December 29, 2007

Bill Boyarsky: The Iowa Caucus Con

Filed under: Opinion — Volt @ 10:39 pm

Bill Boyarsky, TruthDig, December 26, 2007

DES MOINES, Iowa – This may be the last place in America where political journalists are embraced as heroes.

Usually these reporters, particularly those in the mainstream media, take hits from academia and a growing number of media critics. In Iowa, they are eagerly welcomed when they show up to cover the state’s unique system of selecting presidential nominees. The reason is simple: The media is a co-conspirator in a con, the Iowa caucuses.

I covered the first highly publicized Iowa caucuses in 1976, when unknown Jimmy Carter finished ahead of all the Democratic candidates and went on to win the Democratic presidential nomination and the presidency. We reporters found the unfamiliar system a welcome change from what we usually covered. Iowans were friendly and eager to talk, and the caucuses were peculiar but intriguing. After the caucuses, I moved on to the next stop, the New Hampshire primary, not giving any more thought to the Iowa system. That’s a reporter for you: Out of sight, out of mind.

In the intervening years, my career took a turn toward covering city councils, boards of supervisors, fixers, angry community leaders, lobbyists and the rest of the cast that makes local politics compelling. Down in the muck of real politics, I became more cynical. I learned that everybody has an angle, and you have to understand the system to know it for what it is. As I prepared to fly to Iowa on this current assignment, I wondered if I’d be able to figure out what the angle was for caucus participants.

I talked to a lot of people here, but oddly enough, I learned more from Iowa’s State Historical Museum, where there is a large display that explains a lot about the caucuses.

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