Today Iowa Republicans go to caucuses to select the first winner of the 2012 Presidential campaign. I wish you well.
I also wish you reason. Americans lend to Iowans an outsized voice in our electoral process. Your choices today will help shape 10 months of constant campaigning and then possibly 4 years of American life. This is an awesome responsibility for slightly more than 100,000 likely voters of your small rural Midwestern state.
Iowans get paid handsomely to take on this job. Ten million dollars was spent on political ads in December alone, with other millions on office rentals, meals, hotels, and travel. So we have a right to ask you to take seriously your role as national political arbiters. That means thinking about selecting a future President of the whole United States.
Our democratic system certainly benefits from the most diverse variety of political voices, left and right, up and down, and everywhere in between. We need the lonely voices, who promote principled positions beyond the boundaries where most people stop. We even need extremists, whose vehemence closes off debate, whose arguments have flaws apparent to everyone but themselves, if only because they demonstrate to the rest of us where the line of reason and reasonableness should be drawn.
But we don’t need them in the White House. Although a small number of people in Iowa and elsewhere apparently think it would be a good idea to elect some sexual predator who doesn’t know where Libya is, or some mad bomber who has fixed on Iran as his next target, or some fiscal crank who promotes 19th-century solutions to 21st-century problems, the rest of America would not benefit from a crackpot in the Oval Office.
Some things I hear about Iowa’s likely Republican voters make me wonder how seriously you are taking your job as first voters. Recent polls show that nearly half of probable caucus-goers won’t say Mormons are Christians. Less than half think that President Obama was born in the US. And the endless surveys, which by now must have dialed up every Republican phone in Iowa, have revealed fleeting infatuations with a series of extremists and incompetents.
These serial flirtations are partially the fault of the corporate media. The media treatment of politics as a permanent Olympics can actually make us dumber, when we need to be smarter. How many articles have you seen which discuss why the gold standard, Ron Paul’s fiscal panacea, was abandoned across the world a century ago? Or about the long-term effects on your personal finances of Cain’s 9-9-9 plan? Or about what would happen to our schools and schoolchildren if the Education Department was abolished?
But the irresponsibility of the media are only an excuse, not a sufficient justification for voter ignorance. Once every four years we all have to put more effort into informing ourselves about matters larger than our personal interests. We must seek out opinions beyond our comfortable prejudices. The rest of us, who surround your vital, but small piece of American life, need you to take your task more seriously and more inclusively.
Quite a few likely caucus-goers appear to believe the story that many of us out here, perhaps half of all Americans, are stupid dupes of a European socialist agenda, whose cheerleader-in-chief has pulled off one of the greatest political hoaxes in history in order to weaken America for his radical Muslim terrorist friends.
Give us a break. That story has always been stupid, but mainly it’s insulting.
We don’t care if you put on tea parties every other day. But on this day, please look up from the electronic devices that you have programmed to keep repeating that same story. Look in any direction – you see the rest of America watching you today. What you do matters.
Find someone who can embody the best in America, who can lead by persuasion, whose vision of the ideal American includes all of us.
When you pull that lever, pull it for all of us. Be more than first. Be leaders.
December 31, 2011