How to Not Get Elected

I dunno why exactly, but I’ve been ruminating on the results of the Iowa GOP caucus.  I guess it’s in part because I’ve actually attended an Iowa caucus (see  I Caucus, Too November, 23, 2007), and in part, because I’m fascinated by the fact that Romney won/lost this caucus after spending only $1,642 per vote cast in his favor. My preliminary conclusion is that there’s a lot of people including a bunch of really conservative Iowans who are pretty well convinced that Anyone But Mitt (ABM) would be a far better candidate.  Go figure.

Ok, this may be too clever by half, but the parallels between this caucus and the 1972 Democratic caucus that I attended in a neighbor’s living room in Iowa are compelling.  Those of you, of a certain age, remember the 1972 presidential election.  There are many memorable facets of this another in a long line of political charades known as presidential politics, but the Anyone But McGovern (ABMc) coalition of 1972 that failed to derail an unelectable George McGovern calls to mind our current day ABM movement of 2012.  Yes, I mean the Anyone But Mitt movement of today’s GOP who is also bound to fail to prevent the Mittster from being nominated and inevitably losing to Obama.

Both the Dems of 1972 and the Repubs of 2012 were riven by internecine warfare.  The establishment Dems of 1972 were horrified by an overly pacifist, overly progressive, overly “let’s hold hands and hum” McGovern going up against and losing to the Nixon machine just as the the died-in-the-wool right wingers, cum tea party, cum stone age constitutionalists, are horrified by an overly moderate. overly establishment, overly non-evangelical christian losing to an Obama challenged only by a weak economy and a mean steak that persists in a certain slice of Americana.

Let’s review the candidates, then and now.  I think we can all agree that neither is a stellar slate to put up against an incumbent president.  For the Dems we have:  Ed Muskie (the hands down favorite from the get go), George McGovern (the Eugene McCarthy clone), George Wallace (nuff said), Hubert Humphrey (already a one time loser), Scoop Jackson, the neo-con’s neo-con of his era) and newcomer Shirley Chisolm, who was not only black. but, gulp, a female of the species.  The Repub candidates of 2012 are fresh on our mind:  The Mittster (whose flip flopping brings a worn out shower shoe to mind), The Newtster (those who know him well know of his razor sharp tongue and his intellect prone to flights of fancy), The Hermanator (ok, I understand he dropped out before the first vote was cast), but I gotta include him for balance, Rick (Mr. Sanctimonious) Santorum, Rick Perry (who makes Scoop Jackson’s militarism seem mild), John (who’s that) Huntsman, and finally Ron Paul (who pretty much doesn’t agree with anything ever uttered by any other Repub).  I didn’t list those who didn’t quite make it out of the starting gate, but I was tempted to include my favorite New Yorker,  Jimmy McMillan who campaigned on a platform of “The Rent’s Too Damn High”.  He may be the only one of the whole crowd who ever spoke the truth.

There you have it.  What a cast of characters.  It just goes to show that neither side of the aisle has an exclusive on stupidity.  Let me start at the end.  The anti-McGovern forces who labeled him the candidate for Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion failed to prevent him from being their candidate from hell.  He lost all but one state in the general election wherein Tricky Dick Nixon (soon to resign in disgrace as a result of Watergate) garnered over 60% of the popular vote.  McGovern’s vice-presidential nominee, Thomas Eagleton resigned in a puddle of emotion after failing to disclose his prior treatment for mental problems. Whazzat?  Hell, if we’re going to make people get out of elective politics because of mental defects, we’d have slim pickings for sure.  How many of you remember who replaced Eagleton?  Look it up, you’ll be surprised.

I’ve got to give a little context about the Dems of 1972.  As I said earlier, the party was injuriously divided along a fault line of Viet Nam, but also between the progressive movement of McGovern and McCarthy and the old line, shall we say establishment, democrats represented by Hubert Humphrey, John Connally, and our own Bob Strauss.  They distrusted, even despised each other with a passion which brings to mind today Tea Baggers, oops, I mean Tea Partiers.  Add to that calculus of the state’s rights (I guess that’s more or less a code phrase for rascist) faction centered in the southern states and headed by George Wallace.  You remember of course, that George got shot in an assassination attempt in mid campaign.  What you may not remember is that he still got 23.5% of the primary votes cast to McGovern’s 25.77%.  And he was laying in a hospital bed for much of the campaign.  He won every county in Florida, and that was before hanging chads.  One last bit of context.  Ed Muskie, who had resounding wins in both Iowa and New Hampshire faded fast with his tearful defense of this darling wife who had been disparaged in a newspaper column which alleged that she was a person of low character because she drank (one supposes whiskey) and used off color language.  Hmm.  I guess that let’s me out too.

So, you say, what about the parallels with 2012.  Well, you gotta start at the sheer theatre of the respective casts and then move to the great divide of the respective parties.  On the one hand you have the Hermantor who had to leave the field because he hadn’t been able to keep his pants zipped, and then you have dear old Ed M. who faded from sight after crying about his wife telling off color jokes.  You have Rick Perry who carries a .357 magnum and shoots a coyote while jogging, and on the other you have Scoop Jackson who had the temerity to accuse Ike of being soft on national security.  You have Sactimonious Santorum who believes that everyone who doesn’t think like he does should be excommunicated from the church and the nation, and on the other you have ( well, not exactly on the other) George Wallace whose views offended just enough people (thank god) to make sure he couldn’t be elected.  On the one hand you have Ron Paul, who only a handful of people in America understand what he’s saying (what’s up with this Austrian economics thing), and on the other we have Shirley Chislolm who pretty much never said anything of interest to anyone.  And finally, we have the Mittster who believes his time has come, and who will take pretty much any position on any issue to get the nod, and on the other we have Humphries who thought his time had come just because he had already lost once and thought that lightening couldn’t strike twice.  For this analysis, I’ve left out the Newtser for the simple reason that he’s (in crossword terms) a oner.  There’s no one quite like him in either party.  I hope he stays in just for the shear entertainment value.  I may even write him a check.

The great divide is easier to understand.  For the Dems it was Vietnam and progressive versus establishment control of the party.  For the Repubs it is the Tea Party vs. everyone else (particularly the establishment types).  I’m excluding Ron Paul from this because, well, just because.

So what does it all mean?  Well, just as the ABM’s of 1972 failed and selected a candidate who couldn’t and didn’t win, the Repubs of 2012 are on a track to do the same.  Their ABM movement will fail and they will select a candidate who can’t and won’t win.  It’s kind of a shame because we really do need two strong parties for our system of government to work well,  But if one is bent on self destruction, what can you do.  I say again, we adopt the middle ground and resolve to “just throw the bast**ds out, whoever they are”.

I Caucus Too

As usual the Iowa caucus is receiving an inordinate amount of attention in the form of media coverage, political money, contender visits, pundit prognostications and political rhetoric in general.  Unlike most of you who will read this, I have actually participated in the Iowa caucus, but even so, it may be hard to say anything about the subject that hasn’t already been said and said again.

Indeed my participation in the Iowa political process dates back to 1960 and my senior year in high school in Ames, Iowa.  Perhaps by virtue of the fact that I had received some local notoriety as the student body and student council president I was asked to run the youth volunteers for Ed Mezvinsky (who was running for state representative from our district).  Oh, you say you don’t know Ed Mezvinsky…perhaps you will remember him as a very junior Democratic member of the Watergate Commission pursuing old Tricky Dick et al with great vigor. Ed lost this first campaign, after all he had only graduated from the University of Iowa that year and he did not win his first seat in the Iowa legislature until 1969 and did not go to Washington until 1973.  Actually I believe that my political passion was fired by the fact that I sacked groceries at Ed’s father’s supermarket and wanted to solidify my position as much as anything else.

NB.  The above mention Mezvinsky also, later in life, in no particular order, spent time in the federal pokey for some not so funny, funny business, married Marjorie, Margolies (also an elected member of Congress, and fathered Marc Mezvinsky (mostly notable for having married Chelsea Clinton).

This first brush with the political process was heady stuff even though Ed made a pretty miserable showing as a neophyte Democrat in a solidly Republican district.  As evidence of my political versatility though, I was also elected as a Junior Delegate to the State Republican Convention that year.  All I remember about the convention was that there were a lot of what seemed to be really old people waving banners and looking generally foolish.  What I do remember distinctly is that I beat out Pat K. for the junior delegate seat. I went 2-0 against Pat that year also besting him in a tight race for Student Body President.  Pat went on to a noteworthy career as a jurist and ultimately a law professor at a distinguished school.   The fact that I was able to beat Pat was no small feat considering the fact that the county junior caucus was held at Pat’s parents  home which seemed to me a quite palatial edifice.  Pat’s father was a judge of some sort, and I would have thought he would have tipped the deal for Pat.  Maybe he meant to, but there you are…. the vagaries and uncertainties of politics in Iowa even at the junior level.

Fast forward several  years including four years of college, marriage, three years in the service of Uncle Sam, the birth of our first child, and three years climbing the corporate ladder.  I was back in Iowa working in Des Moines and living in the small bedroom community of Ankeny.  I had not been politically active since an unsatisfactory stint with the Young Republicans in college.  In fact, although I no longer knew my own political leanings, as a twenty something male, I was fairly certain of everything else in life.  It was the political season in a presidential year, and at the urging of some of my neighbors, I decided to caucus with the Democrats.  This was a little odd, since I was an unabashed Nixon supporter at the time.  The problem was that Nixon, being the incumbent, was unopposed which I rightly concluded would make for a very boring caucus.  Not so the Dems.  There was a veritable profusion of Dems trying to gull the gullible into votes.  The choices ran from the ridiculous to the sublime.  From Ed Muskie to Shirley Chisolm (the first woman to run), from George McGovern to Wilbur Mills (the first candidate to have bathed in the reflecting pool), and from Hubert Humphrey to George Wallace (the first to have guarded the school house door from less than Aryan purity).  Oh, I forgot Walter Fauntroy (first candidate from DC), Ted Kennedy (first to swim the Chappaquidik), and even Mike Gravel (first to….well, you get the point).  It was going to be an exciting caucus, and I didn’t want to miss it.

By now you know that the Iowa caucus is quaint, but not unique.  There are eleven other states that caucus in some form or another.  But Iowa is first.  That’s what all of this hullabaloo is all about.  Being the first out the gate.  Why you say?  Well a little time on Ask Jeeves and I got it.  Iowans have caucused nine times since 1972 that’s eighteen opportunities for the two major parties to select their candidate, and in twelve instances the winner of the Iowa caucus went on to win their party’s nomination.  Seven Repubs and five Dems (the Repubs have always been more predictable, eh).  Interestingly, in only five of the general elections did an Iowa selectee actually win, and in three of those instances the nominee that won was an incumbent.  So get this, in only two of the last nine elections did a non-incumbent Iowa nominee actually win the presidency.  Hmmmm.  Perhaps the mass and all other media needs to get a life and look at the facts.  22% of the time the Iowa caucus has really mattered, the rest of the time it’s merely been political theater.

There were 1784 precincts in Iowa and history would suggest that about 45,000 Dems will attend caucuses in a variety of locations, the most common being a neighbors living room.  That’s an average of twenty-five or so per caucus site, but with a wide spread in each site given the rural nature of the state.  In my instance there were about twenty gathering in a house about  two blocks away from our own manse.  I knew the rudiments of the process and looked forward to it as a personal challenge to sway others to my point of view and candidate of my choice.  The rules are that all present have an opportunity to make a statement for their candidate before the group has to parse itself into preference groups.  One in the hallway, one in the kitchen, one near the fireplace, etc.  Then the counting of noses.  Each preference group must muster at least 15% of the caucus.  Those not reaching that threshold are subjected to a period of evangelizing and proselytizing from the other groups.  Their choices are to slink away with their choice and dignity in tact or to morph into a supporter of another candidate.  You see the opportunity for monkey business and odd outcomes here.  First, you have to declare yourself for god and all to see and criticize, and second, you are asked, and most often eventually succumb to the cajoling of others to sacrifice principles for expediency.  Ain’t politics grand.

To be honest, I can’t remember who I supported or why, since I fully intended to vote for Tricky Dick, but I’m sure I made some passionate pleadings in some candidates behalf and probably swayed others to align with me against their better judgement.  (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t George Wallace or Ted Kennedy…. I hope) .  I should note here as a matter of fact that George Herbert Walker Bush and William Jefferson Clinton both were elected president of these United States after coming third in Iowa; however, no one has ever won finishing worse than third.   If I’ve been too subtle, let me lay it out plain and simple.  The Iowa caucus is a curiosity in which about 45,000 citizens, good and true, from America’s heartland and 5000 journalists of all stripes make a big ado about something history suggests really doesn’t matter very much.

But I must admit, I’d like to caucus again.

Also NB.  There are now somewhat fewer voting precincts (sources vary as to the exact number…go figure).  The expected turnout in 2016 is to be something north of 200,000.  The Trumpeters are hoping for a bigger number; which they think will assure his win.  Same-o, Same-o for Bernie.  He needs lots of new demos voting to have a chance against Hillary..  Did you know that you can actually align/vote for no one?  To wit:  if more than 15% of an individual caucus indicates uncommitted, that choice will be registered.  That may be the best choice of all.