The doge of Des Moines

by Colby Cosh

What has me concerned is that on Main Street Iowa people are coming up to me and saying, ‘What do you think about Dr. Paul?’ These are folks who have to be informed. They have to get past the 30- and 60-second ads. If you ask Iowans if they’re for legalizing marijuana or legalizing heroin, they’d say no. But Dr. Paul has said on many occasions that that’s OK. But people don’t all know that.

I’m not sure whether to be delighted or depressed by the reaction of Iowa Republicans like Andy Cable to the suddenly-real possibility that Ron Paul might win—and thereby discredit!—the state’s first-in-the-nation nominating caucuses. The anomalous importance of Iowa within the U.S. election system has traditionally been defended on two major grounds: (a), that the state is pretty representative of the American “middle” in both geographic and demographic senses, and (b), that a small state like Iowa (or New Hampshire) can scrutinize candidates with a salutary close-up intensity, given a long pre-election period in which to do it.

There is no doubt something to these arguments. (Along with obvious rebuttals to both.) But how can a major party have its cake and eat it too? Specifically, how can the concept of Iowa’s special mission as a testing range for candidates be reconciled with Mr. Cable’s panicky Yuletide talk of uninformed goon voters flying off the handle? Cable’s state has benefited significantly from being a political bellwether, both from the quadrennial media activity and attention and from the political pork that follows. (Ethanol accounts for 9% of the state’s GDP.) Yet Cable is not even waiting for Paul to be nominated before undermining the whole basis for taking Iowa seriously.

Maybe it should be taken seriously; it would be hard to argue, at any rate, that Ron Paul is doing well in Iowa just because he’s so friendly to federal ethanol subsidies. Iowans have taken a good look at Paul, with his anti-Drug-War stance and his isolationist foreign policy and his constitutional literalism, and they appear to have tentatively decided that they like what they see. The response from the “elites”–specifically described as such in Jonathan Burns and Alexander Martin’s story for Politico—seems very much like Brecht’s line about dissolving the people and electing a new one.

You say the party’s insanely elaborate nominating procedure is threatening to deliver a frontrunner who doesn’t want to bung dope-smokers into jail or garrison the lunar surface? In that case, the governor of Iowa warns, “People are going to look at who comes in second and who comes in third.” This is not, I hasten to add, how Iowa chooses a governor.

Most people don’t realize just how far removed the “Iowa caucuses” are removed from any actual end-result in the form of a delegate count. It is not especially easy even to find out this information, though you will have a sense of it if you have ever viewed the chaos on C-SPAN. The marquee event is actually a process of selecting delegates from each precinct for county-level Republican conventions; after some free-form canvassing, voters in any individual precinct may be given a preprinted ballot, may be handed a blank scrap of paper, or may simply be asked to participate in a show of hands. There is no requirement that delegates even represent a specific presidential candidate.

Nonetheless, by some shockingly vague and opaque procedure, the state Republican Party manages to immediately generate and publicize a tally of notional “votes” for each nominee. But the precinct delegates to the county conventions don’t actually get together until March, at which time they assemble to select delegates to the congressional district conventions (which happen in April) and the statewide convention (in June). Iowa’s ultimate national delegation consists of three representatives each from the four congressional districts; 13 at-large delegates representing the entire state; and three state party mucky-mucks.

The whole system captures the arbitrariness, the ceremoniousness, and the rampant bargaining of the infamous electoral system of the pre-Napoleonic Venetian Republic. The Venetians used ten unsummarizable, half-daft rounds of lot-drawing and delegation to select their chief magistrate, the doge. For five centuries, nearly everybody in Europe, including the Venetians themselves, found this system incomprehensible. But it had virtues. In particular, it made the identities of the ultimate electors so difficult to predict that it was inefficient to target any person in particular for corruption or for what we now call “lobbying”. At the same time, it promised a clear and objective result if the procedures, which themselves acquired a charming patina of sacredness over time, were followed religiously.

Today’s U.S. party nominating process has the same totemistic quality, but without any of the benefits to democracy. The reported “outcome” of the January precinct caucuses may not reflect the reality of voter will, and it usually takes the form of a subjective “message” anyway. The perceived winner, as the governor says, might be the fellow who finished third—as long as he was expected beforehand to finish sixth. (Who creates these expectations? Don’t ask!) And far from dispersing and concealing the potential targets of “lobbying”, the Iowa caucuses make the whole state a focus of lavish promises by candidates for the national executive. If Ron Paul really does win, and thus turn Iowa into a sideshow, it may actually end up counting as the most consequential accomplishment in a long lifetime of public service.

The doge of Des Moines

  1. “A Ron Paul victory in Iowa will validate it, not invalidate it. All our lives, we’ve heard that the whole point of having early nominating contests in small states like Iowa and New Hampshire is that it allows the voters to actually meet the candidates, in coffee shops and town halls, to size them up face-to-face, and to consider their ideas and abilities and virtues and weaknesses free of the filter of big-money media, paid or unpaid.

    “That is exactly what has been happening in Iowa, and many mainstream Republican voters have decided that Ron Paul and his limited government ideals and his lifelong consistency and evidently strong character are exactly what they want in their nominee.” (Author: CE, Reason Online)

  2. Pffft…  Another MSM hit piece by a supposedly ”conservative” backed propaganda rag.  Do they e-mail all the writers out buzz words to use and concepts to push or do they just let them follow each other like a bunch of lemmings?  It’s like a 10,000 monkeys with 10,000 keyboards sitting on their tree branches peeing on the readers down below and telling them it’s raining.

    You’d better watch out, your neo-con liberalism is showing.  You monkeys are going to get a rude awakening when you realize that all your fear mongering and lies are just going to solidify Dr. Paul’s support.  As if everyone on the face of the earth hasn’t heard already that Dr. Paul is going to pull the US out of the drug war and save billions while doing it.  It’s not unusual to see closed minded reporters try to fling mud using lies or personal history, but I’ve never seen so many try to discredit a whole state before.  You must think your readership is awfully stupid.  Why else would you give them no respect?

  3. Your last sentence in the first paragraph is false. Dr Paul says it should be up to states not the federal government. Also he is a noninterventionist not an Isolationist get it right.
    The only sideshow is the pathetic attempts to disregard the opinions/votes of the good people of Iowa and our nomination process. Just because the MSM or either of the 2 corrupt parties don’t like an outcome is really not the concern of the voters. We will vote for who we want to represent us not who you think .
    Ron Paul 2012

    • I didn’t write the first paragraph. It’s a quotation, which is why it’s double-indented like that; do you read much? I also don’t mean to use “isolationism” as a term of abuse. The “isolationists” of the interwar years, like Dr. Paul, regarded themselves as proponents of the original, authentic foreign policy of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

      • No of course it’s not an intentional slur on your part.  It just happens to be the word the all the MSM pseudo-journalists use to mislead the people about Dr. Paul’s policies.  You’re starting to move away from being intellectually dishonest to being just plain dishonest now, Colby.  I guess next you’ll be telling us that “thus turn Iowa into a side show” is something THEY are saying, not what YOU are saying, right?
         
        Here’s a little snippet from Wikipedia to help you along on your path to journalistic integrity, if you ever so choose to move away from the shilling business that is…
        “Nonintervention is distinct from isolationism, the latter featuring economic nationalism (protectionism) and restrictive immigration. Proponents of non-interventionism distinguish their policies from isolationism through their advocacy of more open national relations, to include diplomacy and free trade.”

        • Is Wikipedia where you got the bit about Maclean’s being ‘supposedly ”conservative” backed’?

      • Wow. Your article sure brought some interesting people out of the woodwork eh? I do enjoy the references to DOCTOR Paul. Reminds me of references to Dr. Moon.

        • Er, yeah, except Ron Paul’s actually a doctor. Like, a doctor doctor.

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    • Ours would be a gentler, more compassionate world if every time we wanted to raise a hand in anger, we would simply sit on the toilet and eat our own shit.

      • Genius.

  5. America
    Needs Ron Paul. 

    Ron
    Paul has had consistent policy positions from the start.  The other
    candidates simply say what the voters want to hear.  Ron Paul warned us
    about the housing bubble, the debt crisis, the collapse of the US dollar, the
    high employment and recessions; basically, the entire collapse of our economy.
    He is the only candidate who can get us out of our mess. 

    Ron
    Paul is a man who defends the constitution, civil liberties, peace and
    prosperity.  Paul has the wisdom, foresight, honesty and integrity to be
    president. 

    Mitt
    Romney does not where he stands on any issue; Michelle Bachmann is just very
    angry; Rick Perry does not know very much; John Huntsman has worked for
    Democrats for many years; Rick Santorum is an extremist; and Newt Gingrich is
    philosophically unanchored, an unstable element, whom as Peggy Noonan, former
    Reagan speechwriter writes is a “human hand grenade who walks around with his
    hand on the pin, saying, Watch this!”. 

    America
    Needs Ron Paul.

  6. Iowa has plenty of drug laws. Ron Paul is just getting the federal gov out it.

  7. It smells like crazy in here. Did somebody open a border?

    Colby: happy though I am for Ron Paul’s policy positions getting a reasonable airing, to say “Iowans have taken a good look at Paul… and they appear to have tentatively decided that they like what they see” is a pretty big stretch. 25% of likely caucusers are supporting Ron Paul, and he’s not splitting that vote with anyone. So Iowa Republicans are currently running 3-1 against the man.

    I’d bring up an anecdote of a close friend who is an Iowa Republican and is supporting Paul as a stand-in for a brokered convention (and the hope that it will rescue a reasonable candidate) but I wouldn’t want anyone to take a single anecdote seriously.

    • Isn’t it patently irrational to hope the “brokered convention” thing works? We haven’t come close on either side in my lifetime.

      • Oh almost certainly. But if you don’t want a motor yacht because boating makes you seasick, you may as well take what Monty is offering in the box.

        • That said, I doubt very many Ron Paul supporters are dilettantes like that. He attracts motivated true believers.

  8. I don’t know about Iowa, but it seems that if you type the words “Ron Paul” on a blog a whole Internet cult comes out to comment.

    • In a field of crazy, he’s the flavour of the week.

    • Still, six hours into the post and nobody’s tarred Harper with Paul animus.  I expect that to change shortly.

      • Haper scary booooo!  Neocon!  Bush wannabe!  Harper hates Canada!

  9. According to statists and rinos in the Republican Party the Founder’s would be fringe candidates. These hit pieces against Dr. Ron Paul are always full of misinformation and dire warnings that the Federal government may actually have to balance the budget, stop printing fiat dollars, end the wars and abide by the constraints of the Constitution.

    It is time for a new party to replace one of the two existing parties who have become shills for any special interest that can afford to keep them in office.

    The People are supporting Ron Paul despite the best efforts of a party that has lost it’s way and shills in the media like this author.

    Ron Paul in 2012 for the sake of the Republic.

  10. Ron Paul is by far the most interesting guy running for either the GOP or the Democrats. I don’t agree with him on quite a few points, but he’s also the only one who has a different take on things like Israel and the war on drugs that I wholeheartedly agree with.
    He’s a breath of fresh air, but his newsletter from back in the day will hurt him a great deal.

  11. Looks like you are attracting some of the “infowars” zealots.
     
    “On the Tuesday edition of Infowars Nightly News, Alex Jones breaks down the conspiracy to ignore Ron Paul and undo the influence of the nation’s leading primary in Iowa.”
     
    http://www.infowars.com/ron-paul-is-in-the-fight-of-his-life-we-must-stand-with-him/ 
     
    I quite like Paul for his straight talk, not a trait associated with politicions, lol.  His re-introduction of The Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2011 is a prime example of mis-information and smears.  On the Vote Hemp site all the logical reasons are given – Canada has been growing industrial hemp since the mid-90′s and sells most of it to the USA – even some of our ActionPlan stimulus $$ went to infrastructure for a hemp processing plant in Manitoba.
     
    Paul was the lone voice calling to let the big banks fail – no to TARP in 2008.  Guess we will never know how that may have worked out!!

  12. Well the wonders of Google allows me to read an article that is based on a 15 minute interview done on the on the phone though not with Colby Cash.  It seems though that Cash certainly must have been listening to say it was a “panicky” statement.  Totally false – this is prime example of second hand lazy reporting that is self serving and rings of so many of today’s problems with 24/7 news and internet news. 
    If Cash wanted to write a legitimate article using me as a source then contact me – or at least have the integrity to confirm from a source before writing such dribble. It would seem to me that this “reporter” and use that term lightly is more interested in establishing support of a pre set idea rather than reporting the news.

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