Defenders of Iowa's racket make it sound like theirs is a tradition hallowed by time consecrated, a custom straight from the bosom of the American heartland, like maypole dancing and barn raising. Poppycock. Iowa's first-in-the-nation boondoggle began in 1972, and according to Mark Stricherz, author of "Why the Democrats are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People's Party," has its roots in the New Left, not Norman Rockwell. The "participatory democracy" of the Port Huron Statement informs the arcane procedures that eschew "one man, one-vote" and discriminate against people who can't afford to spend two hours jibber-jabbering about whether Barack Obama's nationalized health-care plan is better than John Edwards' nationalized health-care plan.
Iowans claim that they deserve to be kingmakers because they take the "process" so seriously, measuring the candidates, debating every issue, etc. Uh huh. Then why has turnout, at least until this year, hovered around 6 percent of registered voters? Is that a benchmark to which no other state could aspire?
More important, if Iowans are so deadly serious about the issues, why is ethanol the third rail of Iowa politics? It's hard to reconcile the idea that Iowans are exemplary custodians of civil virtue with the fact that they are rabid defenders of welfare checks for government moonshine.
This is not to say that Iowans don't take their role in the selection process seriously. But do you want to know why they take their responsibilities seriously? Because they've been given an important responsibility. Are we really to believe that if North Dakota were given the first-in-the-nation gig, it would fumble the ball? Are Montanans such mouth-breathing morons that they can't put on a caucus or primary?
Iowa's party and press hacks say they have the machinery and procedures in place to run things smoothly. Of course they say that; they're party hacks and they get rich and famous off that machinery and those procedures. My guess is that other hacks in other states would rise to the challenge - and incentives! - of such an opportunity.
That's why the first-in-the-nation primary elections should rotate. Pick some formula in which two different states get picked every four years. You could have rules accounting for geographic diversity - back-to-back events in North and South Carolina, for example, would be silly. But move it around so that the country isn't held hostage by the same left-wing and right-wing populists every four years.
But we'd better act now. Because by next week, the Iowans start taking hostages again.