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#495 – Dick Bernard: Some scary things about the political theater in Iowa

Monday, January 2nd, 2012

UPDATE Jan. 4: Many comments follow at end of this post.

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 who moved there. 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. But there will be more bald-faced lying than ever in the coming months; and this includes those ubiquitous ‘forwards’ of carefully selected ‘facts’.

2. There will never have been an election so dominated by big and essentially 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 is here.) 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 directly 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 of the first three points above, and render meaningless each and every prediction about what will happen on Tuesday in the state of Iowa. Does anyone remember that my Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, won the Straw Poll in Iowa a few months ago, and as of today is in single digits there?

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

Caveat emptor.


UPDATE Jan 3, 2012: here


1. Bruce has posted a comment on-line (below). (The comments feature is open for use.) Here is the comment:

Indeed,gonzo money in politics is ruining our form of government. The Obama campaign coupled with its outside PACS will raise, I’ve read, about a billion bucks. The Republicans will be compelled to do the same. I wonder who the winner will feel beholding to.

My guess is that the deep pockets on Wall street and other places in our corporate world, don’t really care who wins as long as they have all the access money can buy.

2. from Madeline: I agree with your analysis. It’s scary.

3. from Mike: Caveat voter.

I agree, Dick, Don’t buy what the media is selling.

Iowa was important in 2008 as it was evidence that Obama could draw support in a largely Caucasian and rural state. Now nobody seems to have grabbed the Iowa Republican vote by enough to brag about, but somebody will brag about it, even if thy don’t.

4. from William: Dick, the obscene amounts of money spent on political campaigns is ruining our form of government. Pandering for money from contributors seems to dominate the actions of office holders from day one in office. Lobbyists know this game well and influence the political process to the detriment of our country. Along with this comes all the negative ads and distortions. The truly sad part is that the negative ads do have an impact. Look what happened to John Kerry with the Swift Boat ad in 2004.

5. John: I have spent way too much time following the Iowa political scene. I am fatigued, feel ripped off and will probably be glued to the V results tonight anyway.

IMO, the state of political discourse in the USA is f*cked!

6. From a good friend in Iowa: I went to all the meetings of our prospective Republican candidates, except John Huntsman. They all have great personalities and gave their view on how the U.S. should be run. Bachman even showed up in Forest City, (grandparents live here) went to see her, shook her hand & took a few pictures. She is nice looking & pleasing personality, her views are too restrictive- evangelical in nature. She is not a threat to being a president of the U.S. let alone a candidate. There is only one candidate that could beat Obama, that is Mitt Romney, if only people could get over his being a Mormon. Also, I am not sure that Obama needs to be beat. He is counting on the United Nations to do most of his dirty work if elected to a second term, which I am a little leery of.

The health care system in the United States needs to be tweaked to some degree, but not a decoupling from private enterprise. I told [my brother] that there are just to many people without insurance and no means to health care to ignore the issue in this election cycle. The people I am talking about had their boots taken away from them ( via the free trade agreements etc.) so there are no boot straps to pick themselves up with even if they wanted to.

I will be going to a caucus tonight and voice my opinions for a nominee.

7. From Jeff: Comment #5 is good [to this column in Minnpost] NOTE from Dick: Columnist Eric Black has many years ‘boots on the ground’ covering national politics. Note the column as well!

8. From Kathy: I am aghast at what the media is doing with this upcoming caucus…agree with your warnings…wonder how realistic it is to hope we can get the Move to Amend to reverse the Court ruling…seems absolutely critical to avoid a total break down of our system as we thought we knew it.

9. From Alan: I agree with it all. But the movie I think of is Blazing Saddles, with these words of consolation offered to the handsome new black sheriff – What did you expect? “Welcome, sonny”? “Make yourself at home”? “Marry my daughter”? You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know… morons.

10. from Mary (one of on-line comments, evening Jan. 3): Watching the caucus process and seeing a lot of journalists rush to gin up excitement and high energy where there is none! Polls / charts / graphs are created to prove almost every opposing point…. thanks to ‘smart boards’ for giving non events a pie chart!!

25 down…75 to go!

You know there is money being spent but in truth there are also people working….that’s good, right??

Ever wonder why democracy is so hard to explain?

11. Wrapup. Dick 5:15 a.m. Jan. 4:
Romney by 8, or so says NYT in the news greeting me when I woke up. I watched very little of the analytical chatter last night. It will be endless today. Main takeaway for me, as always: It is/will be the people who actually show up to vote who in the end make the difference. Sure, there are lots and lots of problems, but it is those who show up who make the difference.

12. A friend from London who grew up in the Middle East writes: Is watching the Iowa election unfold as irrelevant (& captivating) as watching a sport one is not really interested in – especially since one is not Republican inclined? It does, as you suggest, mirror the electorate at large. However, wouldn’t time be better spent doing other things – including campaigning for one’s candidate?

I know very little about the candidates (perhaps more than many since according to research those who watch Fox news are even less informed than those who watch no news!) still this bit by Craig Sams in the Guardian today was surprising, is it all true? Is Paul then more liberal than many democrats!? Your coverage of the Iowa Republican primary (Report, 3 January) barely mentions Ron Paul or his policies, settling, like most of the US media, for describing him as “quirky” or “marginal”. Yet he is neck and neck with Mitt Romney and the reason why is not extreme conservatism but commonsense policies that appeal to many Americans and, I would suggest, to many Guardian readers. Ron Paul consistently opposed the Iraq war; opposes funding of Israeli and Arab military that is linked back to purchase of US armaments; opposed the raid on the Gaza flotilla and the demonisation of democratically elected Hamas; rejects sanctions against Iran; wants to end the US embargo against Cuba; sees the World Trade Organisation as a barrier to free trade and is
opposed to protectionism; called the 9/11 Commission report a “charade” that masked a failure of bureaucracy; would not have assassinated Bin Laden; seeks the abolition of the Federal Reserve; opposed Tony Blair receiving a Congressional Gold Medal of Honour; sponsored the Employee Ownership Act to encourage employee-owned corporations with tax-exempt status; opposes
internet controls; wants immunity for whistleblowers, including Julian Assange; opposes the death penalty; believes all polluters should pay; opposes subsidies to the gas and oil industry; favours legalisation of drugs
and treatment for abusers as with alcoholics.

13. from Greg: A first time reader of your blog, I compliment you for the effort and I agree with your point of view. I couldn’t figure out how to post a comment on your blog, but feel I must contribute one thought.

You state: “1. Shameless political lying will be so pervasive, that the prudent person will believe nothing…..”

While it may be true that no “prudent person” will believe the “shameless lying”, it is also true that a huge percentage of our voters are neither prudent nor informed (how else could you explain Sarah Palin?) And this election, because corporations are now persons, may well be decided by “shameless lying”.

Many years ago I read a book titled: The Social Construction of Reality. The thesis put forth is pretty simple: If you hear it often enough, it becomes your reality. By December 2012 our collective reality may well be shameless lies.

14. Online comment from Richard: As you know, because of decades of political inertia in the U.S. and other nations, and because of the inertia of our planet’s climate system in reacting to ongoing increases in human-generated greenhouse gases like CO2, our planet has already been locked into decades of global warming in which the polar ice caps and mountain snow packs will continue to melt; oceans will continue to rise, warm and acidify; seashores and islands will continue to flood; coral reefs will continue to die; storms, droughts, heat waves and other extreme weather events will continue to plague the Upper Midwest and other world regions; plant and animal species will continue to disappear; and a record world population will continue to expand from seven billion in 2012 and engage in wars and other conflicts to survive in a world of ravaged environments and depleted resources.

A few years ago when he addressed a University of Minnesota audience, polar explorer and ice cap researcher Will Steger warned that unless global warming is reversed by 2020, irreversible climate changes will occur. Because of ongoing increases in CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, that deadline is now 2017. It will of course be breached.

Yet in the final days of the 2012 GOP Iowa precinct caucuses, that paramount issue was virtually ignored by the presidential contenders, the mainstream and other media who covered them, and the public at large. To my knowledge the U.S. GOP is the only major political party in the world that has adopted denial of human-induced global warming as an official policy. And in the Congress and many state legislatures including Minnesota’s, it has blocked or even rescinded legislation to limit global warming and adapt to its adverse impacts.

Dick, I don’t know if that paramount issue was ignored in the 2012 Iowa Democratic precinct caucuses; but if your blog is an example, it was clearly ignored by citizens who are apparently more progressive. As
“political theater,” that also hinders urgently needed actions to confront and cope with fatal global warming.