Missing in Iowa: a dose of Midwestern common sense?


In Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Broadway hit, The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill arrives in Iowa to sell the citizens of River City a boys’ band. Fifty years later, a handful of US Senators and other politicians descended on the state to sell them a Presidential election. Wilson’s story had a happy ending. Bags packed and skipping town, Hill falls in love with Marian Paroo, the town librarian, and sticks around to make good on his word. The politicos were out of Iowa faster than a marching band, stymied only by the country’s creaky air traffic control system which grounded them at Des Moines International for a few extra hours. (See, “Infrastructure Story,” following.) Moving on, they’ve since hit New Hampshire, Nevada, and soon several larger states.

“Presidential candidates”—but, nominated by whom? On the surface, at least, by themselves, fueled by their own ambition and fund raising machine. Nothing wrong with that, or is there? Something seems different in 2008. Stature is in such short supply, the pundits have tripped over themselves explaining why experience really isn’t that important. Slogans and personalities now hold center court where ending an intractable war, corralling a distracted Congress, and getting real about a government $9 trillion in debt should be. Iowans could have told the nation, “Enough. That’s not the way we do things here.”

Is this simply democracy at work? Or, like its famous Alaska namesake, did Iowans send the Nation off on the Presidential primaries to nowhere?

What do you think?


Where's Al Gore? Colin Powell?
written by Tex, January 25, 2008
Hey, may-be this is the best we can do. Where are the others--conspicuous by their silence?
written by roger ebert, January 30, 2008
who hyphenated "maybe"
Anything else you might want to add?
written by Tex, January 31, 2008
Good catch, Roge. But as the country descends into an electoral twilight zone, anything else you might want to add?
written by Clarissa, February 05, 2008
I don't understand this. More people are engaged in the political process at this juncture than at any equivalent time before in history. There are clear distinctions between the candidates, and each of them--yes, including Mr. Obama--bring a great level of experience and knowledge to the table, regardless of whether you agree with them or not.

"Nominated by whom"? What does that mean? Obama built a grassroots campaign to compete against one of the most formidable political machines in recent American history. Hundreds of thousands of people look to John McCain as an elder statesman with the credentials necessary to turn the country around. Clinton and Romney are there in large part due to their connections and personal wealth, respectively, but they both have significant popular fervor behind their campaigns. If you want to critique a front-loaded primary system or campaign finance, then fine, but this seems like a hollow diatribe.
The country's early leaders feared most
written by PT , February 06, 2008
Good comment. Many voters are justifiably disgusted with the status quo. But, that doesn’t mean what’s been presented to the voters comes anywhere near to fixing it. Aren’t you totally discounting what candidates Clinton and Obama DON’T bring to the table? Popular fervor and grassroots support are meaningless if none of the candidates are willing to go beyond popular sentiment and feel-good slogans to discuss a broader structural breakdown. Or to paraphrase a Kennedy of another era, aren't they very much 'part of the problem, not part of the solution'? McCain is indeed an honorable soldier and veteran politician, but he supports extending what history may well deem America's most poorly conceived overseas military campaign. No, this isn’t ‘hollow diatribe’: it’s the essence of the issue and what the country’s early leaders feared most.
written by jonathan, February 06, 2008
i've never seen "policy today" before, but this old political goat is a little confused. "discuss a broader structural breakdown"? I'm not sure that people are going to line up around the block to get behind the candidate talking about gerrymandering and public financing.

the article (is there more to it that i'm missing?) doesn't even make a logical argument. saying that "stature is in short supply" and a bizarre analogy involving marian paroo are hardly the "essence of the issue." there's no legitimate critique of the candidate's positions on anything, except for the fact that they apparently aren't legitimate candidates because they weren't nominated by some undescribed force that would somehow produce "worthy" candidates in policy today's estimation.

what i don't understand is this- are the viable candidates all supposed to spend 25 years in the congress dealing with a broken system "gaining the necessary experience", then come out and say, "lookee here! the system's broken and i know how to fix it!" and expect people to get behind them? it just doesn't make sense. that's why i find clinton's supporters so baffling. yes, our system of government is flawed, broken even, but that's not news to anyone. so where's the story here? why diminish and dismiss these candidates when more people - especially young people - are engaging in the political process than ever before?

i cast my first ballot for john f. kennedy in 1960 and i remember the people who called him 'inexperienced' and 'too idealistic'. the man's term and life were tragically cut short, but he made people believe in something bigger than themselves and he exercised the sound judgment during the cuban missile crisis. obama is no kennedy, but he doesn't have to be and he shouldn't try to be. he represents a break from the petty politics of the baby boomer generation and a candidate people can get excited about. say what you will about "structural breakdowns"- you're not going to fix them by serving up the same palaver that my generation's leaders - and those of my children - have been dishing out for decades.

for me, i'm pleased as punch to have an intelligent, subtle thinker with a unifying vision and sound judgment--minus the jaded insider attitude that comes with so much washington "experience". he's not a perfect candidate, but there's no such thing. i'm interested in what "policy today's" ideal candidate would be? 5 years of nonprofit work, 10 years as a successful businessperson, 15 years in the senate, a couple of years as an appointed ambassador and then when the masses from coast to coast are clamoring for you to run, then you're "legitimate"?
What makes a good Presidential candidate?
written by PT, February 06, 2008
Jonathon, good stuff. Let’s take care of the confusion first, and then move onto your substantive comments. If you voted for Kennedy in 1960, you’ll have seen The Music Man (1957/1962)—a classic. Basic plot: con artist comes to Iowa, sells the good people of River City musical instruments, promises a “boys band,” and then prepares to skip town. Except he falls for the town librarian (Paroo). Hopefully, the metaphor becomes a little clearer, even if you disagree with the analogy.

The gist of your argument seems to be, “what makes a good presidential nominee/candidate?” And, you’d like to believe Obama is that person.

For starters, the facts largely belie the image Obama has sought to create in the media. He is as you describe: charismatic and intelligent. But not quite the breadth of fresh air you suggest. What has he been doing in the Senate since he was elected in 2004? Not a lot, because that was never his goal. (Quite the opposite, in fact.) Anymore than being a state senator in Illinois. Speak with his former colleagues in Springfield and ask them, what did he do? Said one, “that’s pretty tough—he was rarely there.”

Kennedy may or may not be the person you remember. But, you’re looking for and seeing someone who’s been dead for 45 years. Don’t feel bad. Somewhat contrary to your assertion, Obama sure seems like he wants us to believe he’s JFK. Not sure where you live, but pre-primary, Californians were treated to commercials opening with a JFK montage, shading into Obama action shots, followed by warm and fuzzy pictures of Ted and Caroline.

Back to your central premise, who should we be voting for? Who would make the ideal candidate? And, that indeed is the $64 question. No need to go back to 1776. In the past century, we’ve seen a number—Franklin Roosevelt for starters. Historians are beginning to better appreciate the “hidden hand presidency” of Eisenhower. And, sadly, had Johnson not been so absorbed in his social programs, there’s an argument that he would have paid more attention to what his generals were doing in Vietnam. Eisenhower was a former commander in chief, who may well have directed one of the greatest (and most important) military victories in history. Johnson—read Caro’s book on your next 14 hour plane ride.

That’s our starting point—not an overly-ambitious former President’s wife (who squandered 4 years of the Nation’s time on a health care plan that never happened) nor a public official who was simply otherwise engaged.

Nor is saying, “well, we have to vote for who’s there,” the answer. Here’s a thought: sit down in the library with a cup of coffee, surrounded by biographies of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt (both of them). Then tell us your thoughts on the attributes of a good President. That’s the place to start.

And, as to a legitimate critique of the candidates’ positions, may-be you’ve caught our drift. Most of what we’ve heard is all make believe. See PT’s February issue next week.