Reprinted from the Dallas
Morning News Feb. 4
Now that the Iowa caucuses have crashed, we’ll say what everyone following this year’s presidential contest is likely thinking: If so goes Iowa, so goes the nation, then God help us.
And we’ll say something that no official has yet said: The chaos of Iowa will only fuel a chaotic contest, rather than do what it’s supposed to do — and that’s to bring a sober-minded, citizen-centered process to play in selecting the president of the United States. America was watching, and Iowa failed the country.
If that feels unfair to our friends from the Hawkeye state, we’d argue that fairness isn’t the standard to consider. Yes, of course, we should be fair. But Iowa has a vaunted spot in the selection of the president and for decades has managed that spot by offering us a quirky caucus system that is supposed to reward organization and broad support (something only serious candidates used to be able to muster). Instead, it actually plays out as a process of political browbeating other candidates’ supporters into backing someone else for the highest office in the land.
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When it works well, Iowa’s system can encourage a candidate’s supporters to win over the supporters for other candidates. But it can, and often does, descend into bullying and when it does, it only feeds the belief that it’s OK to win your political battles by pressure rather than persuasion. That undercuts the dignity of the presidency and can lead to a politics of division and resentment.
All of this can happen in the background, even as we engage in a process that selects a strong candidate who can unite a broad cross-section of America into a coalition that can carry the election in November. But all of the problems with this process come to the forefront when the caucuses fail to deliver a clear winner and hand the country instead a ruinous result.
And to be fair, that was likely always going to be the case this year when the state’s Democratic Party decided to deliver not one result, but three. In the name of transparency, the caucuses were aiming to show the overall delegate allocation, which candidates fared well in the first balloting and then who emerged after a second round. That transparency, that impulse that everyone gets a trophy, would, even if it worked as intended, have failed to make transparently clear what was needed: an identifiable direction voters want this year.
The Democratic Party and the country at large are at a crossroads, and what’s needed is a process that gives momentum to ideas and policies that can win broad support.
We may not have a winner, but there were at least two losers. Iowa failed and now must accept that it may have to lose its status as the first presidential contest. And, what’s more, the country as a whole lost out. We got a muddle, when what we needed was a winnowing of the candidates.
Caucus night in Black Hawk County
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