Having lived in both Iowa and New Hampshire, I’m defensive of the fact that the presidential nominating process begins in both states. The vote count debacle for Democrats in Iowa’s caucus has caused many to call for abandoning the caucus tradition, with New Hampshire getting thrown in as collateral damage.
The Boston Globe editorial page opined that “demographically” both states “more resemble 19th-century America than they do the America of today.” It suggested Illinois as a more appropriate state for first-in-the-nation voting.
And therein lies the rub. Iowa and New Hampshire have always had their critics, but what’s the alternative? In Illinois, a state of 12.7 million, candidates would not be forced to engage in the retail politics essential to winning smaller states. Instead they could just carpet-bomb the airwaves with ads. Consider: In the 2018 gubernatorial race a billionaire Democrat successfully spent $171 million of his wealth to unseat the near-billionaire Republican incumbent, who spent around $70 million of his own money.
Would that be preferable to holding house parties across New Hampshire? Early Iowa results showed billionaire Tom Steyer with .3% of the vote. Yet in South Carolina, with over 5 million people, his heavy spending had vaulted him to polling in the double digits.
The more people, the less retail politics matters. Steyer’s fellow billionaire, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, is counting on this, by bypassing early states and hoping to buy victories in big states like California, where television ads alone can win the day. Is that what we want?
And lest the Globe characterize Iowa and New Hampshire as places where rubes drive around in horse-drawn carriages, let’s acknowledge that demographic diversity can include things like age. New Hampshire has the nation’s second-oldest population, while a recent New York Times article was entitled “The Graying of the American Economy Is on Display in Iowa.”
As a country, we must come to grips with our aging society. Is it not an essential task for presidential candidates to address how we will serve the long-term care needs of a “Silver Tsunami” of Baby Boomers? And aging will also inexorably drive increased ethnic diversity, as immigrants replace retiring workers, as they have in Iowa, or assist in providing long-term care services. The future of long-term care – particularly – depends heavily upon immigration, as demographers and advocacy organizations like the Paraprofessional Health Institute note.
It may be that the logistical nightmare of the Iowa caucus needs to be abandoned, but that should not mean that Iowa itself falls to the back of the line. Those criticizing the state might contemplate the contents of their refrigerators and pantries. Once upon a time agriculture, as opposed to agribusiness (note the distinction), meant something to this nation, and its politicians, as it did to both sets of my grandparents – who had family farms.
As President Eisenhower once said, “farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” Where else, but Iowa, are you forced to address the concerns of family farmers?
Our presidential nominating system is not perfect, to be sure. But try to find a perfect alternative.