Nothing happened in Iowa

Annoyed about all the national publicity that the Iowa Republican straw poll garnered last week in Ames, the New Hampshire Legislature today set its 2012 state presidential primary for next week. – News item.

Just kidding. Sort of.

Insanity isn’t quite the word (but it’s close) to describe the coverage of the straw poll, which the media, political operatives and the candidates themselves (the leading ones, that is) declared to be an important national milestone on the road to the White House and, hence, the fate of the world.

Absurd may be a better word: Here’s how Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday” described this momentous occasion: “This weekend, all eyes were on the American heartland and the race for president.” I assure you, from the Heartland, that all eyes were definitely not. Mitt Romney, the “winner” of the straw poll, declared: “Today, the people of this great state sent a message to America, and that is that changes begins in Iowa.” Message, not heard, not received.

On CBS “Face the Nation”, we learned that the straw poll “is the first indicator of whether candidates can translate money and message into votes.” Chris Matthews on his Hardblogger: “Mike Huckabee is riding a big wave of publicity after a second place finish…” NBC’s “Meet the Press” gathered an entire panel to dissect the proceedings. Analysis, commentary and proclamations have been going on for days now, without surcease, threatening to continue into and darken next week.

Can I get you guys a glass of water and a chair?

For all the assertions that the straw poll was some kind of bellwether, here’s a counter assertion: It is nothing of the kind. Let’s start with a simple number: 14,302. That’s the number of ballots cast. The number upon which the assertion is made that the straw poll has national significance. A number that’s smaller than the voters who show up at a polling place in a single Chicago ward. Less than the difference in the popular vote for candidates for most state offices. A number that would be a small, small crowd at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs ballpark. Fewer than live in my Chicago suburb. Yet, my suburb — thank the Lord — is not visited by a single TV camera, asking for our views.

There’s only one thing that the result of the Iowa straw poll means: That 14,302 people could be cajoled or paid to be in Ames, Iowa one day, to cast a ballot for someone. That’s it; nothing else happened. The results are indicative of nothing, representative of zero, zip, zilch. This is not to say the Iowans are rubes; quite the opposite. They bamboozled media stars to show up as if something important was happening.

Let us dwell on the insignificance of it all: The winner got a grand 4,516 votes. Mike Huckabee, in second, claimed some sort of victory with 2,587 votes. That’s total votes. Sam Brownback came in third with 395 fewer votes. Ron Paul, the candidate getting all the hopeful attention from libertarians, got 1,305. I haven’t bothered to check whether Paul has taken heart or taken to his bed in despair from that level of support. But hey, that’s 9.1 percent of the vote, almost double digits, so I guess Paul lives! Or at least that’s what we’ll be told.

Democracy is a fine and mysterious thing, with its shape taking all kinds of permutations. The old New England town meetings are considered prototypes of direct democracy, copied in places throughout the country. Fourteen thousand people would be a huge turnout for such a town meeting. But I can’t ever remember the national media turning out for a town meeting, no matter what its size. Too bad they haven’t; it probably would be a lot more interesting, and maybe they’d learn something about real democracy at work.