I have a hard time getting too worked up about the results of the Iowa caucuses last night. Despite all the expectations management that went into it, the results seem to reflect what polls were showing pretty well, unlike 2004 when the polls were unable to tap into John Kerry's rise until nearly end of the campaign.
This time around, the polls were clearly and consistently tracking Obama's growing lead over Edwards and Clinton, but the reporters were consistently misstating what the polls were showing by claiming a "too close to call" neck and neck horse race where there really wasn't one.
The same was true on the Republican side. Huckabee had held a significant lead for a long time; Romney and the rest were playing catch up at best, and yet the campaign reporters stuck to the narrative that it was "too close to call, anything could happen."
So, in the end, Obama won and Huckabee won, and Hillary -- in case you didn't know -- lost. According to the high paid analysts, this was a tremendous loss for La Clinton, but she will survive to battle it out with her rivals in other primaries and caucusi throughout the land, and she may still become the Democratic nominee, it all depends on factors we can't know yet.
As for John Edwards, who came in a strong second (actually a near tie for second between Hillary and Edwards): "John Who?"
The only "John" who matters in the media expectations game is St. John McCain, who, despite Huckabee's clear victory in the Iowa Republican caucuses, is now considered the Favorite (again) and his 12% or 13% is considered Outstanding, because he "beat expectations."
So did Ron Paul, at around 10%. In fact, that surprises the heck out of me, because I didn't think that Paul could draw above the mid-single digits in Iowa. Wrong I was.
But Ron Paul is the Crazy Uncle in the attic and cannot be mentioned in Polite Company; he's the Dennis Kucinich of the Republican Party, hardly a serious candidate at all. Never mind the millions of dollars he keeps raising, and never mind his strong showing in Iowa. The question I have about Ron Paul is never answered: who are the Republicans supporting him?
Edwards must have offended his press bus about as much as Hillary offended hers. Glenn Greenwald offers a typically superb dissection of the Clinton Campaign Bus Affair over at his place. But the issue here is that Hillary was covered by the media, incessantly and obsessively, whether or not the press bus "liked" her. Edwards was barely covered at all and is obviously loathed by the media claque. It's amazing that Edwards did as well as he did in Iowa given the nearly complete media blackout of his campaign.
But that should be a lesson to us, shouldn't it?
For decades, the media has treated the serious process of elections with a kind of disdain and throw away contempt that is ugly and brutal and destructive to the political well-being of the Nation. Campaigns are covered as horse races almost exclusively, and there is one master narrative of the campaign horse race: Too Close To Call. Right up to the very last minute when this or that candidate -- no matter what the polls are showing -- is "favored" by the media and allowed to break free of the pack.
That's the Narrative, but it's been obvious through many election cycles that the media chooses its favorites (St. John, for example) who they stick with throughout the campaign, unless they decide to dump their favorite (like they did Howard Dean) for someone else (ie: Bush).
The coverage (or lack of it) can and does strongly influence outcomes, but it doesn't have to. Outcomes can be influenced almost as strongly by grassroots activism. Outcomes can also be bought by high flying bazillionaires and corporate sponsors.
But more and more, lately, outcomes appear to be predetermined in that Shadowy Powers That Be choose the candidates the electorate is allowed to consider; then, through various means, those Powers determine which candidate will be allowed to win. In 2000, Bush was selected by an out of bounds and out of control Supreme Court, for example. In 2004, on the other hand, the "selection" may or may not have been made by voters. We have no way of knowing thanks to the pervasiveness of unverifiable vote recording and vote counting machines. And of course voter suppression in key states is all important for control of outcomes.
Is the contempt and disdain so typical of media coverage of the election process due to their underlying knowledge that the process is a sham and corrupted to the point where almost nothing they say about it has any real effect? Do they have this knowledge? I don't know. But you can see in the coverage of any election night that the reporters are bored, they want it over with, and they will not tolerate waiting for an outcome. Do they know who the winner is, or who the winner is supposed to be? Why not just say so and move on?
Hillary has been declared the Big Loser in Iowa. But strangely, her third place (well, statistical tie for second, but who's counting?) finish was all but predicted by polls taken in January of last year.
From the Daily Iowan, Jan 22, 2007:
Iowa snubs Hillary
by Brittney Berget - The Daily Iowan
With national polls indicating Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., are the leading contenders for Democratic presidential nomination, the 2008 elections could be on the track to see either the first black or female candidate.
But early state polls show that Iowans aren't as willing to embrace Rodham Clinton. The Research 2000 Iowa Poll shows that Obama and former Sen. John Edwards are tied at the top with 22 percent of the votes, and Rodham Clinton - who announced her official candidacy on Jan. 20 - in fourth with 10 percent. Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack came in third in the poll.
Some experts believe Rodham Clinton's relative lack of popularity may have to do with her being a woman.
"Iowans have been hesitant in the past in terms of supporting a woman candidate," said Arthur Miller, a UI professor of political science. Rodham Clinton "is quite controversial, and women just haven't done as well as men do in past elections here in Iowa."
Experts say Edwards' high Iowa numbers - which are inconsistent with his share in the national polls - stems from his success in the state in the 2004 election season, during which he placed a surprising second during Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses.
Strange, innit? The top three Democratic candidates all gained support during the year, but what was predicted by polling a year ago pretty much came to pass after strenuous campaigning, tens of millions of dollars raised and spent, endless ads, endless meetings with voters, endless containers of bad coffee, endless prattle, endless dialogue, endless bullshit.
Yet nothing really changed.
Iowa Stubborn, indeed.