Monday, March 12, 2012

COLUMN: Caucus

"And I'll take with me the memories,
To be my sunshine after the rain,
It's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday."
-Boyz II Men

Relationships are fickle, fragile things. One day, it can feel like the most natural, exciting thing in the world. The next day, you could wake up to discover they've moved on without you... to New Hampshire.

Farewell, 2012 Republican presidential contenders. We hardly knew ye. The Iowa caucuses are history, and now so is New Hampshire. By the time you read this, the last men standing will be wooing an even newer legion of debutantes under the moss-covered trees of South Carolina while Iowa returns to its usual state of being completely ignored by the rest of the world. Iowa is old news. Two weeks ago, it felt like it was the ONLY news.

Caucus season always drives me a little batty. The whole thing just seems to reek of insincerity -- and I'm not just saying that because I swing to the left while this season's crop of candidates leapt to the right. It bugs me when the Dems strut around Iowa for months, too. All the countless hand-shaking, speech-giving, and suck-upping just comes across as pandering after a while, especially when you just KNOW that the last place most of these candidates want to be is kissing babies while being force-fed local pork in Nowheresville, Iowa.

You couldn't pay me enough to run for a top level political office. The pressure, scrutiny, and high-powered microscopes that today's candidates get put through is nothing shy of ridiculous. Practically every week there was a new Iowa frontrunner, and that person led until they said or did something embarassing, and then it was on to the next guy.

Let's imagine if I, immediately following the handing-in of this column, had a change of heart and became immediately active in politics... so much so that 10 or 20 years down the road, I decide to run for office. Even if I were to become the best debater (ha!) and baby-kisser in the world, I'd lose. Know why? Because some yumnutz would pull out THIS column and Fox News would suddenly have it in a headline, "'You Couldn't Pay Me Enough To Run For Office,' Said Brown In 2012, Showing Clear Lack of Vision." In these days of cyber-stalking, paparazzi, and fact-checking, you need to be Presidential from birth.

There's only one thing I hate more than enduring the presidential stumping season, and that's having to endure it from one state away. It's kind of like if your next-door neighbor threw a party, and you could look across the street and see that it's a super lousy party, but you're still mad that you weren't invited. For weeks, I've heard my Iowa friends talk about how annoyed they were by political phone calls, and I'm sure those calls would drive me bonkers as well, but there's still a voice in the back of my head inexplicably saying, "No fair! I wanna be annoyed, too!"

But alas, we live in Illinois, a state where most political decisions come courtesy of a small northeastern piece of lakeside real estate of which we are NOT members. Ergo, we're left to kiss our own babies and live the political process vicariously through our friends across the Mississippi. As much as I love to hate our neighbors' caucus season, there are a few things I will genuinely miss for the next four years:

• I will miss the Magic Mountain Watch. As every aspiring presidential candidate knows, it is ideal to cram in as many photo shoots at iconic small-town haunts as possible -- and here in the Quad Cities, there's no better backdrop than the lunch counter at Ross' Restaurant, where many a candidate tries to stop and make small talk while not gaping in horror at the yummy-but-not-for-amateurs Magic Mountain. This year, Newt Gingrich made the Ross' stop, as did Ron Paul (who I missed by mere minutes!) as well as an entire news crew from Holland sent to basically explain this weirdness to Europe.

• I'm candidate impartial when it comes to Republicans, but I just have to say that I'll definitely miss seeing East Coast businessmen trying desperately to look at home in the Midwest. Love or hate Gingrich or Mitt Romney all you want, you've got to admit the two of them look about as comfortable in a cornfield as I do in a gymnasium.

• Every election season, there's always ONE journalist who comes to Iowa and writes a piece that paints every voter in the state as a backwoods gun-owning tractor-pull enthusiast. This year, that piece came courtesy of a U. Iowa professor who wrote an essay in The Atlantic that makes the average Iowan out to be slightly less intelligent than your average brick wall. Sample sentence: "There are few billboards along the washboard-bumpy, blacktop roads that slice through the countryside, only hand-drawn signs advertising sweet corn, cattle, lemonade, or boar semen." Now, I've done my fair share of aimless Iowa countryside driving, and I can safely attest that I've never come across a single sign for boar semen. If I had, it would very likely be my Facebook profile pic for a good long while.

As annoying as it can be, I hope our democratic campaigning process never changes. Reading a candidate's position papers will never be as powerful as seeing that candidate in the flesh. And as long as they're hitting the campaign trail, I think Iowa's a fine state to start it in. It's a perfect slice of Americana and the folks are generally good-natured and caring.

My favorite story of this election season goes back to Ross' Restaurant: When that Dutch news team went to edit and file their story, they discovered their hotel's wi-fi was out. Not knowing anyone in town, they called the only people they could think of: Ron and Cynthia Friedhof, the owners of Ross'. Minutes later, the entire Dutch crew was welcomed into the Friedhof family home, where the crew worked all night to complete and file their report on time. THAT'S the can-do helping hand Midwest that I want our future Presidents to see first-hand.

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