Broken Thinking, Iowa Establishment in a Panic

“Be content to seem what you really are” – Marcus Aurelius

We pick up several story lines tonight related to the Republican nominating process, particularly the Iowa caucuses and the rise of Ron Paul.

The first is a story in Politico titled “Will Ron Paul Kill the Caucuses?” The back story: with the constant rise and fall of Republican candidates, no clear “establishment” candidate has taken charge in Iowa, and there is a very real chance that Ron Paul could place highly or even win the Iowa caucus. This has the establishment panicked. First, the establishment does not want a Ron Paul candidacy. His ideals strip power away from the government (as does the Constitution), and that is the last thing political power players want. Second, if Paul does win the Iowa caucus and loses the nomination, it would make it two elections in a row where the caucus winner was not the nominee – meaning the caucus isn’t all that important.

The wrongheadedness is all over the place here. Let’s pick it apart an issue at a time. First, I have no love for the establishment – and am more than willing to see them lose power. Iowa ruthlessly defends its disproportionate impact on national politics and the presidential election. They desire the power. More than that, they desire the money. Iowa pulls in a ton of advertising and organizational dollars in the run up to the caucus. That’s why they are talking in dire terms about how a Paul win would “do real damage to Iowa.”

So, power and money … same old story. But let’s consider what is implied by the hullabaloo over picking the eventual nominee. Instead of voting their preferences, voting their conscience, or picking the candidate that they feel best represents them and could best lead the country – Iowans are implicitly saying their goal is to “guess right” about what the rest of the country will do.  It’s not all that dissimilar to standard primary machinations about picking the most “electable” candidate. Instead of choosing the candidate that best represents a set of views, they choose the candidate who they think (and usually wrongly) has the best chance of drawing votes from other people. It’s not a totally irrational thought process, but it greatly overstates the ability of any individual to guess right about thoughts and intentions of other people.

Also interesting is the lament of Iowa insiders over the process itself. The article notes the thoughts of one Becky Beach, who claims that Paul supporters are often crossover liberals who will vote for Obama in the general election. Let’s just suppose for a moment that she’s right – her position still leads to trouble. What would she propose? “Don’t let liberals vote in the Republican caucus”? But anybody who wants to can register Republican, can’t they? Sure, freedom of association says people can aggregate membership however they choose, but political parties don’t have a nation-wide committee that determines approved views for all members … do they?

Maybe she could have them sign a contract guaranteeing that they’ll vote for the Republican nominee in the general election, no matter who it is. That won’t work, of course, because it’s unenforceable with a secret ballot. Further, a person can have legitimate reasons to oppose a nominee from his own party, can’t he?

So there appears to be no solution to the ultimate problem of democracy: people who can vote for themselves might not choose to do what a council of their betters know they should.

The next story indicates that an Iowa Christian group is divided over who to back, and didn’t endorse anybody. It’s not surprising that a group of Christians could be divided on political issues. But they were divided over whether to back folks like Santorum, Perry, or Bachmann … they don’t seem to mention Paul at all.

Hey guys, I am a died-in-the-wool Bible thumper, and I don’t buy for one second the theocratic machinations of “moral majority” type politicians. Morality enforced by the majority is no morality at all. Surely the simplest reading of the Golden Rule throttles the notion of theocracy via majority rule (no matter how you might define theocracy) – shouldn’t these groups know this? Maybe I have more work to do …

I don’t know what will happen in Iowa. I suspect the establishment types, the political machine, will find a way to get somebody like Romney pushed into first place. But IF Ron Paul wins in Iowa, and IF he can manage a high finish in New Hampshire, the nominating process will get very interesting. He’d still have a huge uphill battle to win the nomination – a huge uphill battle.

Even if he doesn’t win the nomination, just having him get more attention will change the debate, and perhaps help restore a bit of freedom around here. Paul is an interesting fellow. Most of the average people who think his “out there” have never actually heard him discuss the issues – they just hear what the punditry says. I remain convinced that the more people who hear what he has to say, the more votes he’ll garner.


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