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What can I tell you about the Iowa Republican Primary that you don?t know already? That Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were neck and neck for most of the evening? That Romney ?won? by only eight votes? That libertarian Ron Paul was close on their heels? That Newt Gingrich seemed dead in the water, having missed the deadline for the South Carolina primary, but announced he was headed for New Hampshire? That Michelle Bachman dropped out today after her poor showing and that Rick Perry probably should? That Jon Huntsman got a whopping one percent of the vote?
Having skipped all the cringe-inducing debates, I sentenced myself to watch coverage of the caucus returns Tuesday night on CNN, alone while much of ACT NOW frolicked in Brooklyn. Of course I could read about the caucuses later, but I was curious about how they might unfold and what CNN?s political reporters and opinionators would say. The evening?s mantra seemed to be ?It?s all about the numbers.? Really? Certainly that?s where they focused their coverage.
Republican turnout was only a fraction more than it had been in 2008 (somewhere over 120,000). I guess it doesn?t matter who?s running. It?s still a horserace, and television is the biggest recipient of all the political ad dollars that flow into the state. The apparent total spent by five super PACs not technically attached to any candidate is $12.9 million. Some $2.8 of it was spent attacking Gingrich, but Federal election laws don?t require super PACs to reveal their donors before the election. So we know, despite his denials, who benefitted from those political ads that made one of the losers call the winner a liar, but we don?t know the contributors.
The other ads of course are the ones the national audience had to sit through while we waited for the returns. Presumably, these are corporations who hope to influence the political electorate, especially those who lean Republican. I kept a running list of all the advertisers on CNN, but I didn?t get them all, and CNN hasn?t responded to my request for a complete list.
Here?s what I jotted down: Alli fat blocker, Ally Bank (aka General Motors Acceptance Corporation), the American Petroleum Institute, ancestry.com, AT&T, Cadillac, Carmel car service, Clean Coal, Dyson vacuum cleaners, eharmony.com, Green Giant Frozen Vegetables, HBO Go, International House of Pancakes, POM wonderful pomegranate juice, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (from NBC Universal), and some substance abuse rehabilitation clinic that promises a cure.
It?s a curious list, you must admit. The extraction industry ads are predictable; they focused on the shaky premise of ending our dependence on foreign energy through exploiting American hydrocarbons. The Tinker Tailor ad (for a movie based on a Cold War spy novel by John le Carre) gave me a chuckle; it ran twice, at least. Ancestry.com channels the Mormon genealogy registry. eHarmony seemed aimed at evangelicals. The iHOP ad and the Alli fat burner seem to complement each other. But Carmel? Jewish voters? Green Giant? Vegetarians? Go figure.
If thoughts of any of these candidates sitting in the White House weren?t so chilling, I would riff on a number of intriguing oddities of personality and coverage. The media, after all, play it straight, as if any of these candidates is equal to almost any other. What matters most is how much money they can raise and how many votes they can drum up. PBS stoically reports impartially on Romney, who has threatened to put it out of business, as might a number of the other candidates. Nor does it mention that just possibly the corporate broadcast networks (let?s drop the pretense that they?re ?mainstream?) might have their own reasons to oppose regulating Wall Street or election spending or, even, wars.
Of all those in Tuesday?s race, I found my attention often drawn to Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who has struggled for media coverage. It seems they would rather ignore him than to deal with the thorny issues he raises. Neither the candidate or his admirers or the media connected him with the appalling white supremacists who support him and who would appear to have had his support in years by-gone, but that had been made clear in the blogosphere for some time. On Tuesday evening, I had to admit, he seemed the least programmed and most genial of all the candidates.
Since Obama?s election, we are often told that young people today are less prejudiced about race and sexual orientation than their parents, but the most ardent of Paul?s supporters (or at least the ones who most openly cheer him on) are college students. Tracing CNN?s county-by-county map, John King seemed compelled to point out every time attention turned to an Iowa college town that it might once have gone for Romney, but Paul was showing strength in those communities. (Separately, it was noted that the Democratic-affiliate Rock the Vote was expressing enthusiasm for Obama?s re-election, but the Democratic caucus was conspicuously ignored.) In other words, while many Paul supporters are college students, not all college students are Paul supporters.
One of Paul?s strongest causes and one that sets him apart from both Republicans and Obama is his determination to bring troops home from all foreign wars. His press conference after the caucus results were announced featured Corporal Jesse Thorsen, who presumably spoke for all the military donors to Paul?s campaign when he said we don?t need to be picking fights around the world. I half-wondered who Paul might get to call for the abolition of the Federal Reserve or for Medicare or abortion, but the moment passed. The media and the Republican pundits keep saying Paul doesn?t have a chance, and I doubt that most voters really want an eighty year-old president. (He?s 76 now.) Nevertheless, if we were as interested in issues as we are in the numbers, it might be worth our while to examine his agenda in an open forum. Certainly, plenty of other crackpot notions have had their day.
This post will also appear on the blog at actnowny.org