(Please see update below.) Earlier this month I made the rest-of-the-country's case against the disproportionate heft of Iowa and New Hampshire when it comes to choosing presidents. And that was even before a third-place finish in that least thorough or robust proxy for candidate excellence, the Ames Straw Poll, eliminated Tim Pawlenty from the race.
Fair-minded as always, I now make room for the right of reply. Then a few other views. First, from an Iowan:
>>I noticed that in one of your recent posts, you made a point to focus on the case made by "someone who lives in neither of the favored first-primary states" for the current system.
Isn't important to hear from people in those states as to why it matters?
I'm not a native Iowan, but came here from another state not too long ago, and the process of moving here has taught me why it's a good thing to initially limit focus on a couple of states during the presidential election. Before I came here, I really didn't care about the issue too much, and now I'm convinced it's critically important. Rotating through initial states is probably a fine alternative--but starting with a focus on a couple of states, the smaller in population the better, is key.
In previous states I've lived in, the election season was covered in the way I assume it is in most places--on video or audio already recorded or produced to be recorded, in short soundbites engineered to appeal to broad swaths of the population as quickly possible. The appeal to the electorate is superficial, focused on image, and highly, highly controlled. There's no opportunity for the electorate to challenge the candidates, to respond to their message. It's one-way communication, with the candidate isolated from the people they represent.
Here, in Iowa, I've been exposed to the alternative, which is that presidential candidates actually show up around the block unexpectedly. You can meet them. You can ask them questions. The candidates actually go out of their way to have meetings in places where actual conversations can occur, to meet people in hangouts, cafes, and local shops. The candidates are accessible and approachable (admittedly, only as much as is probably possible within the confines of a presidential election, but still).
This would not happen if the primaries occurred simultaneously everywhere, and would be less likely if they occurred in populous states first. The primaries are the one last place where people aren't totally disconnected from the national political process anymore, and it would be a real loss to the country if it were to disappear. Not in some fluffy, emotional sense, but in the sense that it would lower the accountability of the candidates even one level further, by making them less answerable--in a literal as well as figurative sense--to the electorate. Do we really want to cede *more* control over the circumstances in which candidates interact with the public?
I'd say that other states don't understand the importance of this, but I suspect, in fact, that they do and are just jealous.
Also, I've realized in Iowa that once candidates move on, they move on, and the big states and coasts get the spotlight moved back on them, where it usually is. Can they really not handle a momentary decrease of media attention?<<
I understand the attraction of this system for the 1% of Americans who live in Iowa, not to mention the half of one percent who live in New Hampshire. It's less obvious that it works for the other 98.5% of us, or for U.S. politics as a whole. (I would personally prefer a system that made each candidate come to my house for dinner -- and stay to clean up afterwards, plus maybe mow the lawn.) Iowans and New Hampshireites could argue that they are acting as the distilled representation of what's best in all of us. But when you see who often comes out on top there...