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Iowa's shameful sham is a subsidy scam

The 2008 contest for the Presidential nominations in both major parties begins its more-or-less-official phase tomorrow with the Iowa Caucuses. For several of the candidates, it will hardly seem a beginning; John Edwards, for example, has been organizing and campaigning in the state since 2003. He has probably spent more days in Iowa than he spent in Washington during his full term in the Senate. Iowa requires the same sort of personal attention as New Hampshire's "retail politics," with an added emphasis on organization. Organization is necessary because Iowa isn't holding a primary. Their "caucuses" attract undue attention from the media, and therefore by the candidates, and have ever since a surprising second-place finish propelled an unknown Southern Governor to the nomination and then to the Presidency in 1976.

Unfortunately for the electoral process, the caucuses warrant no such coverage. On the Republican side the balloting amounts to a "beauty contest" or straw poll (underlining the utter uselessness of the Ames Straw Poll the previous August). No delegates are committed; they will all be chosen later at a state convention. The Democrats do choose delegates, but in such a way as to defy description. There is no secret ballot - caucus participants must stand in a group for their candidate. Then the process of winnowing out the "non-viable" candidates begins, when people may be persuaded, cajoled, or harangued into joining another group. The whole event can take two hours or longer. Even then, Democrats can't tell you who "won" right away, because the bedrock concept of "one man, one vote" doesn't apply: they "weight" each precinct based on its past record of voting Democratic. In 1988, Gephardt was thought to have edged out Senator Paul Simon in a squeaker - but when the actual delegates were allocated, he won by a more comfortable 31% - 27% margin.

If you happen to be too sick, or physically unable to attend, tough luck. There are no absentee ballots. If you work nights like many hospital and restaurant employees or police and firefighters, too bad. You don't get to participate. Likewise for active-duty military.

Now, Iowa parties are perfectly entitled to select their convention delegates any way they choose. But, if they held state conventions, no one would pay much attention. So instead they set up the illusion of a primary without actually holding one. The press pays close attention because they have nothing else to do. The candidates fight for recognition because the press is there. Millions of dollars of political advertising flows into the state, but that is barely the tip of the iceberg of this scam.

Iowa's phony position as the "first" political contest of the Presidential race ensures their billions of dollars of federal ethanol subsidies are safe from reformers, and that competing ethanol from other countries will be kept out by unfair restrictions. Taxpayers and consumers are robbed to feed the giant Iowa subsidy hog because the politicians won't cut it off, lest they wish to run for President some day (and most fantasize about it constantly).

So enjoy the meaningless charade of the tiny fraction of Iowans who've been badgered into braving the cold to waste a couple of hours pretending to practice democracy tomorrow night: you paid for it.


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Comments (6)

When I read this post I was... (Below threshold)
Caustic Conservative:

When I read this post I was amused because I saw a poll recently that asked people what they thought of the presidential nominating process in general and of the Iowa caucus in particular.

Something like only 20% approved of the current arrangement.

When asked what they would do to improve the process, most people answered "make my state first instead."

That's where these types of rants stem from.

Iowans' views on who would make a good President are just as valid as anyone else's, and our caucus process has about as much to do with ethanol as Al Gore does with the creation of the Internet.

Your rant on the process has been made before, and comes with the usual well-worn complaints about agricultural subsidies that people who don't think about where the food comes from usually make--but without the usual disdain for places like Dubuque or Des Moines. For that you deserve credit, unless it was just an oversight on your part.

But these are the places where the Republican party has it's roots (actually started here in Iowa by some accounts) and continues to be strong. So forgive us if we go about our business and ignore the media whores who have made it the be-all end-all in the first place.

I don't disdain Des Moines ... (Below threshold)

I don't disdain Des Moines or Dubuque. From where I sit, they are pretty good-sized cities.

However, I not only "think about where the food comes from," I know about economics. I also know that when record production levels coincide with increasing prices, subsidies are precisely the worst policy.

While those who suck at the public teat are always reluctant to wean, to insinuate subsidies are necessary to encourage grain production on the most fertile and productive land on the face of the earth for those grains is to insult the intelligence of the reader.

Oh, and ethanol ain't "food," bra.

Ag subsidies--particularly ... (Below threshold)
Caustic Conservative:

Ag subsidies--particularly for corn growers-- will be lower, due to high prices this year, than they have ever been. In fact, the subsidy will be exactly zero. Same for soybeans, the second most prevalent crop.

I don't intend on starting a conversation about ag policy here, it's complex and the arguments don't fit on a bumper sticker. What you do is far easier, painting with such a broad brush.

Since you have such a fine understanding of economics, I would have figured you might understand the competition between acres grown for ethanol as well as those for food, and the extent to which adjustments in demand or supply can effect the price of food. Bra.

However, your entire thrust was that the caucuses are an illegitimate sham designed to keep the federal funds a-flowing. That might be your opinion as an (presumably) East Coast outsider, but it wouldn't be right.

The Iowa caucuses have been occurring long before ethanol subsidies, and will be coninuing long after the topic du jour has changed. If you wish to be upset with anyone, blame the media types who flood the state every four years declaring it so damn important. It wasn't always this way, even a generation ago it's stated "importance" to media types is dwarfed by what they make of it today. But in a 24 hour news cycle, what else are you going to talk about, or in your case, write about?

The National Parties should... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

The National Parties should have 2 or 3 primaries.

For example, 20 states have the primary on Feb 1st. 20 states have their primary on May 1st. The remaining states have their primary on Jul 1st. Each election cycle, you rotate the states so they all get the chance to be in the first, second and third primaries.

If New Hampshire wants to pout and say "We have a law that says we must be first!", the National Party should say "Fine. You go first if you want. The other 49 states and the Nat'l Party will just ignore your results and New Hampshire won't count." Same thing for Iowa and any other state.

The National Parties (Dem and Rep) should grow a pair and lay down the law.

I don't know about that. I... (Below threshold)
Caustic Conservative:

I don't know about that. I sort of appreciate the primary process as a longer one where we get to examine all the candidates, warts and all. See how they do under pressure, how they strategize a path to victory.

The process reveals a lot about the candidates over the course. Compressing the schedule into two or three days would tend to either rubber stamp a front runner or lead to a jumbled mess.

Maybe the current system is not the best, but I sure don't know what would be.

Compressing the schedule... (Below threshold)
Les Nessman:

Compressing the schedule into two or three days would tend to either rubber stamp a front runner or lead to a jumbled mess.
In the example I proposed, it's not two or three days. It's six months.

Regardless, I think you are missing the thrust of my example. Tweak it any way you want; make it 10 states each month for 5 months, 5 states each month for 10 months or whatever you think best. You can make the process as long as you want. The point is, the schedule gets rotated evenly so all the states get a chance at being 'first' and 'last' and everything in between.

There's no good reason that two states with what, 5% of the population(?), get such a disproportionate amount of attention every time.




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