Thursday, December 29, 2011

Iowa and New Hampshire: Politics and The Comforts of "Sameness"

I remember years ago talking to a working colleague who hailed from a certain Midwestern American area.  He had moved to the Bay Area with his family after leaving the Army and was now homesick for the little town on the Minnesota/Iowa border he once lived in. 

He asked me how it was I could stand living in California permanently, with its congestion, bustle and hordes of people. I asked him how he could stand living in a state where the weather was so inclement in the Winters and so little changed. He said the point of the rural areas of the Midwest was that it didn't change. 

"The town I live in I can go back to," he said, "and I know the town will be the pretty much the same as it was  when I was growing up. A lot of the same folks will be there, too."

I guess that's the draw of the Midwest for those who live there. Besides the fact that the people who live there--in my anecdotal experience--are generally more kind and modest than west coast Americans, they are also more sedate and resistant to changes. As a one friend of mine I grew up with in San Jose, California, with me  but had family he was close to in the Midwest once told me:  

"California is great, Doug, but the Midwest won't break your heart."  


I believe he meant that a more rural and harsher climate in a place like Dubueque or Sioux City, Iowa, will deter growth. Unlike California or Florida or any major metropolitan-dominant states, populations will not explode. Demands of commerce and new industries will not remake the landscape.  Boon towns like San Jose's Silicon Valley won't remake real estate markets so quickly you won't need a a degree in computer engineering or a doctorate to stay in the lifestyle your parents enjoyed. One  can even return to an area like Iowa after a few years absence confident that it will remain much the same.            

       Same ness is attractive for a lot of people.  It just isn't how the country as a whole can afford to be.


 For as long as I can remember--well, at least since 1968--- the American presidential election have begun in two states--Iowa and New Hampshire-- that are hardly representative of  the United States as a whole, but which have "remained the same"    A recent editorial by Gail Collins in the New York Times pointed out that Iowa, a largely rural state that is 91 percent white and predominantly Christian, skewing fundamentalist,  has never elected a woman to serve in Washington, DC, or as governor. 

Think about that. Only Mississippi shares the same dubious claim.


 It also has largest brain-drains of college graduates leaving the state, according to Professor Stephen Bloom of Iowa State University.

 Iowa is a largely rural state, one in a nation where the voters are largely in a urban and suburban corridor in the General Elections.  Just among Republicans, many of the people who have done well in the past in Iowa Caucus--people like the xenophobic reactionary Pat Buchanan, the evangelical-hardliner Pat Robertson, and the amiable but gravitas-free  Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.  At least Huckabee actually had a public job--he was governor of Arkansas, but he fizzled out soon after leaving the corn fields and coffee shops of the Hawkeye State. 

  As did George H.W. Bush (Senior) in 1980, who claimed he had big momentum or "big mo" after he won the Iowa Caucus.   

Bush's "Big Mo" meant nothing--a few weeks later Ronald Reagan, who finished behind in Iowa,  became the unstoppable force for the nomination that year.

For the Democrats, it can be said that future President Jimmy Carter of Georgia launched his successful Presidential campaign there when he received 22 percent of the caucus-goers in 1976.   That was probably a few thousand votes for Carter at best, and "None of the Above"  came in ahead of Carter.  But it did propel the under-experienced one-term Georgia governor Carter upwards---and he went into a tailspin of muddled leadership in the last two years of his Presidency that helped usher in 30 years of "trickle down conservatism"  and fanatic federal government deregulation of financial powerhouses on Wall Street-led economic meltdown.   


And then you have New Hampshire, the first Primary State, whose citizens will cast ballots on January 10, a week after Iowa.   One of the most conservative and, yes, nearly all-white states in the Union, New Hampshire is notorious for being a state that prides itself on being a refuge from the cosmopolitanism of the people and cultures of New York and Massachusetts. The state slogan "Live Free or Die", embossed on its license plates, promotes an 18th Century ethos that is anti-federal, anti-tax, anti-diversity and less than representative in comparison to its other neighbors of the nation as a whole.       

  Here is demographic breakdown of New Hampshire, which ranks 42nd of the fifty states in population.  Blacks in the United States makes up about 14 percent of the population with Hispanics at similar numbers. This is not reflected the demographics make-up of  "The Granite State".  

  In addition, a major media  source in New Hampshire is the Manchester Union-Leader, an ultra-conservative publication of one William Loeb, a man who endorsed the crackpot old  political influence-peddler and former failed  House Speaker,  Newt Gingrich, for the highest office on the land. 

Are these two states really the best we can do for our first presidential testing sites?  Maybe we should have some Miss America just pick two states out of a hat for the quadrennial General  Election. We might accident-ly get a state that actually reflects the USA of today, not the one that we've left behind.   


  1. It all sounds rather odd to me. Here, if we are just checking out the two largest parties and ignoring the rest, the divide has historically been between urban and rural rather than black (brown) or white. The National Party has always been known as the "farmers" party while urban working class tended to vote Labour. But now under MMP with a plethora of parties around life is not so polarised nor clear-cut.

  2. Well, I think it's true that the more agricultural an area is, tIri Ani, he more conservative it will be in the USA also.

    Part of this is due to the powers of the Farm Bureau and other lobbying groups and the powerthat agri-business wields in Washington and the various state capitols.

    African-American voters are perdominatly Democratic--85 to 90 percent. The Latino vote outside of Florida (where Cuban -Americans represent a group that emigrated from the communist revolution there in the early 60's) trends Democratic as well. I think race and ethnicity in those two cases also dovetails into the urban/rural split as well. Ofcourse many voters are independant ,a representation of our First-Past-the-Post (or winnertake all) system, where one voter has a practical choice between two and only two parties.

  3. An interesting insight into the political culture of Iowa and New Hampshire, prior to this all I thought I knew about Iowa was that cattle outnumber people, but that turns out to be Montana?

    Since I don't recall a single cop or hospital programme on UK TV set in New Hampshire, the place was a complete mystery to me before reading this piece Doug.

    I would agree that if the presidential race kicked off in whichever two states are pulled out of the hat by Miss America, it would be a very good idea, were it not for the definite possibility that it would result in Miss America becoming the first female president
    Personally I would back Wonder Woman under those circumstances, but it seems to me to perversely prove the oft quoted maxim 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' must also imply.... that if it is broke, you'd better fix it....and the American political system is in my view completely broke and almost unfixable....but your idea of spreading the thing around a bit more fairly could only improve the situation I think.

    Does the US Congress have a 'suggestion box' Doug?

    If not they should have.... this one's got legs I think!

    If America isn't a diverse multicultural melting pot its nothing at all in my opinion, just likeThe Chilterns writ large with rather odd spellings, surely it is more than that?

    Seriously though, a thought provoking post Doug, thanks for the eye opener on this one.

  4. Until the media started calling Iowans fundamentalists I had never heard of them being other than smart everyday Americans. But the media knows best, as far as the ethnic ratio. there are more Caucasians in America than non Caucasians.

  5. Those of us who Stayed Awake in Class knew for some years that Iowa was largely infested with Fundies.

    But no matter. They're not terribly smart - not with the whole 'earth-is-6,000-years-old' thing going on. As to 'everyday', the people I know aren't like them at all. 'Everyday', or otherwise.

    The real problem with Iowa (as another article said today, "Feel Free To Ignore Iowa") is that they've jimmied the schedule to be the first to weigh-in on the evangelical uberRight freakshow of the Republican party.

    As with everything, it'll sort itself out as things go on. My money is still on Romney for the nomination; he's got the biggest war-chest, and is the least-loony of the bunch (I never thought I'd say that about a guy who believes in baptizing dead people and wearing magic-underwear, but hey - what do I know?)

    Your mileage, as they say, will vary....

  6. Most enjoyable read Doug one which I would have never known and right around the corner is the election.

  7. I'm sure you're right there about cattle and Montana, AA. I think it's pigs that outnumber people in Iowa. (And I got a couple snappy lines to follow that but I'm going to restrain myself.)

    New Hampshire is rather like the county of Rutland is to England, AA. Except that Rutland doesn't exist anymore I'm told. Well, the analogy holds for me. I know nothing about Old Hampshire, but I'll bet you're lucky to be nearer those folks than those who would subscribe to a major paper that thinks a sidewinder like Newt Gingrich should be President of anything other than the Imaginary Confederate Air Force Historical Association.

    True, there hasn't been a crime or medical show set in New Hampshire---yet "Crime Scene: Manchester, USA" has a nice ring to it though. Dame Helen Mirren is rumored to be in negotiation to star in a film set in that state, as the beloved Miss Marple in an adaptation of Agatha Christie's recently discovered novella, "Death on Lake Winnipesaukee".

    No I can't pronounce it either.

    New Hampshire is not entirely a mystery to you, AA: in 1944, a ski resort in that state was the site of the Bretton Woods Conference.

    I too would back Wonder Woman over Miss America. She would bring more experience in fighting super villains to the national ticket. And then there's her uniform...

    I'm glad you endorse my idea about the two state lottery--maybe a jar with all the small states and the other jar with all the large states in it.

    I could pop a letter in the post with this suggestion to Congressman Muffley from the district I live in and see what comes of it. He always enjoys hearing from constituents like me. I'll whip up some bogus $100 bills off the printing press I have in the basement so he'll be sure to least send me a form letter back.

    Seriously, the system is broken and I think it can only be fixed if we get rid of silly notions such as any state has an automatic "right" to be first in the nation for such a momentous verdict as who should be President.

    States have no "rights" in any Constitutional sense anyway, just powers delegated by the federal government in the 10th Amendment, which says nothing about party primaries or the like. Trust me on this, I'm not a lawyer.

  8. The term "fundamentalist" goes back to the 1920's I believe, Tess, and is not the work of CBS or NBC or the ACLU.

    My point was that the ethnic ratio is out of synch with the rest of the country.

  9. Yes, I was inspired to write this from the NY Times article posted by our friend Heidi, Will.

    "Freakshow" is rather harsh, don't you think? "Clown Car Stuffed With Lunatics" I think is more just.

    I sense you have summoned up Governor Romney's ideal slogan for the rest of the GOP primary battles, Will: 'Mitt in 2012--What do I know?" or "Romney: Elect Me, Please, Because My fat-ass Mansion in La Jolla Isn't Finished."

  10. Glad you enjoyed this one, Jack. I' m looking forward to the sheer zaniness of this election; might as well since it's going to last for months on end.