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Today, droves of urbane politicos and journalists will check out of the Des Moines Ramada with their business settled, and stage their escape from flyover country (at least until 2011). Many will kiss the grimy concrete at LaGuardia, glad to be back in the impersonal murk of a ‘real city.’ While the frenzied, all-or-nothing theatricality of these early electoral contests would appear to be the product of willful collaboration between the media, the candidates themselves, and their voting public, many complicit city-folk remain dissatisfied: if only the stage were set in a more cultured locale.
For those Americans with an ocean view—and the inflated sense of self that comes with it—the two-month drone of pre-caucus news from landlocked, lumpy Iowa draws more than a little ire. The same lament comes up over seared ahi again and again, from the Hamptons to La Jolla: Why should a few pig farmers decide who gets to be president?
I, suburbanite, felt myself slipping last week into precisely this rut as I watched a man in plaid saying, yes, he planned to caucus, as long as he could catch a bowl game around noon. This fellow, to whom circumstance had bequeathed great decisive power, was prepared to allow one among a plethora of meaningless college football tournaments (who even wants to win the Chick-fil-A Bowl?) to disrupt his participation in representative government. ‘Yokel’ is not a term to be thrown around carelessly, but sometimes a situation demands it.
But just before I launched into that same tirade about bib overalls that is bouncing around Bill Maher’s head at this very moment, I caught myself. Someone has to have first look at this slippery field of candidates, to be the testing ground and focus group to their gladhanding and hyper-scripted stump speeches. Meanwhile, so many of our states lack the economic or cultural grandeur of California or New York and become little more than whistle-stops in the general election. This is, of course, the problem to which the Electoral College is the hapless, nonsensical solution.
Better that the self-styled salt of the earth in Dubuque and Davenport fill that role when the time to vote finally arrives than that same Geffen-and-Soros cabal that donates millions in the months beforehand and afterward. If there’s one thing keeping the race for the White House from becoming one long black-tie fundraiser in a polished banquet hall, it’s these people. Better that some frustrated rustics scrape the barrel for Huckabee’s aw-shucks ticket and the remains of the McCain campaign than Republicans elsewhere resign themselves to the twin metropolitan miseries of Mssrs. Giuliani and Romney.
I stop short of ascribing Iowans the kind of preternatural polygraphic capacity that many of their number use to justify their place in the voting order. Generally, if Minnesotans have a robust tradition of mocking your obtuseness, the case for your superlative statewide discernment becomes a tough sell.
Fundraising numbers alone attest to the fact that the presidential campaigns we’re witnessing have become sickeningly well-oiled and potent political machines, with the newspapers and cable news channels hovering nearby, awestruck and totally indulgent sidekicks. As these behemoths prepare to churn their way through the big coastal cities, gathering cash and celebrity endorsements over the course of 2008, at the very least we can make them start their year slowed to a crawl and under scrutiny in a Dubuque diner. Thank heaven for hayseeds.
James M. Larkin ’10, a Crimson editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Quincy House.
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