Even before the first coffee was spilt or first vote taken in the cookie-filled front parlors of Iowa, “all the cool kids” in the blogosphere were, according to Eschaton’s Duncan Black, “telling us that it's stupid and sucky and we shouldn't pay too much attention” to the Iowa caucuses.
“A secretive, undemocratic process, that avoids democratic norms, and discourages participation,” writes Steve Benen. “Ridiculously arbitrary and unfair” (Scott Lemieux). “Messed up and should be fixed” (Betsy Newmark). “Giving Iowa such outsized importance is harmful and bizarrely arbitrary” (Matthew Yglesias). Even Duncan Black himself takes a shot: “Being able to ad lib small talk about muffins in an Iowa diner is not actually an especially important skill for a president to have.”
Yes, it’s as obvious as pig manure on a farmer’s boots that Iowans — mostly nice white people who think a banana-studded mold of orange Jello is salad, who don’t have the decency to put up fences between their houses, who believe there’s something democratic about getting together face to face with their neighbors to debate and persuade and wheedle over who should lead the country — shouldn’t kick off a presidential campaign. Plainly, that task should be left to some serious place like my dear California, where a political rally has been famously described as two people sitting in front of a television set and where the ideal political campaign is a superrich candidate writing a $40 million check to big media companies to buy focus-group-tested ads, just as every democratic theorist from ancient Athens to James Madison always dreamed.
But “stupid and sucky” didn’t keep bloggers from reaching for big conclusions once the Iowa results came in.
“The fruits of Rove come to pass,” Andrew Sullivan writes of Mike Huckabee’s thumping of the GOP field. “Turn politics into religion and you'll get a preacher as your nominee.” Alexham at RedState makes a similar point from a pro-Huckabee, Christianist perspective: “We are still the heart and soul of the party, and we're not going anywhere. If you want the nomination, you're going to have to deal with us and our concerns.”
Jesse Walker at Reason’s Hit & Run blog construes the Iowa vote more narrowly as a judgment on Mitt Romney, who “represents everything Americans hate about politicians: the empty man hungry for power and willing to say anything to get it, the privileged man who thinks he can buy an election without actually standing for anything.If politics were a 1980s teen gross-out comedy, Mitt would be the Alpha Beta frat and the Iowa caucuses would be the revenge of the nerds.”
According to the half-glass full crowd at National Review’s Corner, this is all good news for both John McCain, who finished fourth in Iowa, and Rudy Giuliani, who finished sixth, far behind Ron Paul. “McCain surely has an easier path now,” Lisa Schiffren writes, and “Rudy will look fresher than expected in a couple of weeks.” (Isn’t that what the undertaker tells the family before the embalming?)
While the Iowa results left conservative bloggers clutching at straws, Sen Barack Obama’s victory had a lot of liberals bubbling over with excitement.
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo notes the huge partisan discrepancy in turnout, with almost twice as many Iowans caucusing with the Democrats as with the Republicans. “That is a very big vote in itself.”
Iowa’s surge of participation, much of it by young people, “has long been the holy grail of progressive politics,” Chris Bowers, an Edwards supporter, writes at Open Left. “Tonight, Obama won because he did something many campaigns have claimed they would do in the past, but never until now had never actually accomplished: he turned out young voters and new voters in record-smashing numbers. That is a remarkable and historic accomplishment.”
Arianna Huffington ratchets up the rhetoric even further. Iowa voters “didn’t want to look back” to the Clinton-Bush years, but move ahead to make America “the kind of country we've always imagined ourselves being -- even if in the last seven years we fell horribly short: a young country, an optimistic country, a forward-looking country, a country not afraid to take risks or to dream big.”
If so, not a bad night’s work for a bunch of undemocratic, pasty-faced Jello-eaters.