Caucus cacophony

Iowa map

Sound and fury, signifying ...

If you tuned into any of the cable news networks yesterday, you would have sworn that Iowa was the center of the United States (which it pretty much is, geographically), the world, and the universe. Political reportage descended to the usual lows, consisting primarily of television reporters and commentators interviewing each other, asking inane questions and citing meaningless poll statistics.

On CNN Wolf Blitzer breathlessly intoned — his standard delivery mode — "Just hours before the caucuses begin..." and then asked viewers to vote online if they thought the Iowa caucuses were important (see sidebar). Oops! Despite saturation coverage, four of five viewers said the caucuses are not very important at all.

MSNBC countdown timer

Over on MSNBC Hardball Chris Matthews — the human gatling gun — put a countdown timer in the corner of the screen. How silly! And at the end of the 30 minutes, what? The caucus starts. Big woo.

Entrance polls. In the olden days, there used to be a vote, people counted the votes, and very late that night the results were sometimes heard on the radio and the next morning appeared in the newspaper. If not then, the next day, or the next. It was real. Then the networks invented the exit poll as a way to short-circuit the process and scoop their rivals by predicting the results instead of waiting for them. Now the Associated Press and major television networks have invented the entrance poll asking caucus goers who they intend to support. Why should we bother with politics and elections? Why not just let the networks and the Supreme Court tell us who will be president?

Photo The De sMoines Register

Oops! NBC had embeds in some of the caucuses and MSNBC went live with a report from one caucus to report that John Kerry and John Edwards supporters greatly outnumbered those of Dean and Gephardt in the initial viability round. The expressions on the faces of the panelists was priceless as the first real facts ran counter to the story they had been spinning just moments before. Joe Scarborough began to sweat visibly. Campbell Brown began to swallow repeatedly. I love it when reality happens to gas bags!

On the News Hour with Jim Lehrer, Iowa's Governor Tom Vilsack sagely commented, "Anybody can win this race, and anybody can lose it. The margin of victory can be very wide, or very narrow." Well, duh! Enumerating the possible outcomes is hardly quoteworthy. That's like saying, "It will rain tomorrow or it will not."

Kerry and Edwards The two Johns: Kerry (left), Edwards (right)

And the winner is... John Kerry and John Edwards have, with three-fourths of precincts supporting, garnered the most support, about 70% between them.

• Kerry has zeroed in on the central reason to be against George W Bush: character, judgment, responsibility.

• Edwards has zeroed in on one of the central issues facing the country: we've become two countries with a widening divide between the haves and the have-nots.

The big losers appear to be Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt.

• Dean placed his bet on organizing a "perfect storm" of the angry and the young. It wasn't enough. He ended up with less than 20%. Frankly, I don't think he helped himself a lot with that "we're not going to give up" speech that verged on apoplexy.

• Gephardt placed his bet on traditional labor backing. It wasn't enough. He ended up with little more than 10%. He is dropping out of the race.

fat lady singing

Moral: She's not done singing!