, fear-mongered Constitutional Amendment to ‘protect gun rights from any laws that might restrict their purchase, ownership-without-background check licenses, or restrictions on open and concealed carry.’ Those two counties, Story and Johnson, are where two of the three State Universities reside. And while it’s a cheap Fox/Sinclair news line to argue, “well, of course, that’s where the egg headed socialists-who-want-to-indoctrinate-our-children-before-they-leave-Iowa” all live; it also helps explain why these two State universities are being pillaged and dismantled by the same fascist fear-mongering strategy of making civic intelligence a mark of ‘shame’ instead of pride. And it’s why these schools can’t attract or retain faculty that is diverse and of proven quality.
The news cycle has decided that quick answers to hard questions work best. Ambiguity is ‘bad’ because it makes people’s hair hurt. We demand closure over the more difficult and often tedious work of fact. Because of that financed demand, the wrong results were picked up and blasted for less than 24 hours after the last Iowa Caucus. Mayor Pete actually won the Democratic caucus in 2020. Rick Santorum (retired grease stain) beat Trump. But, well, everyone had already moved on, so the entire results exercise was rendered moot.
What wasn’t rendered moot was the social infrastructure of people in all manner of communities meeting face to face, in person, and being reminded of The Iron Butt Rule: those who can sit in their chairs and stay until the end often are the ones who get their resolutions and ideas codified into a platform, or naming an actual winning candidate. That’s clearly unfair to those who do not have the time or can’t afford child care, or have to work, or are otherwise prevented from attending these types of social events. I don’t think Iowans involved with the caucus process were ever ignorant of those facts. But look at how the fascist voter restriction laws now are transferring this same principle to voting in person (hours-long lines), by mail, or absentee ballot. And it’s working for them, although the energy and exceptional heroics of GOTV efforts in many communities are successfully fighting back.
Caucuses argued people were more than numbers. And did so in a society that is increasingly plagued by a highly innumerate population. For example, a 1-in-500-Year-Flood does NOT mean such a flood can be expected to happen only once every 500 years. It means the probability for such a flood rises above a credible level of expectancy within the range of this time frame. The other 499 years, the probability may be only 1 tenth of a percent below the level deemed ‘credible.’ So, yes, 1-in-500 year floods can occur five years in the same decade. And often will.
With an increasing ‘divided’ electorate voting in an increasingly targeted-to-discourage voting process, we will see a far higher number of very close elections. And in these scenarios, when you throw out all the bullshit noise of Trumpers and Q-Anon bozos, the final ‘counts’ and ‘recounts’ become increasingly subject to common human error. Period.
Yet the mythos of ‘one-person-one-vote’ is so central to our highly fictionalized understanding of a long exclusive ‘national identity’ that it runs against our grains to consider someone could count the same stack of one dollar bills five times and come up with four different answers. We’ve all had that experience in our own mundane and tedious parts of life, but we can’t connect that to something ‘official.’ Huh.
Gore v. Florida and Franken v. Coleman are cited as two examples from radically different populations and electoral processes that both ended in what any credible statistician would have called a ‘statistical TIE that does not expand beyond the scope of human error.’ And in both states, there existed a Constitutional Law for deciding electoral ties: by lot. Which means, roll the dice, flip a coin, or cut the deck.
I’m not digressing here. These issues are NOT NEW. The difference is that between the exploitative politics of division and targeted exclusion, the number of election results falling into the realm of statistical ties is on a decided up-tick in occurrence. Similar to three straight years of 1-in-500 year floods. And, as with many climate related problems, human behavior and actions are at the root of causation.
So, I’m pissed off when I hear about how caucuses were a nostalgic and exclusionary process that no longer serves our society. Especially when one of the following stories will be about how we all have to learn to listen and talk to each other, like, in person. You know, like at a caucus or a town meeting.
On the other hand, while I’ll miss the sexual-innuendo memes of awkward politicians eating a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair every four years, I’m glad our airwaves won’t be given over to dark-money propaganda and the dog & pony shows of campaign buses blocking my neighborhood streets.
Iowa will continue to slip into a political irrelevancy on the national level, especially as the rural acreages increase in size and non-human machinery does the tilling, spraying, and harvesting of commodities that people cannot eat without them undergoing further industrialized processing.
It isn’t heaven. It’s just increasingly less relevant.
Will Jennings has lived in Iowa City since 1975, writing, making music, and teaching. He retired with Emeritus status from UI in July of 2022. He has been involved with community organizing since he was 13.
Wow. That’s quite an essay. Thanks for sharing it.
Just one small observation about flooding. In Iowa, climate change and land-use changes are turning some 500-year-flood zones into 100-year-flood zones, and some 100-year-flood zones are being turned into 10-year-flood zones. Some Iowans who have looked at the latest Iowa flood maps over the past few years have been unpleasantly surprised. I certainly was.