Jewish World Review August 10, 2011 10 Menachem-Av, 5771
Ames Is the GOP's Grim Reaper
By Roger Simon
To its credit, there is no man behind the curtain. Its fraudulence is open and above board: It is organized bribery on a grand scale.
Presidential campaigns buy up large blocks of tickets, hand them out, give Iowa residents free food, free drinks, free fun rides, free music, free T-shirts and free body-painting to show up at the Hilton Coliseum on the campus of Iowa State University.
All that the people are expected to do in return is listen to speeches by Republican presidential candidates. So you can see why people have to be bribed to show up.
Ideally, people would listen to the speeches and then cast ballots for the Republican of their choice. The term "straw poll" comes from the British jurist John Selden (1584-1654), who wrote, "Take a straw and throw it up into the Air - - you may see by that which way the Wind is."
But the Wind at Ames blows. And that is because people can cast their ballots hours before the speeches even begin. The campaigns do not expect people to be swayed by the speeches. They expect that once people are bought, they will stay bought.
But the campaigns do not know Iowans. Iowans are fair-minded and good-hearted, and the Ames Straw Poll, which will be held this Saturday, is good fun to them, not serious politics.
Only the media treat it seriously, and only after writing for weeks and weeks about how meaningless it is.
As The Washington Post put it Tuesday, "the results are not very reliable in predicting who will win the Iowa caucuses, the GOP nomination or ultimately, the presidency."
Which is 100 percent correct and which is why about 700 members of the media are expected to show up at Ames on Saturday, why network superstars will be among them, and the press is already doing projected weather reports: 81 degrees, partly cloudy, no locusts.
Why do the media care so much about something that means almost nothing?
Because Ames is a Death Star, that's why. The media want winners and losers very, very early. They do not want to have to pretend that large numbers of candidates are equally important and equally deserving of coverage or inclusion in debates.
So when the media report who does poorly at Ames, those candidates' money will dry up, the candidates will drop out and the media will feel justified paying attention to only the top tier. (Unless, of course, some of the top tier wisely choose to skip Ames, which some are doing this year.)
"The Grim Reaper is going to be waiting outside the field house in Ames, Iowa," Pat Buchanan said in August 1999. "I think it's going to kill off several people."
It did, including Buchanan, who came in fourth, and left the Republican Party. "Candor compels us to admit that our vaunted two-party system is a snare and a delusion, a fraud upon the nation," Buchanan thundered after Ames. "Our two parties have become nothing but two wings on the same bird of prey."
Wow. Imagine what he would have said if he had come in fifth.
But Ames is capable of surprising, which means surprising the media, since the media are the only people with expectations at this point.
In 2007, Mike Huckabee wowed the crowd by saying: "I can't buy you. I don't have the money. I can't even rent you. The straw poll is not about electing a straw man, but giving the people of Iowa a chance to prove they are mature voters and savvy. They are buying the cereal, not just the box."
Huckabee lost, of course. Mitt Romney had bought many more voters at Ames that year. In fact, Huckabee, while coming in second, didn't even come in a close second. Romney got 31.5 percent of the vote and Huckabee got 18.1 percent.
But Huckabee was savvy enough to write the reporters' stories for them. "For me to come in second is the story," Huckabee told the press when the tally was announced. "For me to hold the front-runner under 50 percent is the story."
And so it became the story. And Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses and the nomination of his party and became the 44th president of the United States. No. Wait. Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses, but lost the nomination to John McCain, who lost the presidency to Barack Obama, who now wonders why he wanted the job in the first place.
So you can see how important straw polls are.
The Democratic Party bans straw polls, saying they are a waste of time and money. I have always suspected the party actually bans them, however, because Democrats are afraid they might hold a political event where fun might break out.
In the past, Ames has featured indoor fireworks, Jack Kemp throwing mini-footballs to the crowd, Pat Robertson supporters wearing revolving red lights on their heads and what Americans love most: shopping. In 1999, the best-selling item was a postcard depicting Hillary Clinton in a black leather bra spanking a nude President Clinton who was sprawled across her lap and smiling.
Ames is a spectacle in a spectacle-driven political process. It will be covered live and analyzed live. Ames tells you much more about the media than about the candidates, which is a good thing.
It means we are keeping our priorities straight.
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