I remember that Barack Obama, upon leaving office, said that one of his post-presidency goals was to reform our democracy. He seemed to have particular interest in addressing the travesty of gerrymandering and also looking for enforceable ways to reduce or eliminate voter suppression.
In his first race for the presidency, he seemed to thrive off the elongated, cluttered and senseless system by which fifty states and other territories select their delegates to the national convention where nominees are actually chosen. The first state in play, in 2008 and again scheduled in 2020, is Iowa. This is a state with less than one percent of the nation’s population and whose largest metropolitan area (Des Moines) has not much more than a half million people.
Yet the state of Iowa has an inordinate amount of importance in the way in which we select our presidential nominees. This is extremely non-democratic for at least three clear reasons besides its small population:
- The length of time that the Iowa caucuses are “in play,” in most election cycles for more than two years, or half the presidential cycle.
- The nature of campaigning in Iowa which stresses trite activities such as mingling with the animals on the farms and later barbecuing them on the grill.
- The media focuses far more attention on Iowa than virtually any other state because of its unique positioning. Most of what the media covers is the horse race.
Barack Obama thrived in the retail politics of Iowa, a system that allowed him to fully utilize the young volunteers and paid staff who were so quickly attracted to his campaign. He was a media star in Iowa, particularly being a serious African-American candidate in a state that is barely 2.5% black. So, it worked for him, but that does not make it a legitimate part of a democratic process to choose our leaders.
And now here we go again, 1,131 days before the 2020 presidential election and 847 days before the likely date for the Iowa Caucus. A picture from the Washington Post shows Democrat Tim Ryan running through a park / pasture; seemingly not knowing if he’s a human being running for president or one of the livestock who’s exceptionally hungry.
This is not to say that Tim Ryan is a bad guy or could not possibly make a good president of the United States. But what it does say is that we have a demeaning system for entering the presidential sweepstakes each cycle, and it takes a toll.
Iowa is one of the gateways to excessive money coming into politics. Either Tim Ryan had to spend his own personal money to showcase himself in Iowa, or he is taking contributions from others. It is not cheap to run a presidential campaign and the Iowa caucuses cost a disproportionate amount. There are some candidates who have spent nearly 100 nights in Iowa prior to the caucuses. Once they begin campaigning, they splash advertisements throughout the state, mostly through airwaves. The cost per vote in Iowa is generally greater than it is in any other state. Is it worth it if candidates are trying to meet every voter in Iowa rather than doing their day jobs, which often involve being public servants at public expense?
It is possible to end the Iowa madness; in fact, the entire absurdity of our strung-out campaigns. Barack Obama’s credibility within the Democratic Party is still high. He could call the troops together and for a brainstorming session to change the system to make it more democratic and less expensive. In some cases, they could pressure states to change their systems. In other cases, they could refuse to take the bait and place self-limits on spending and time spent in the states.
Let the Tim Ryan photo (whether he is caught in character or out of character) serve as the poster for the absurdity of the current system. It’s time to move on. If Democrats can unite in bringing sanity to the campaign schedule, they will build more credibility to address other important issues like gerrymandering, voter suppression and eventually abolishing the electoral college.
Oh yes, Hillary Clinton could join Barack Obama on this enterprise, as could Bernie Sanders.